Standing in the garage  gym at her Berkley home Sept. 1,  Kate Nye shows the silver medal she won in weightlifting at the  2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Standing in the garage gym at her Berkley home Sept. 1, Kate Nye shows the silver medal she won in weightlifting at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Silver medalist, Berkley native recounts journey that led to Olympic dreams

By: Mike Koury | Metro | Published September 9, 2021

 A week after arriving home from Tokyo, Kate and Noah Nye ride in the Berkley CruiseFest  Classic Car Parade Aug. 20.

A week after arriving home from Tokyo, Kate and Noah Nye ride in the Berkley CruiseFest Classic Car Parade Aug. 20.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 Kate Nye, her husband, Noah, and their two dogs, Dani and Theo, pose for a family portrait at their Berkley home Sept. 1.

Kate Nye, her husband, Noah, and their two dogs, Dani and Theo, pose for a family portrait at their Berkley home Sept. 1.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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BERKLEY — More than a month ago, weightlifter Kate Nye was in an arena in Tokyo waiting to go before judges in an attempt to pursue her dreams of becoming an Olympic medalist.

Now, weeks after the conclusion of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, she is at her Berkley home with her husband, Noah Nye, and her dogs, Dani and Theo, contemplating what’s next.

On Aug. 1, the 22-year-old won a silver medal in the women’s 76 kg division. It was the best finish for an American man or woman in weightlifting since the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and it was a moment five years in the making for her.

 

The budding Olympian
Before Kate became an Olympic medalist, she began her athletic career in gymnastics, which she competed in for 11 years from the ages of 4 to 15. After leaving the sport, she took up CrossFit to stay active.

While she enjoyed CrossFit, it was the weightlifting aspect of the workouts that she fell in love with. It wasn’t before long that, at the age of 17, she competed in the 2016 USA Weightlifting National Youth Championships, where she placed third in her division.

“When I realized there was another sport that was only weightlifting, I kind of started getting involved in that,” she said. “I realized that weightlifting was much more my passion than CrossFit, and then I pursued that alone.”

Kate began focusing on weightlifting full time. In only two years after her debut at the National Youth Championships, she made Team USA in 2018. She immediately made an impact by winning silver at the Junior World Weightlifting Championships in the 69 kg division.

She followed up with a stellar 2019 where she took gold at the Junior World Weightlifting Championships at 71 kg, bronze in the 76 kg division at the Pan American Games, and two gold medals in the 71 kg division at the Pan American Championships and World Weightlifting Championships, respectively. She also was named the International Weightlifting Federation’s women’s World Weightlifter of the Year.

While it always was her intention to make Team USA from the beginning of her career, Kate couldn’t have confidently stated then that competing at the Olympics was a goal she could reach early on. But once she began competing against the best lifters in the country as a member of Team USA, that question came up more and more.

Kate initially had the thought to work toward the 2024 Olympics in Paris, as she saw herself as an underdog to make the Tokyo games. When 2019 rolled around, however, she kept improving and her lifts didn’t plateau.

“When 2019 rolled around and Olympic qualification was in full swing, I had the meet of my life in 2019 and it was like, ‘Wait, we would be ranked on the team right now,’” she said. “We just had to keep doing what we were doing, and despite me being kind of a rookie in this sport, I had to keep being consistent and keep showing up, and I didn’t really have any room for mistakes. That was kind of the challenge with us: Could I handle competing at an international level consistently? And, luckily, I could and I did it, and so it was like a, ‘As we go, let’s not have a whole lot of expectations, but let’s get after it.’ And by the end, it was obviously higher pressure when I was clinching my spot.”

As 2020 arrived, Kate felt great about the Olympics approaching. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, delaying the games by a year. She kept her focus on training for the Olympics — whenever they were to arrive — and her husband of almost three years, Noah, saw her “highs and lows” firsthand.

When Kate qualified for the Olympics, Noah believed the weight on his wife’s shoulders became heavier and a bit more intimidating, though she still held fast and remained focused. He saw how the training became a bit tougher on her after the delay.

“There was a long period of time where she couldn’t compete and, for Kate specifically, she thrives on competition,” he said. “Her training thrives on going and lifting as much weight as she can and, at the same time, competing against the best in the world. So to not have that for 12 or 13 months, that was really difficult.”

