Kate Nye poses for a portrait during the Team USA Tokyo 2020 Olympic shoot on Nov. 22, 2019 in West Hollywood, Calif..
Even at the time, Kate Nye recognized that it should not have been that big a deal. The 20-year-old had “bombed out” at the 2019 Junior Pan American Championships, an Olympic weightlifting qualifier in Havana, Cuba, failing to complete any of her lifts.
One bad meet didn’t put her Olympic qualification in jeopardy, but it still plunged Nye into a darkness that she just couldn’t seem to pull herself out of. What is happening to me, she thought?
Looking back, Nye acknowledges that something had felt off leading into the competition, too.
“I love weightlifting. To this day, I’m excited to train every day, and that month I didn’t want to lift at all. I didn’t want to do anything,” Nye recalled. “I wasn’t motivated to do schoolwork or work or anything. And then I went to Havana and I just didn’t want to compete.”
She knew it just didn’t make sense.
“I had plenty of other opportunities, but it was just enough to be like,‘ I just blew an Olympic qualifier because my mental game was just off, ’and I was just very, very depressed,” she said.
When she returned home to Michigan, she didn’t get out of bed for a week.
From One Training Gym To Another
Up to that point, the ride, with its surprising and often delightful twists and turns, had been a wonderful surprise for a young woman who had been driving toward something completely different only a few years before.
Growing up, Nye showed exceptional promise in gymnastics. However, a torn meniscus in 2014 and a desire for a more lively social life led Nye to give up gymnastics, ending a decade-long involvement with the sport in which she had distinguished herself as one of the best in Michigan. Walking out of the gym meant walking away from dreams of competing for a top university, and without a new direction, she foundered.
“Even though I was pretty sure about my decision to quit gymnastics, I think part of me was like, this is all I’ve done since I was 4 years old. It was my whole future. It was how I was going to
choose what college I was going to, so I definitely had a void there,” she said. “I just needed something to do.”
In early 2015, she started doing CrossFit to stay in shape, attracted by its blend of gymnastics and strength training. When her Olympic lifts caused her problems, her CrossFit coach referred to weightlifting coach Josh Galloway. Galloway look one look at Nye and declared that if she came to train as a weightlifter with him, she would medal at the youth national championships that year.
“And I was 16 going on 17 and I was like, ‘Dude, you’re crazy, whatever,’” Nye recalled with a laugh.
Still, she was looking for something to dedicate herself to and nationals sounded fun, so she agreed. At the 2015 youth national championships, she took bronze — and fell in love with the sport.
Like gymnastics, weightlifting is intense and fiercely individual, with all eyes on the athlete. Every lift is a do-or-die performance, and Nye reveled in it. In Galloway’s assessment of her talent, she proved him right, fueling a prodigious rise by winning a silver medal at the 2018 junior world championships and shattering a junior world record. The Olympic Games, something she had never believed she would attain as a gymnast, suddenly loomed into view.
Kate Nye was riding high. Then came May 2019 and the Junior Pan American Championships, and suddenly the ride was out of control.
New Diagnosis, New Solutions
Her post-Havana crash prompted Nye’s husband Noah, whom she married at the end of 2018, to get her to see a mental health professional.
“My husband had been worried about me before, but finally he was just like, ‘Kate, I’m making an appointment for you, I’m worried about you,’” she said.
She saw two doctors, who performed a series of tests —“ the mental health SATs,” Nye calls them — and asked a lot of questions, including about her sleep schedule. Nye told them it was up and down; there were nights when she would sleep for two hours and be fine the next day, and nights where she slept for what seemed like 20 and it still wasn’t enough.
“And they were like, ‘You’re an athlete, right? You can sleep two hours a night and perform? ’And I was like, yeah. I’d never really thought of it that way, but they were like, that’s a really big indicator of mania, the manic side of bipolar disorder,” Nye said. “That was the main thing that tipped them off.”
Nye credits her medication for bipolar disorder with helping her get back on the right track. Perhaps the biggest testament to her physical and mental progress was her performance at her first senior world championships in Thailand last winter, where she became the youngest U.S.
woman ever to win a world title. Joyful even as she held the bar steadily over her head, she pocketed golds in the snatch (112 kg.), clean & jerk (136 kg.) and total (248 kg.), leaving a handful of records shattered in her wake.
Later she was named the IWF’s Best Woman Lifter of 2019, becoming the first American to receive the prestigious honor. She’s now seen as a top contender going into the Olympic Games Tokyo 2021.
Nye’s diagnosis has made her more aware of her health and the need to take care of herself mentally as well as physically. Her philosophy: never hesitate to try something that experts think can help.
“(Medication) might not be the right course of action for everyone. But for me personally, it was like, there are no side effects, so I would be dumb not to take it, or at least try it,” she said. “I also highly recommend talking to someone if you’re struggling. Other than that, just remember that you’re loved and important, and there’s always a purpose for you on this earth. I truly believe that good times are always yet to come.”