Antwan Kilbert and Jimmy Smith landed at the Lift For Life Gym for very different reasons.
Kilbert, 16, found his way to the gym as a chubby 11-year-old. Despite his great affinity for honey buns, Kilbert couldn’t wait to join Lift For Life and follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Anthony. The younger sibling was mesmerized by the raucous crowds that cheered on the competitors during his brother’s weightlifting events.
“I saw him going out of town, lifting big weights in front of big crowds of people and I knew I wanted to do that too,” Kilbert said.
Smith’s introduction to weightlifting was a bit less voluntary. As a kid, Smith had a penchant for finding his way into trouble. He had a strong appetite for fighting. His path towards destruction took a U-turn when Smith encountered a woman who was fed up watching him run around like a wild child. That woman was Linda Mosby, the former program director of the Lift For Life Gym.
“One day, Miss Linda was telling me, if you want to go play, go sign the board,” Smith said.
On the bulletin board was a sign-up sheet for Lift For Life’s weightlifting program. Mosby saw it as a way for Smith to channel his energy into something positive and help him stay out of trouble. That is precisely the reason the gym was started back in 1988.
The first activity at the gym was Olympic-style weightlifting. Competitions consist of two events: Snatch and Clean & Jerk. The competitors have three lifts in each event and 60 seconds to complete each lift. That means the grueling training, the restrictive diets and the sweat equity that goes into training for the competitions all boil down to less than six minutes of competition.
Ying and Yang
Since joining the gym, Kilbert and Smith have become virtually inseparable. They are best friends and training partners – brothers from another mother. Despite their close bond, Kilbert’s and Smith’s personalities are as different as the reasons they joined the gym.
Antwan is pretty passionate and Jerome is pretty mellow,” said Jimmy Duke, head weightlifting coach at Lift For Life. “I liken them to the Yin and Yang.”
The Wikipedia definition reads, “Ying and yang are complementary forces that interact to form a dynamic system.”
It’s a perfect analogy for two young men who are not only achieving great individual success, but also lifting up each other and those around them.
Kilbert, a student at Confluence Preparatory Academy, is wide-eyed, outgoing and excitable. He seems to feed off the energy of the crowd, his coach and his team. Kilbert thrives under the spotlight. The bigger the crowd, the bigger the lifts.
“When you’re lifting the weight, they’re hollering like ‘Get up! Get up!’ I love it,” Kilbert said.
His most memorable moment came in 2016 when he set the American record in the Snatch (91 kg) in the 14/15 division.
Smith is more stoic in his approach. While weightlifting initially served as a distraction from trouble, Smith won’t let anything distract him from the task at hand.
He appears slightly uncomfortable speaking to others about his accomplishments. Many of his classmates and teachers at Cleveland NJROTC were unaware of his lifting prowess. He’s wary of coming off arrogant or self-indulged. Smith just wants to lift.
His motivation is to stay away from the trouble that led him to Lift for Life in the first place. Instead of feeding off the crowd, he prefers to get into his zone and block it out. He focuses on his form and sets his mind on attacking the task ahead.
Smith’s most-memorable moment came when he got the opportunity to stand atop the podium next to Pyrros Dimas, a three-time Olympic gold medalist who is widely considered one of the greatest and most-decorated weightlifters of all-time.
Dimas’ advice to Smith, “Keep your heels down.”
Duke has been coaching Smith and Kilbert since the beginning. He’s seen the immense growth, both physically and psychologically. Though their personalities are very different, they push each other to the next level.
Together, the young men have risen through the ranks of Team USA’s youth weightlifting program. Each has earned numerous medals and accolades, both nationally and internationally.
Travel is just one of the perks for the extremely hard-working young men. Before joining Lift for Life Gym, Smith had never travelled outside the state. Kilbert’s only out-of-town experience was a road trip to Memphis.
On June 3, Smith and Kilbert will begin competition at the 2018 Pan American Championships in Columbia. No, they’re not traveling 100 miles west on I-70 to Columbia, Mo. The dynamic duo will be getting their passports stamped over 2,500 miles away in Palmira, Columbia.
The upcoming trip will mark their second time in the South American nation. They’ve also travelled across the Pacific Ocean to Thailand and across the U.S.
Last year at the Pan Am games, Kilbert placed third in the Snatch. Smith placed second in Snatch, Clean & Jerk and in the overall total. According to Duke, both are considered favorites to medal in all three categories in this year’s competition.
Kilbert and Smith believe that their experience at last year’s Pan Am games helped motivate their drive leading up to this year’s event.
“My goal is to place in the top 3,” Kilbert said. “Now that I know how it feels to be up there, I want to be the best.”
The athletes’ medal aspirations don’t stop in Columbia. Both Kilbert and Smith hope their superb strength will lead them to bigger and better things.
“My dream is to go to college, probably Lindenwood, and to go to the Olympics,” Smith said.
As long as Smith and Kilbert keep working together, setting records and collecting hardware, those opportunities will certainly come.
Until then, expect them to keep grinding away. Both Antwan and Jerome are not only lifting iron. They are also lifting up their communities through their achievements and by mentoring the next generation of youth weight lifters at Lift for Life Gym.
You can help support Antwan, Jerome and the Lift for Life Weightlifting Team by donating to the Lift for Life Gym at www.gofundme.com/liftforlife. Proceeds help pay for the team’s travel expenses.
Follow Ishmael and In the Clutch on Twitter @ishcreates.