“All of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, I was definitely only a fraction of what I used to be, and that was hard,” Kate said. “It definitely made me question if I was capable of getting back to who I was.”

The start of 2021 didn’t prove to be any easier for her. She sustained a back injury in February that took her out for a month. The year only got crazier for her as she decided to change coaches four months before the Olympics commenced.

Kate’s new coach was Spencer Arnold, the CEO and head coach at Georgia-based Power & Grace Performance. Arnold took over as her coach in the spring, right before the Pan American Championships in April, where she took silver in the 76kg division.

Arnold said Kate was in a rut when they first started training. She was at the top of her game in 2019 and perfectly prepared for the coming Olympics, but he knew how the pandemic had been rough for her. Arnold saw Kate come to him for structure, new motivation, and a team environment to help build her back up to the level she wanted and to reignite the passion she had prior to the pandemic.

Almost immediately, Arnold said, Kate’s confidence returned.

“She fit right in with our team and her training immediately got better,” he said. “She’s just a crazy good athlete. The second she started training with us and having the structure and environment all set up for her, I mean, (her confidence) almost immediately came back. She was good, quickly.”

Kate split time between Detroit and Atlanta over the course of the last several months. It was an extremely hard period of her life to be constantly traveling and away from home.

As someone who is diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, Kate didn’t feel her mental health affected her terribly during her Olympic preparations. She did feel, though, that it was difficult to get in a good mental state for the Games, as well as the constant flying from Michigan to Georgia and finding a balance in her personal life.

“It’s such a big deal, and then when you already have mental health issues, it’s even more so a challenge to make sure you’re ready for the Olympics,” she said. “Physically, it’s one thing, and mentally is another … All things considered, I did pretty well and persevered through it all, and that’s all that I can ask for.”

While the training period was hard on Kate, she called the training in the lead-up to the Tokyo Games the best of her life and worth it in the end, as she saw herself hitting personal records on her lifts, something she hadn’t been able to since 2019.

“The last few weeks leading into the Olympics were phenomenal and I definitely felt like I was putting together some of the best lifts I could, which was a great feeling,” she said.

 

The Olympic Games
Kate arrived in Tokyo feeling super confident. She and Arnold put together a plan for what they wanted to accomplish. Now it was time to execute.

Outside of the usual training sessions, Arnold said his job as Kate’s coach was to make sure she was relaxed heading into her meet and not think about weightlifting all the time. This included watching TV, playing video games and hanging out with their teammates.

Arnold has found that those who sit in their rooms and stare at the ceiling just think about weightlifting. It was important to get Kate’s mind on other things.

The big day of the meet was Aug. 1, at the Tokyo International Forum. The main challenger for Kate’s chances at gold was Neisi Dajomes, of Ecuador.

Dajomes was not an unfamiliar opponent for Kate. They’ve competed many times over the years, as they’re both from the Pan-American region. Dajomes also was someone Kate looked up to, and Kate felt that they have been able to push each other to get better and not stay complacent in their training.

Noah and other members of Kate’s family weren’t able to travel to Tokyo due to COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions for Japan. They all instead watched from home, which was difficult for all because they wanted to be there for Kate to cheer her on. The entire watch party, Noah recounted, was filled with a lot of excitement and emotions.

“This is essentially what she’s been training for, for the last four years,” he said. “Not being able to be there kind of sucked, but at the same time ... we came together and watched her on TV, watched her lift, and that was really cool to see, you know, not only our family supporting her but how many friends and other supporters that showed up.”

The competition consists of two lifts that athletes have to attempt: a snatch and the clean and jerk. Lifters get three chances at each category, with the total weight for both added at the end.

Kate started off strong with a 107 kg snatch. She followed that up with a successful 111 kg attempt, which equals 245 pounds. On her third attempt, she went for 114 kg, a lift that would’ve marked a personal record.

With 251 pounds in front of her, Kate got into position, grabbed the barbell and lifted it over her head with somewhat ease. Excitement filled her face as she hit the attempt. She dropped the bar, celebrated her personal record and ran back to her coaches, who were all thrilled about her accomplishment.

Unfortunately, Kate’s sudden drop of the bar after her lift proved to be a costly one. According to the rulebook, after getting the signal from referees to lower the barbell, the grip on it “must only be released when it has passed the level of the shoulders.”

The judges reviewed the attempt, which showed Kate had dropped the barbell before it had passed her shoulders. They declared the attempt a “no lift,” squashing her personal record.

