Ceara Gray resting prior to testing during Season 3 of the Next Olympic Hopeful on July 26, 2019 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Ceara Gray hasn’t had it easy, but she does makes it look easy.
The Birmingham, Alabama, native says things haven’t come easy for her, but the hardships she’s faced have made her into the woman she is today.
“Growing up, my mom was a single mom, so I had to grow up really fast,” said Gray. “I couldn’t do the same things a regular 9-year-old would do.”
While at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, as a finalist for “Milk Life presents, The Next Olympic Hopeful,” Gray also opened up about some of her past relationships.
“I didn’t pick the best men out there,” she said. “I was in an abusive relationship and it took a toll on me for a while, but it did help me realize what I don’t want.”
Gray has still managed to find the silver lining in just about everything.
“It made me focus on myself, and the goals and the aspirations that I have set for myself,” Gray said.
One of those goals has always been to give back to her mom. For Gray, that meant attending college at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
While at Baylor, Gray was an active member of the acrobatics and tumbling team, which helped her discover her second love – weightlifting.
“We correlate a lot of our [gymnastics] movements with CrossFit movements – like clean and jerk, back squat, front squat, you name it,” Gray said. “I needed to gain weight so I could be a base, so I started lifting, and I just absolutely fell in love with it.”
Weightlifting helped Gray discover the strength and confidence she didn’t know she was seeking.
“It makes me feel strong and empowered as a woman,” she said.
Gray knew she loved weightlifting and wasn’t sure where to go next in the sport, until she found Next Olympic Hopeful.
Gray was selected as one of nearly 50 finalists for Season 3 of the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s talent identification and transfer program, where athletes are tested to see if a variety of Olympic sports would suit them.
Season 3 has contestants competing for spots in six participating sports: bobsled, cycling, rowing, rugby, skeleton and weightlifting.
One winner selected for each sport goes on to attend national team training camps with the opportunity to advance in that sport. Watch Season 3 on Dec. 29 at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.
“Honestly, I wasn’t even sure I would apply,” Gray recalled.
But after a little bit of encouragement from her strength and conditioning coaches, Gray said the opportunity was too exciting to pass up.
“My coaches have been my number one supporters,” said Gray. “They’ve always seen way bigger than I’ve ever seen for myself.”
After being selected as a finalist, Gray said the she was overcome with emotion the moment she stepped on the OPTC complex.
“Just to see how far I’ve come and how far I’m willing to go – it’s just a surreal feeling, and every minute I’m here I’ll never take it for granted,” she said.
Gray says being chosen as a Next Olympic Hopeful winner would mean everything to just her, but her mom.
“She would be the first person I would call,” said Gray. “It would just be a really exciting and emotional experience. I do everything for my mom, for everything she’s done for me.”