(Reuters) - Holley Mangold is about to move out of the considerable sporting shadow cast by her big brother and make a name for herself in a bid to be crowned “Strongest Woman in the World” as an Olympic weightlifter at the London Games.
Mangold initially followed in the sizeable footsteps of her 6-foot-3-inch, 295-pound (134 kg) older brother Nick Mangold, a four-time Pro Bowl center for the National Football League’s New York Jets as a first-round draft pick out of Ohio State.
Then the 5-foot-8, 330-pound (150 kg) Mangold found the sport that has punched her ticket to London.
“This is my Super Bowl of my sport,” the 22-year-old told reporters at the recent U.S. Olympic media summit in Dallas.
She had blazed a feminist trail as an offensive lineman at Archbishop Alter High School in Kettering, Ohio, the first girl to play a high school down from the scrimmage line in football-mad Ohio and the first to play for a state championship.
After dabbling in gymnastics, swimming, speed roller skating, discus throwing and a slew of other sports besides football, the self-described party girl found the sport for her super-heavyweight talents.
Mangold said she discovered a passion for weightlifting that she had never felt for football and an appreciation for the intricate technique necessary to thrive in the sport.
“Weightlifting is so amazing. It’s like a 400-pound golf swing. It’s so technical,” she said. “It looks so effortless when you do it right. When you do it wrong, it looks like it’s really, really heavy.”
Mangold capped a fast roller coaster ride through the ranks by lifting a combined 255 kg (562 pounds), in the snatch and clean and jerk, to claim one of two super heavyweight (75 kg/ 165 pounds and above) spots on the U.S. team and will try to end a 12-year U.S. medals drought in weightlifting.
Mangold knows what it takes.
“There’s this thing called weightless. When you get a good lift, the bar is literally weightless off of your body. You don’t feel it get over your head again. You get that lift maybe one in a hundred,” she said. “If you get that lift, you’re chasing it for the rest of your life.”
Mangold’s fortunes have fluctuated like her own weight, which has been between 300 and 390 pounds, in recent years.
She was barred from Ursuline College’s second-floor weight room after vibrations caused by her dropping barbells on the floor caused the windows around the school’s indoor pool below to shatter.
Mangold impressed U.S. officials enough to be invited to live and train in Colorado Springs but after she flamed out in a competition, chronicled by MTV Reality show “True Life” that featured her in an episode called “I‘m the Big Girl,” she was not invited back for the next training session.
“They gave my spot to someone else they thought had more potential to make the 2012 team,” she said. “I‘m glad they did that because that lit a fire under my butt. I was so mad. That’s what made me go back to Columbus (Ohio) and work really hard.”
Mangold is on a mission, not just for a medal in London but also to deliver a message about being yourself.
When she was in Colorado Springs, Mangold lost about 70 pounds partly to fit in better and be accepted by her peers. That was also captured on the reality show.
”I heard from other people they found it inspirational,“ Mangold said. ”Do what you want to do, and have fun doing it.
“For me, I love being big. I think it’s a great thing for me. I’ll always be a big girl. I‘m just a big kid.”
Mangold has gone into schools to give talks about being comfortable in your own skin.
“When I was younger I always wanted to be in the Olympics in gymnastics but my body didn’t agree with that,” said Mangold, who can still do the splits and who does a ritual cartwheel in the warm-up room before big competitions.
”My sister is 5-6, real tiny, runs marathons,“ Mangold said. ”I have way more confidence than she has.
“I‘m super comfortable with my body and a lot of people don’t have that. I like to help people be a little happier with who they are. It’s who I am.”
Mangold knows her size can work against her in competition.
“Ties are determined by who weighs less. I got beat out at worlds, this girl tied me and beat me on body weight,” she said. “What that taught me is I never want to tie again.”
Mangold has continued to improve but has a way to go to reach the highest echelon.
China’s Zhou Lulu improved the world record for the aggregate total to 328 kg (723 pounds) last November.
”I‘m not unrealistic. I’d really like to shoot for bronze. I really think I can make bronze,“ said Mangold. ”But again, you never know what can happen. Two people could bomb out, things could go great for me.
“They say it takes five years to see if you’ll be any good in weightlifting and 10 years to see if you’ll be great at weightlifting. I’ve been doing it for about three and a half. I feel like I‘m just scratching at the surface.”
Editing by Ken Ferris