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Jamie Squire, Getty Images
Melanie Roach lifts in the women's clean-and-jerk competition as her coaches look on during the 2008 Olympic weightlifting trials May 17 in Atlanta. The LDS mother will compete in Beijing next month.

Meet Melanie Roach: mother of three, wife of a state legislator, faithful Latter-day Saint, advocate for children with disabilities, successful entrepreneur — and world-record-holding Olympic weightlifter.

Roach, who will travel to Beijing next month to compete in the 2008 Summer Olympics, is the first woman to clean and jerk double her body weight. To qualify for the Olympics, she lifted 239 pounds over her head. The question asked most frequently by the media of Roach is whether she can lift her husband above her head.

"He handles that very well," said the 117-pound Roach. "He says, 'She can lift more, but I can run faster."'

The gymnast-turned-weightlifter's road has been long and difficult. After a back injury in 1999 — eight weeks before the 2000 Olympic trials that she still competed in — she stopped weightlifting for a time to focus on her family. She eventually had three children, started a successful gymnastics business and was not sure she would go back to weightlifting.

In 2005, one Sunday afternoon after a nap, Roach awoke "totally inspired." She went downstairs, sat down next to her husband, Dan, and told him she wanted to return to weightlifting. Four weeks later, her son Drew was diagnosed with autism, which led her spiraling into doubts about her son's future as well as her own. A meeting with her bishop and two priesthood blessings changed everything.

She told her bishop, "This isn't what I signed up for." The bishop replied, "This is exactly what you signed up for."

"I stopped praying for (Drew) to recover and started praying for the strength to help him," Roach said. "My love for him grew tenfold, and I started seeing the progress that he made."

She now credits Drew for her success.

"If Drew hadn't been diagnosed, I wouldn't have made the team," Roach said. "I had to have the challenge to make me a better person. I wouldn't trade him for anything."

While she gained strength to continue to help Drew, she still struggled with her back injury that caused her pain with every lift. She asked the elders quorum president in her ward for a blessing, hoping to hear that "everything would be OK" with her weightlifting pursuits. She was not told this, but rather to trust her chiropractor and other medical professionals. She asked the missionaries for a blessing when they visited three days later, hoping again for words of comfort and that the future "was going to be easy." They said the same thing to her, to trust the medical professionals around her.

The blessings, which were "word for word" the same, were fulfilled shortly thereafter.

Her chiropractor helped prepare her to compete in the 2006 world championships in the Dominican Republic. There she talked with a team doctor who recommended a back surgeon in Los Angeles to perform a rare surgery. She and Dan prayed over the surgery decision and decided to go for it. She had the surgery, and one week later was back in the gym without back pain.

"The Lord knows us," Roach said, talking about the two identical blessings. "He knows what's in our hearts. It was a miracle."

Roach, of Bonney Lake, Wash., has become something of a media magnet recently. The Seattle Times, New York Times, USA Today and ABC have all profiled her. She was also recently sponsored by McDonald's and appears on its cups. She relishes the chance with each interview to preach the gospel.

"Every chance I get I can talk about faith and perseverance and how important family is and how I love being a mother," Roach said. "There are so many athletes who have put off having children to pursue athletic dreams. I've proven that you can do both. I'm a mother and a wife first, and weightlifting is second."

One of the ways Roach continues to thrive and succeed, despite serious challenges, is by "enjoying the now."

"If you get too caught up in worrying about the past or the future you're not enjoying the present," Roach said. "Things are going 100 miles per hour, and to stop and savor every minute and to enjoy this experience, that's the reward right there."

As far as the future is concerned, after the Olympics, Dan will run for re-election in the Washington Legislature. After that, Roach has many positive expectations for the future.

"I really want to have more children," Roach said. "I want to grow our business, climb Mount Rainier, go to Disneyland, jump on the trampoline, go snowboarding, get in the car and just drive away and go visit friends and family, and stay up late with my husband and eat popcorn and watch movies."


E-mail: amarshall@desnews.com