OWOSSO TWP. — The word appears out on Like Water CrossFit in Owosso Township: Sign up and national accolades could be in your future.

After sending a handful of athletes earlier this year to national Olympic weightlifting competitions, the gym has doubled the size of its weightlifting team — and with it, the number of people who will be competing in prestigious tournaments across the country.

Husband and wife Doug and Tiffani Douglas, who jointly run the gym and are team coaches, have been amazed by the growth in such a short amount of time.

“It’s been amazing,” Tiffani Douglas said. “I think our original five kind of showed other members that it’s possible for them to just work really really hard and just trust themselves and trust their coaches to go to weightlifting meets. Now that more people are qualifying, it’s getting more people interested. The whole thing is just booming. It’s really awesome.”

“A lot of people are doing it for the first time ever,” Doug Douglas said. “A lot of our competitors are married with kids. Some of them are just starting — we actually have our first 12-and 13- year-olds coming up through the ranks. The expansion just kind of happens; I’ve always been a firm believer in just keep doing what you love and it will grow.”

Two of the younger lifters in the gym are 14-year-old friends Kaia Spiess of Elsie and Alexis Spitzley, of Ovid.

Spiess started at Like Water over the summer after an injury forced her out of gymnastics. She wanted to do something that would keep her in shape and eventually persuaded Spiess to join her.

The pair have both qualified for national competition as well as The Arnold Weightlifting Championships March 5-8, 2020 in Columbus, Ohio. The USA Weightlifting 2020, Masters National Championships are April 16-19, 2020, in Orlando, Florida.

“I didn’t know anything about weightlifting and in five months I’ve somehow pulled it together to make it to nationals,” Spitzley said. “I think everyone could probably do it.”

Unlike Spitzley, who felt she was a “natural” at lifting, Spiess feels like she is still learning.

“I was pretty nervous my first meet because I didn’t know what to expect,” she said “Once I did my first lift I was like, oh it wasn’t that bad.”

Army veteran Carol Risinger, 55, of Flushing is also a veteran of the team — she calls herself the gym’s “grandma.” Risinger took fourth in her weight class in March at the 2019 Masters National Championships in Salt Lake City, Utah.

She had only been lifting for sixth month at the time. Risinger said it was a little intimidating and she didn’t perform as well as she thought she could.

Her advice for her teammates that will be competing on a big stage for the first time is to just stay focused.

“Strictly focus on the lift that you’re doing, on the bar and not what’s going on around you,” She said. “That for me was the hardest thing. It’s very distracting. Last year Arnold Schwarzenegger showed up, too, and that was really distracting! You can say try not to be nervous, but you’re either nervous about it or you’re not.”

She said she is about 3 kilograms from qualifying for the world competition in Germany, though she isn’t quite sure if she will go yet due to the cost and family obligations.

One person on the team that seems to thrive on the big stage is Cathryn Forker. Forker took ninth at the 2019 USA Weightlifting University and Under-25 National Championships March 8-10 in Las Vegas and is planning on doing the 2020 meet in California.

She’s also planning on doing a local meet in Michigan in January, along with three events in the American Open Series.

“I am kind of weird when I go out on the platform, I stare each of the judges in the eyes, I soak it all in, like ‘OK, I’m here, there’s tons of people here, this is cool, I’m about to lift this heavy weight and it’s going to be awesome and then I lift it,” Forker said. “Just soak it in, be confident that you can do it, because obviously we’ve done it in practice if we’re trying to do it on the platform.”

Tiffani Douglas said Forker has made “giant strides.”

“Normally people are nervous about going to big competitions like that, but she just kind of thrives off it and the big stage,” she said. “Having the whole world watch her kind of motivates her and gives her energy to do everything.”

Rachel Munoz qualified for the Arnold in the 71-kilogram category, which she described as one of the tougher categories to qualify for. A mother of one who is one of the longer-tenured member at the gym, Munoz said seeing the program grow to its current state has been exciting.

“The gym in general has just been doing really fantastic and I’ve been able to see it grow from one piece of a rig to a whole wall rig,” she said. “Just seeing the coaches grow and learn and be able to help the community is really cool.”

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