Weight lifter Brandon Tovey dreams in color, specifically in red, white and blue. The 2010 Barlow High graduate has accepted an invitation to train at the U.S. Olympic facility at Northern Michigan University just off the shores of Lake Superior.
Tovey began his career as a power lifter and holds world records in the bench press, but two years ago he shifted his focus to the Olympics, which specialize in the clean-and-jerk technique snatching the bar from the ground to your chest before heaving the weight over your head arms extended.
I loved the bench press for the longest time, but it got to the point where I wanted to use my body more, Tovey says. Its a different ballgame but Im going to master it.
He came into the new exercise brimming with confidence, pushing metal discs in the air was where he excelled. The transition wasnt quite as simple as he expected.
I had world records in the other lifts, so I came into it with a pretty hot head, Tovey says. My first time out, I lift just the bar, my balance is all off and I ended up on my butt. I got over my ego pretty quick.
Still, he proved a fast learner.
Shortly after making the change, he competed at the 2012 Olympic Trials where he didnt register a mark in the snatch, but was among the top half of the competitors in the clean-and-jerk just a few kilos short of a top-five finish. He went on to watch the London Games on television and knew exactly where he wanted to be in four years.
I want to win a gold medal thats the dream, Tovey says. The sport isnt huge in the U.S., but Id like to be one of the few lifters who changes the game.
He has spent the last few years working out at the CrossFit PE gym with Vulkan Weightlifting, fitting in workout sessions around three jobs. He works at the Shriners Hospital, at Guiseppes Pizza and takes on clients as a personal trainer.
He heads off to the Olympic facility in mid-August, allowing him the hyper-focus required to compete at a world-class level.
Its a 24-7 facility and they are there to help you grow as an athlete, Tovey says. It will be good to be in a competitive environment where everyones goal is to get to the Olympics. Its a chance to eat and sleep weight lifting.
Olympic lifting has 10 weight classes, akin to wrestling and boxing. Competitors are scored based on the amount of kilos they lift in proportion to their body weight. Tovey competes in the 62-kilo (136-pound) class. Toveys best effort in the event is 320 pounds roughly two-and-a-half times his body weight.
At first I would add large amounts of weight to the bar, but at this level even getting an extra kilo up makes a huge difference, Tovey says. Once you hit those max numbers its a matter of fine tuning technique thats the biggest struggle.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of being at the Team USA center is constant access to the training table. Tovey fuels his multiple workouts by consuming 6-7 meals each day. That starts with oatmeal and egg whites in the morning, followed by a mix of chicken breast, buffalo and sweet potatoes. Almonds are a treat. Downing two gallons of water can be a chore. He doesnt go four hours without fueling his body. His evening ends with a protein shake and a cooking session to prepare the next days food in portable containers that follow him wherever he goes.
When you have a goal in mind, it helps knowing that what youre putting in your body is helping you get closer to that goal, Tovey says.
He does mix in a free week once or twice a year when his competitive schedule allows. Its his chance to indulge in some of his favorite foods such as pepperoni and olive pizza or Chinese takeout.
Tovey used to indulge a bit too much. He was always the biggest of his friends, describing himself as chubby growing up.
I was the fat kid in the group, and I kept telling myself every summer that Id be fit when I came back to school but it never happened until high school, Tovey says.
His dad bought him a gym membership when he was 14 years old, and Tovey was determined to start his time at Barlow with a new look. Getting the ball rolling was slow, but by the end of the summer he had dropped more than 30 pounds.
I had to start somewhere, so it was 10 crunches a day and I went from there, Tovey says. Fitness has been important to me ever since. It changed my life. I went from the fattest kid to the fittest kid.
He found himself in the weight room for football practice one of the smallest players in the mix, but pushing up the same bars as his teammates.
I kept a lot of the strength that I always had, so there I was this 120-pound center lifting with all the big linemen, Tovey says.
The fitness fad quickly became a lifestyle for Tovey, who would at times skip out on nights with his friends because he worried about adding pounds.
Id look in the mirror and see a different crease in my arm or a new ripple across my stomach, Tovey says. The changes I was seeing in my body were phenomenal.
Terry Camp introduced Tovey to the world of competitive lifting and was a constant encourager to his fitness goals, sharing countless hours in the gym and traveling to events together. Camp held his own set of world bench-press records while competing for more than 20 years with Team Oregon. He died at the age of 67 in August of 2011, shortly after Tovey decided to switch his focus to Olympic-style lifting.
Terry was the nicest guy I ever met, Tovey says. He was there when I started lifting, and when he passed away it was hard on me. It gives me more of a purpose in my lifting there is a meaning behind being in the gym two or three times a day.
A month after Camp passed, Tovey had a colorful tattoo stitched into his right biceps a mix of flowers and weight slabs a constant reminder of his old friend.
The Olympic center covers Toveys training costs, but he is still responsible for coming up with entry fees and travel expenses to his competitions. To donate to his journey visit gofundme.com/bax508.