Lifting up a national title

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Grant School sixth grader Will Prokop looks more like a soccer star than a weightlifter. He is just that — a soccer star, good enough to be chosen a NorCal Premier Soccer select player last season. But, despite his 95-pound, 11-year-old size, he is also a weightlifter. In fact, he is a national champion weightlifter.

A member of the Petaluma-based Myles Ahead Weightlifting team, the articulate Petaluman recently won a gold medal in his weight class (44kg) at the USA Weightlifting Youth National championships and Youth Olympic Games Trials held in Daytona Beach.

His national recognition comes about two years after he became involved in the sport, joining father, Jude, and other brother, Nathan, training in Freddy Myles’ gym.

Competitive by nature, Prokop is also friendly and outgoing, making him a natural not only for the competition, but also the comradery of weightlifting.

“It is really fun,” he says. “I’ve met a lot of good friends. When we practice, me and my friends have a little competition. We’re always talking weightlifting. When you go to a competition you never know who you will meet. All the coaches and kids are nice.”

He says competing for a national championship at such a big event makes him want to do his best. “I have mixed emotions,” he explains. “At first I was nervous, but I also felt pumped up. I wanted to show what I could do. I told myself, ‘It is just you against the bar.’ If you tell yourself ‘I can do it,’ you can accomplish anything.”

Prokop is among a growing number of kids who are discovering the fun and benefits of weightlifting.

“We are seeing more and more kids doing it,” says Myles, who has trained weightlifters for 10 years, first at his gym in Rohnert Park and now at his facility in Petaluma. “It is very measurable. You can see the results. You’re not always competing against other people, but sometimes against yourself, trying to test yourself.”

Prokop’s father, Jude, says that a major part of the attraction of weightlifting for his sons is the instructor.

“Freddy allows kids to be kids,” he explains. “He makes them feel important, but also teaches them to set goals and how to be successful.”

His son agrees. “I have an awesome coach,” he says. “He makes it fun for everyone and really gets me motivated.”

Prokop is a normal-sized 11-year-old, and Myles says that is typical of weightlifters. “What people see on television are the huge heavyweights, but weightlifting is very dependent on agility. You have to be very flexible and very fast —explosive.”

Although a national champion before he is a teenager, it is too early for Prokop to think long term. “I just want to keep getting better and better — to keep improving,” he says.

He says being a weightlifting champion has not really affected his standing at Grant School. “We (his classmates) don’t talk about it much,” he says. “It is no big deal.” He explains that when he does talk about it with his friends, he finds they don’t really understand the sport.

“The question they mostly ask is ‘How much do you lift?’ They don’t know there are different lifts. I can’t really explain it in words.”

Myles says he is seeing more and more kids getting involved in the sport, but adds that the interest spans the generations. “The oldest person we have is 74, the youngest 9, and we have every age group in the middle,” he says.

Jude Prokop sees weightlifting as a family affair. “I like that I can compete with my kids,” he says. “The boys are catching me and are about to pass me. The weightlifting community has been a big influence on me and my kids.”

Prokop wasn’t the only Myles Ahead team member to shine in the National Championships.

Chloe Tacat of Rohnert Park set an American record in the snatch and won her second national championship. Athena Schrijver of Santa Rosa was also a national champion.

The girls under-13 team won the national title for the second straight year and the under-15 girls team placed second.

Maya Uemura and Mia Zechowy of Santa Rosa were second in their weight classes and Kelly Evart of Rohnert Park, Rebecca Philipsen and Julia McKairnes of Santa Rosa was third.

Myles Ahead will bring competitive weightlifting to Petaluma on Aug. 2, hosting the Redwood Empire championships on a stage in Plaza Park.

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