Looking back on the mistake, Kate called the drop a lapse in judgement and that it wasn’t a bad call, though she said it was a rule that is almost never enforced and has been broken many times before, which she found frustrating.

“Having that be like a tough lesson on the biggest stage with a lift that would’ve been a big PR for me, that was rough, especially since the lift was so clean,” she said. “It was just a good lift and I was so excited about it, but, ultimately, it didn’t really end up mattering. I don’t think it cost me gold and obviously the only other thing I could’ve done was silver, and I did that. So it was more of a personal loss just because I was so excited to PR after having kind of a plateau in my career.”

Meanwhile, Dajomes was able to hit all three of her snatch attempts with a high of 118 kg. She followed by hitting 145 kg in her clean and jerk for a total of 263 kg.

Kate was able to hit her first two clean and jerks, the second of which was 138 kg, a personal best. This brought her total to 249 kg, another PR for the Berkley native. She went for 148 kg on her final attempt, but was unsuccessful in her lift.

Whether she knew it or not, she already had clinched a silver medal. She said she was thankful that she was able to perform her best when it counted. Kate also was excited that three athletes from the Pan-American region were on the final podium: Dajomes, herself and bronze medalist Aremi Fuentes Zavala, of Mexico.

“It was an honor and it was great, and Neisi is a great human. She’s always been super sweet to me, so I’m just glad a phenomenal person won, and I’m hoping that we have a lot of battles in the future, and hopefully I can challenge her a little bit more soon,” she said. “It’d be great to finally win, and that would be a huge personal win in my career ... because she’s a beast.”

Arnold said he knew Kate earned silver after the 138 kg clean and jerk, though that was something he wasn’t going to tell her, as he didn’t want her to take her foot off the pedal. After Kate walked off the stage following her third clean and jerk attempt, she walked right to Arnold and gave him a big hug. It was a moment he said he’ll never forget.

“As a coach, there’s nothing but pride for an athlete in those moments,” he said. “It’s nothing but excitement for her and her getting to experience so much of her dreams, and especially after the journey, after all the hardships and all that stuff. She deserved every second of that. I was just happy to be there with her.

Back at home, Noah and the rest of Kate’s friends and family erupted for the newly crowned silver medalist.

“We were all just gathered around really closely and just cheering her on even though she was thousands of miles away,” he said. “There was a lot of people who were crying there and very emotional, but at the end of the day, it was an amazing experience to witness.”

 

What comes next
Kate traveled home to Berkley Aug. 13. For five years, her life had focused on pushing her dream and reaching the Olympics.

After her return, Arnold directed her to take the rest of August off from working out. Now that the Games are over and she took a break from training, Kate admitted it’s been hard to invest in what she called “normal life.”

“I feel like a lot of people expect me to say I’m on top of the world still, and I was for a little bit, but I do think it’s hard for people to comprehend that just because I accomplished my goals and I had such a great time in Tokyo, coming home after all that is a huge adrenaline dump and it’s just super hard to wrap your head around all of it being over after putting so much emphasis on it for so many years,” she said.

The break was something Kate said she needed for both her mind and body. As much as she didn’t want to take time off, she knew she’d be glad in a few months that she did once her training resumed.

So for the last month, Kate has been able to enjoy her time off with Noah, their dogs, and her family and friends. She’s now taking in all the love and support from them that she didn’t have when she competed on the other side of the world.

She’s also had time to reflect on what she’s done in her career and what she wants to do next. What comes next for the Berkley native is Paris and making the 2024 Olympics.

Kate marked her return to training Aug. 30. With three years to train, she knows this time period might be even harder than the run-up to Tokyo. But training is what she said brings her back down to Earth. Lifting has been everything to her. It’s her therapy and happy place.

She remembered the beginning of her weightlifting career as a time that was a lot of fun because there weren’t many expectations, just a lot of potential. Now an Olympic silver medalist with a ton of momentum behind her, she knows there’s a lot of expectations this time around. And she’s ready for the challenge.

“I know what I’m capable of and I have a lot to lose,” she said. “It’s definitely going to be different and, you know, I’m not the underdog anymore and I’m ready to approach my career this time around as more of a seasoned athlete, more of a confident athlete, and I think there’s a lot to be said about that too. I’m excited for that journey.”

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