The journey of a Mormon Olympic weightlifter

Published: Wednesday, May 16 2012 5:00 p.m. MDT

Sarah Robles is ranked as the No.1 female weightlifter in the United States. She will compete at the 2012 London Games this summer.

Family photo

“Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things.” – Alma 26:12

Moments before attempting to lift a new personal best and qualify for the U.S. Olympic women’s weightlifting team on March 4, Sarah Robles offered one of the most meaningful prayers of her life.

“Heavenly Father, I really need this lift to be on the Olympic team. Please give me the courage and strength I need to lift it,” the 23-year-old petitioned in her heart.

The total weight on the bar measured 144 kilograms (316 pounds), and as Robles heaved upward, she immediately thought, “There is no way.” Across the room, her coach and friend feared Robles would lose the bar.

Then with a burst of hidden strength, Robles recovered. She managed to clean and jerk the bar triumphantly over her head. She had done it — she was going to the 2012 London Games.

“Nobody thought I would make it,” she said. “I don’t know how it happened. It was like there were angels on the platform. The Lord answered my prayer in a way I probably didn’t deserve. I don’t think I will ever forget that prayer in my life.”

This scene illustrates the physical and spiritual strength of the No. 1-ranked female weightlifter in the United States.

Robles’ all-inclusive strength was developed through years of overcoming adversity. From growing up in humble circumstances, to caring for and losing loved ones and other personal challenges, Robles credits her family and faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ for giving her the fortitude to chase her dreams.

“I don’t know how I’ve done it. It’s taken a long time to recognize my place and purpose,” Robles said. “The LDS Church has played a big role. … It has given me a support system, an outlet and perspective for what I’m doing. It’s helped me know where my priorities should be.”

Family strength

Joy Robles gave birth to her 10-pound, 14-ounce baby daughter, Sarah, without any pain medication in 1988.

“Yeah, it wasn’t pleasant,” Joy said. “Her whole life she has been bigger. People expected more of her because she looked older than she was.”

Because she was taller and heavier, Sarah Robles endured frequent teasing from other kids. Her grandfather helped her feel better by saying, “They don’t know who you are. Tell them you are Ed TarBush’s granddaughter.”

Sarah Robles was raised in Desert Hot Springs and San Jacinto, Calif., surrounded by sickness and suffering. Her grandmother had multiple sclerosis, her grandfather had diabetes and her father, Dennis, had Buerger’s disease, a rare disease in which blood vessels of the hands and feet become blocked.

Most of Dennis Robles’ health problems stemmed an addiction to alcohol, Sarah said. During her young life, he was hospitalized for liver failure. When she was 11, corrective surgery on her father’s legs led to a blood clot in his brain and he had a stroke. He also experienced kidney failure. The stroke left him permanently disabled and unable to communicate. Joy Robles quit her job to provide constant care for her husband for the next six years. During that time, the family basically survived on Social Security and military benefits (her father had served in the U.S. Air Force), Sarah recalled.

As a result, Sarah’s parents rarely saw her compete in the throwing events with the high school track and field team. It was a difficult period in all their lives that forced Sarah to grow up fast.

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