Olivia Reeves poses with her gold medal following the women's 76 kg. weightlifting snatch competition at the Junior Pan American Games Cali 2021 on Nov. 27, 2021 in Cali, Colombia.
There was a moment when Olivia Reeves was walking into the Pascual Guerrero Olympic Stadium that she almost had to pinch herself.
“As I’m walking I’m thinking, there’s no way this is real, how is my life not a movie?” she recalled.
The 18-year-old from Chattanooga, Tennessee, is one of the country’s most promising young weightlifters, the reigning junior world champion and a four-time youth American record holder. She’d never quite experienced anything like the Junior Pan American Games, though. No one had.
The event, which wrapped up Sunday in Cali and Valle del Cauca, Colombia, was the first of its kind. Modeled after the quadrennial Pan American Games, the junior version featured more than 3,500 athletes from across the Americas competing across 39 sports disciplines. All of the competitions were U-23.
For Reeves, whose burgeoning career has taken her to competitions across the globe, it was that opportunity to take part in a multi-sport event that drew her to Colombia. And no moment encapsulated that communal spirit more than the opening ceremony on Nov. 25, when Reeves and fellow weightlifter Hampton Morris served as flag bearers to lead a U.S. delegation of around 65 into the opening ceremony.
“It’s a crazy feeling and an experience that I don’t know if that will ever happen again,” said Reeves, who is studying public health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Originally scheduled for June and then postponed until September, the inaugural Junior Pan American Games finally went off without any major issues.
Although the pandemic restricted the athletes from going beyond their hotels and venues, many of the qualities associated with an Olympic or Pan American Games were evident. The opening ceremony had a parade of nations, for example, plus the usual music, dancing and fireworks. Meanwhile, most of the U.S. delegation stayed in the same hotel, giving the athletes an opportunity to bond with those from other sports.
For Reeves, hanging out and playing cards with U.S. archers and weightlifters proved to be one of the most memorable parts of the trip.
“When you’re so involved in your sport it’s sometimes easy to forget there are people who are just as good and as involved as you but in other sports,” she said.
The competition went pretty good too.