USA Weightlifting Features Sarah Robles Challen...

Sarah Robles Challenging "Normal"

By Kevin Farley | Aug. 16, 2016, 8 p.m. (ET)



"I think what happened tonight is a phenomenal thing. It's a great thing for weightlifting as a sport. It's a great thing for women. It's a great thing for women of size."

Moments after stepping off the podium as an Olympic Bronze Medalist, Team USA Weightlifter Sarah Robles inspired a nation. Robles, 28, made it her mission in Rio to prove her detractors wrong and show the world the power of positive thinking.

"Overall, this quad has been the most challenging mentally for me, just trying to overcome my own self-doubts and trying to erase the negativity of a lot of people around me," Robles told USA Weightlifting after ending a 16-year Olympic Medal drought for the United States in the Olympic Games.

"I was kind of starting to get a little bit wrapped up in the results too much. I was starting to worry about the weights on the bars, worrying a little too much about getting medals," Robles said.

She let it all go after seeing former Olympians talking about their experiences on the world's largest stage.

"I finally realized that the results, that's really not what we're here for. We're here for the process and we're here for the learning experiences and we're here to represent our country," Robles said. "I had an overwhelming sense of American pride and Olympism."

Robles' road to redemption in Rio, though, wasn't easy. As a child, Robles endured bullying from those who didn't think she was "normal." As an adult, Robles faced claims that she was a cheat and didn't deserve to compete in the Olympic Games. She also dealt with insults hurtled at her by perfect strangers on social media.

But for Robles, she channels the negativity and transforms it into a message that transcends weightlifting and resonates with people all over the country.

"To challenge 'normal' ideals is an important thing,” Robles said to the Los Angeles Times. "It’s cool to be me. I’m big and strong and putting it all for good use."

Athletes, particularly women, have faced criticism when they have challenge society's perception of "normal."

"In a world that is no so accepting of people who don’t display 'normal' attributes, I have, unfortunately, had mean comments said to me or posted on social media," weightlifter and 2008 Olympian Carissa Gump said. "I am a woman, I am an athlete and I have an athletic physique. My Nana once said to me, 'Carissa, if we lived in a world where we were all the same, think of how boring life would be.' I am proud to be who I am and wouldn’t have it any other way."

Robles' path to the Olympic podium was paved by other trailblazers who have helped shape the sport.

"It was an honor for me to compete on the Olympic platform and be 1 of 4 women to represent the USA in the debut of women's weightlifting in the Olympics," 2000 Olympic Champion Tara Nott Cunningham told USA Weightlifting. "[After the Sydney Games] I couldn't help but think about all the women who paved the path for me and was so grateful for the opportunity."

Cunningham hopes the performance by Robles, Morghan King and Jenny Arthur will help inspire the next generation of female athletes.

"Hopefully our performance in 2000 planted a seed of belief and inspired this 2016 team," Cunningham said. "Now this team's performance will do the same for those young weightlifters who look to follow in their footsteps."

As for Robles, she will continue being herself.

"I didn’t have to conform my body or my ideals or my looks to get where I am,” she said to the Los Angeles Times. "I have a bronze medal and I was able to be myself, embrace my body, do the things I’m naturally fitted to do to help make my dreams come true."

And she hopes she can help others make their dreams come true.

“No one should have to hate themselves, doubt their abilities, change what they like or who they are," Robles said to the Los Angeles Times. "If I can be another voice of reason and kindness to help silence everyone else who says something negative about you, that’s a good thing.”