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Lifting and Loving It

Aug. 16, 2008, 9:28 a.m. (ET)

His parents were separated, soon to be divorced. His mother was working two jobs. His brother, two sisters, grandfather, mother, her husband at the time and one of his friends often lived under one roof.

"It was crazy," Kendrick Farris said. "Some days, I had to fend for myself."

On those days while growing up in Shreveport, LA, the young boy would sometimes go to his grandmother's for a meal, or stop by his aunt's house. Other times, Farris might take matters into his own hands, jump on his bike and ride across the levee in the Stoner Hill section of town.

"Certain times of day at the Sonic drive-in, you could tell them they messed up your order," Farris said. "They'd let you come in and give you another order for nothing. I did that a few times."

Farris would ride away with a sack-full of free burgers until finally, Sonic started checking its receipts.

Farris arrived at the Olympics still fending for himself, coming to Beijing as America's best medal hope in weightlifting. He didn't disappoint, although he didn't medal Friday.

Farris won the snatch in his group with a personal-best lift of 160 kilos, won the clean and jerk with an American-record lift of 202 kilos and finished first in his group with an American record two-lift total of 362 kilos.

"It's not the total that I wanted," Farris said. "But the total is a PR (personal record) in a great competition. It's a great meet."

His hopes for a medal - - the first for a U.S. male weightlifter since 1984 -- rested on the outcome of the second-group results Friday night.

Farris didn't even watch and at the end, finished eighth.

"What's going to happen is going to happen," he said. "I prayed about this a long time ago. I worked hard. I can't do anything. I can't go back there and compete again, so it's pointless to watch."

Farris missed only one lift - - his first attempt at 195 kilograms in the clean and jerk, where wrestlers lift the bar from the floor to their shoulders, take a breath, and then raise it over their head. In a snatch lift, weightlifters lift the bar from the floor and raise it over their head in one, single motion.

"When I went up for the first attempt, I had drunk too much fluid. I was feeling like I was going to throw up," Farris said. "I tried to make myself burp, but I couldn't.

"After the first attempt, I said, ‘I'm good. Just give me something to drink.' My mouth got dry. It was crazy."

He lifted the bar cleanly on his second attempt and followed with a clean lift at 202, the equivalent of 445 pounds for a two-lift total of about 798 pounds - - both U.S. records, giving him his chance for a medal.

"Your mind can either work for you or against you," said Farris, 22. "I can't even explain some of the things running through my mind like, ‘OK, I made this in training. There are a lot of people around. Just do the lift. I know how to do the movement. Just do the lift.'

"It's just random stuff that I probably shouldn't even be thinking about, like ‘I just want to go lay down. Only a couple more lifts. What does my Mom think? How do I look on camera?' All sorts of things are running through my mind."

Farris is a lifter who loves big meets and the high pressures that big meets bring to weightlifting. He perseveres when all odds are against him. He was a survivor in a single-parent household that lived paycheck to paycheck. He is a survivor as an elite athlete nearly a decade later.

Farris was only 11 when his uncle dropped him off, along with his brother and cousin, at Kyle Pierce‘s weightlifting gym to give them something to do.

"We were playing other sports at the time," Farris said. "We were only coming into the gym about twice a week, just to learn the lifts, work on mechanics."

Four years later, he went to his first international meet in Canada. "You know what?" Farris said then. "I can probably stick with this.' I stopped playing football and started getting serious with this.

"I thought I was going to make the Olympic team in 2004. I didn't know how hard it was to make the team. I thought you'd just go."

That gave Farris all the incentive he needed to make the next Olympic team. He quit his job in a restaurant and focused just on lifts and his studies in school.

"My prayers got stronger. So did my lifts," Farris said. "It was crazy, man. I was on a roller coaster. "

In no time, Farris and Kyle Pierce became best friends. Soon, their friendship grew so strong, Pierce became Farris's surrogate father. He still is, and maybe he's even more than that. When Farris filled out his biographical questionnaire for the Olympics, under the category of Father's Name, he wrote Kyle Pierce.

"Kyle just stepped into my life. He didn't even have to," Farris said. "It was just something in his heart. We just had a connection, and we went from there. That is my Dad. He's been taking care of me from that point up to now. He is a major part of my life, not only as a weightlifter but in regular life, in helping me be a model citizen."

Farris still stays in touch with his biological father. "I talked to him before I left for Beijing," he said. "I look at him as a man, not my Dad, but I can still say ‘I love you."'

Pierce was in the stands when Farris competed Friday, along with Farris' mother, Monica Lockett, who took the first plane trip of her life to watch her son's first Olympics.

"The big thing is he's real determined, he's real focused," Pierce said. "He stays positive all the time.

"You dream of this ... the Olympic dream you have way back when you first get started."

While Farris lived his Olympic team with his Mom and father figure watching in the stands, his own 2-year-old son, Khalil, was back home in Shreveport, the same Louisiana town where there is a billboard that says:

"Congratulations Kendrick Farris:

"Dreams Do Come True in Stoner Hill"