WALKER VAN WEY| Reporter
Athletes are always quick to attribute success to hard work and determination. For Lindenwood olympic weightlifter Chelsey McMichael, a sabbatical was another ingredient.
In McMichael’s senior season of high school basketball, weightlifting served as a hobby or escape from the pressure and competition of basketball. After high school graduation, she made the decision to leave basketball behind and use her love of weightlifting to carry her through college.
“When I was playing basketball in high school it was different,” McMichael said. “It was what I used to do to kind of get away and just have fun.”
After a short period of time, the hobby started to become much more and began to lose its luster.
“Freshman year I still enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it anymore,” McMichael said. “At that point it wasn’t fun. It was more like a job, so I didn’t want to do it anymore.”
Her coach, Austin Rodriguez, remembers her freshman year when he was a teammate and recalls witnessing the declining interest.
“I remember she was a talented lifter, very, very good,” Rodriguez said. “She had a lot of joy and excitement when she first started and then it started to fall off. It just wasn’t what she expected when she first started.”
As the flame began to die out, McMichael decided to take one more shot at a new sport.
“I started to play rugby after that,” McMichael said. “I had a few friends who played and told me to join. I played and worked hard enough to get a starting spot, and I played for two years.”
McMichael had never played rugby, but women’s rugby head coach Billy Nicholas recalls the natural talent that superseded her inexperience.
“She was good,” Nicholas said. “She was a fast learner, strong in contact, and her strongest attributes were effort and her willingness to learn and motivation to push herself.”
As history would indicate, the flame for rugby started to die out, and despite the fact that McMichael was meeting rugby with such success, she felt teammates had worked hard enough to earn the position she currently held.
“I didn’t really ever buy into it,” McMichael said. “I wasn’t having fun anymore and I felt other people on the team deserved that position that I was in.”
Although McMichael’s departure meant the loss of a starter, her decision was met with acceptance and encouragement.
“It was a pretty easy conversation,” Nicholas said. “She brought a lot to the team, but we’re all about support and letting the girls do what they ultimately want to do.”
Now removed from all athletics, McMichael was free to enjoy a life free from competition.
But weightlifting grabbed ahold of her again. And this time it hasn’t let go.
“I wasn’t going to do any sports,” McMichael said. “I was just going to coach and go to school, but I got a month and a half into school and my old friends talked me into messing around and lifting. Then I started having fun again, and I was successful too.”
Upon her return, McMichael found that the whole dynamic of the team had transformed into something she had longed for the whole time.
“The first time I wasn’t having fun,” McMichael said. “The team wasn’t as supportive as they are now. The team is very cohesive now; you can feel how much everybody wants you to succeed. I really love my team.”
Rodriguez remembers her return to the team and although she had lost prime competitive years, the team was fortunate to have her back and that flame that was dying down has turned into a controlled blaze.
“I thought that was good, she was ready,” Rodriguez said. “She was like, ‘I’m ready to continue weightlifting again.’ We just kind of said, ‘All right, we’re ready to welcome you back.’ Now she’s won a lot more. She won university nationals last year, and she’s our top lifter overall.”
To this day, McMichael looks back at her stint with rugby as a positive and even attributes some of her success to rugby.
“Rugby made me a more well-rounded athlete because it’s different movements and it helped strengthen my body and gave me more body awareness,” McMichael said.
McMichael’s competition sample size is small since returning, but she has made as much of it as possible.
“I’ve only competed twice since I came back and broke the snatch record for my age group,” McMichael said.
Now a senior, the window of competition is closing and McMichael is upon her final meets as a representative of Lindenwood University with the next meet in January of 2018. Further details are still undisclosed.