Mt. Baker eighth-grader lifts his way to Youth Pan American Games

Mt. Baker eighth-grader Harrison Maurus trains under the watchful eye of Coach Kevin Simons. - Shawn Skager/Auburn Reporter
Mt. Baker eighth-grader Harrison Maurus trains under the watchful eye of Coach Kevin Simons.
— image credit: Shawn Skager/Auburn Reporter

Weightlifter Harrison Maurus, 14, didn't need long to reach the top of his sport.

A mere two years into his competitive lifting career, the Mt. Baker Middle School eighth-grader is poised to make his presence felt on the world stage, with a berth in the 2014 Youth Pan American Games on May 7-11 in Lima, Peru.

Maurus' lifting coach, Kevin Simons of Alpha Strength Conditioning, said it was apparent early on that Maurus was athletically gifted.

"I was also his gymnastics coach at Auburn Gymnastics Center, and he was a talented gymnast, had great strength and was really well coordinated and very athletic. But he was never going to really score high," Simons said. "In gymnastics, it's all about the lines, and his lines aren't great. His elbows don't go all the way and his knees don't extend all the way. It just doesn't look pretty when he does it. So we needed a sport where we could use his strength and athleticism. So he started working in the back with me, trying to figure out what he wanted to do."

After watching Simons lift and run through his CrossFit routines – a series of interval training exercises, including weightlifting and gymnastics – Maurus tried his hand at powerlifting.

"I was just trying to get him ready so whatever he wanted to do he'd be strong," Simons said. "We started with the lifting, and he just had a real aptitude for it and stepped up quick. In his first six months, when he was still 11, he squatted twice his body weight, which is a really big deal for a little kid. He squatted 100 kilos on his 12th birthday, when he weighed less than 100 pounds."

"I needed something else to stay competitive in," Maurus said. "I thought about CrossFit, but I got really good at the weightlifting part, so we just went from there."

On his 12th birthday, Maurus competed for the first time at the Washington State Powerlifting Championships.

In powerlifting, athletes vie for the maximal weight in the squat, the bench press and the deadlift. Each participant gets three chances to lift as much as possible in each event, with the highest lifts added up for a total score.

At the event Maurus shattered national records, including a 100-kilos (220.5 pounds) squat, Simons said.

As impressive as it sounds, the record was not a surprise for Maurus or Simons.

"It wasn't even a question, it wasn't even close," Simons said. "His training sets, what he does in practice, are more than the national record."

After a year of powerlifting, Maurus switched to weightlifting.

Although similar to powerlifting, weightlifting features just two events – the clean and jerk and the snatch – and requires a more rounded athlete.

"There is a lot more technique in it," Maurus said. "Getting faster — there is a lot of speed in this sport — was hard. In powerlifting there wasn't much speed, just moving heavy stuff. (In weightlifting) you have to get under the bar real fast, you can only pull it so far when it's heavy, so you have to get under it. I just like the way it feels and the way I can see myself progress. It's fun to move that kind of weight so quickly."

Putting in the time, effort

Maurus works out five days a week with Simons at Alpha Strength, going anywhere from an hour-and-a-half to more than three hours per session.

The hard work and the time in the gym, however, have paid off.

Maurus, currently the fifth-ranked lifter on Team USA Youth Weightlifting, will soon travel to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., to prep for the upcoming Pan-Am Games. It's the second time Maurus has had the chance to train at the top amateur training facility in the country.

"It's really cool, the food is really good," he said. "And it's great to see the elite train. There are a few Olympians there, and the Olympic coach is there."

At the Pan-Am games Maurus will not be able to earn a spot at the Youth Olympics because competitors must be 15 to qualify, and he just turned 14 in February. But if does well, he can earn a berth for someone else on the US team.

At the games, Maurus said, he hopes to better his current PRs in the snatch (106 kilos or 233.7 pounds) and clean and jerk (131 kilos or 288.8 pounds).

"I'm hoping for 110 kilos for my snatch, and 135 for my clean and jerk," he said.

Simons has no doubt he'll be able to achieve his goals.

"It still kind of blows me away, the progress he makes," Simons said. "He makes PRs, personal records, he'll make 10-kilo PRs in a day, which most people have to work months for. It just seems every week he goes up."

Simons continued:

"He's definitely got the potential to make it on a senior Olympic or world team," Simons added. "I definitely think he could become one of America's best lifters for sure."

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