Jason and Carissa Gump are not only husband and wife, but also they are two of the premier weightlifters in the United States.
They traveled very different roads to lift themselves the top of their sport, but this week they will be together --- Jason as a competitor and Carissa as his coach --- for the Pan-American and U.S. National Weightlifting Championships. The event, set for this week, will be held at the UIC Forum at the University of Illinois-Chicago. This meet also serves as the first-round qualifier for the 2011 Pan-Am Games.
How this couple got to this point is a story in and of itself.
Carissa, who grew up in Vermont, had the psychological disadvantage of being a female in a sport more accepted by males.
She felt a desire to lift competitively just before her teenage years, but feared she would be ostracized for it. When she stopped concerning herself with how others might react, she embraced the sport. Once that happened, she became a champion.
"I actually started weightlifting when I was 12 or 13 years old," Carissa said. "The physical education teacher was also the weightlifting coach and he had an after-school program. I took it in sixth grade, but I didn't like it because I was the only girl.
"But the coach was persistent with me,'' she added. "He started begging my mom to get me to join. So I tried again in eighth grade and I stuck with it. It became something to do for fun, and by that time there were other girls I was weightlifting with. It was fun to hang out with those other girls and we became friends."
Less than two years after taking up the sport, Carissa won a silver medal at the Junior National Championships. And at the age of 16, she earned the gold in the same event and placed fourth in the American Open. A year later, she was named Vermont Sportswoman of the Year.
Carissa, who competes in the 63-kilogram weight class, was merely warming up. She participated in her first World Weightlifting Championships in 2002, finishing 15th, then snagged the gold in the 2002 and 2003 American Open.
But it was at another event in 2003 that changed her life. As she prepared for the Pan American Games in the Dominican Republic, another U.S. competitor caught her attention: Jason. The two struck up a conversation, then eventually a relationship.
"I met him in the cafeteria when he was sitting with one of the other guys," Carissa said. "He had a girlfriend at that time, but I sent him an e-mail a couple months later and kept in touch. We started dating after the (world championships) in 2003."
Jason began his weightlifting career several years earlier than his wife. He was 9 when he started, but admits that he didn't take the sport seriously then. He used it as a means of getting out of the house and staying busy.
Then he started competing and winning, and that boosted his self-confidence.
"I was winning every event, so I figured that this is something I'm good at," Jason said. "It was something I could brag about to my friends. It set me off on the right foot. But what I learned about weightlifting is that it's one of the hardest sports. Other sports came easy, but this was a sport I really had to work at. I don't know if I really love the sport or if it's become more of a habit."
Jason began experiencing back problems in 2003 and was forced to sit out much of 2004, which prompted him to undergo surgery in 2005. Another back injury sidelined him in 2007, but he recently returned to take first place in the 94-kilogram weight class at the Arnold Festival in Columbus. That qualified Jason for nationals.
What he is particularly proud of, however, is that he is married to an Olympian. Carissa placed second in the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, but she had already secured a spot in the 2008 Beijing Olympics by earning the gold at Nationals. She took 13thin the Olympic Games.
"I don't think it was until 2006 or 2007 when I felt I could make the Olympic team," she said. "I've always struggled with my confidence, but in 2006 and 2007 I had a plan and it worked out perfectly..
"It's still hard for me to believe and I can't say it's even hit me yet. It was such an awesome experience. The whole thing was kind of surreal. Actually, I had made the team after (winning the gold medal in the 2008 Nationals), but I had no idea that I had made it. It was unbelievable. I was in absolute shock."
The Gumps wed in 2006, but one might not know they are two of the premier weightlifters in America by visiting their house.
"We have that in common, but it's not like weightlifting is what we're all about as a couple," Carissa said. "What makes us a couple is that we're best friends, not weightlifting. We have a normal house. We have all our trophies in the spare bedroom, but other than that, you couldn't even tell we were weightlifters. We're just happy that we're both good at it."
Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Marty Gitlin is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.