Raising the Bar: Olympics 2016


Hazel McLain

Sophomore Margaret Ruhlman watches her TV intently as weightlifter Sarah Robles lifts for the United States team in the Olympics. Bronze. The first medal won in weightlifting by an American in 16 years. Watching her smiling face from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on the screen, Ruhlman sits on her couch in Kansas City wishing that was her. She imagines herself in the woman’s place, lifting weights and winning medals in front of the entire world. 

“Throughout the whole opening ceremony I kept telling my parents, ‘Hey, we could be there next time,’” Ruhlman said. 

When Ruhlman started weightlifting as conditioning for swim and volleyball, she hadn’t realized how much it would become a part of her world. Her life was wildly different than it was two years ago. That was before she made the decision to become an Olympic weightlifter. 

Ruhlman’s mother, Suzanne, didn’t approve of her daughter’s sport at first. In her mind, weightlifting wasn’t very feminine, and she worried about Ruhlman getting hurt. She changed her mind after seeing how serious Ruhlman was about weightlifting. “When she’s passionate about something, you can’t do anything about it,” Suzanne Ruhlman said. 

Ruhlman had a long way to go until she could compete in the Olympics. She started training with a past Russian Olympic coach, making her goal of competing in the games even closer.  

A personal struggle for Ruhlman was staying completely focused while lifting. Without proper focus, it was easy to become injured and harder for her to make the heavy lifts she was aiming for. Whenever she made a mistake and lost focus, she would take a step back from the bar, slap her legs and look up to the ceiling. Immediately, she would regain the concentration that had escaped for a mere moment. 

“I can’t even hear my mom’s screams,” Ruhlman joked. “I just zone everything out.” 

Ruhlman was under constant pressure with the combined workload of weightlifting and school, but she believed it was all worth it in the end. The idea of the ultimate Olympic title was the driving force behind all of her efforts of non-stop training, healthy eating and unrelenting determination.


At her gym, Ruhlman picks up the barbell again, with 120 pounds added onto it. She braces the bar against her body before pulling it up over her head as she squats down, stumbling forward as she becomes unbalanced. 

Ruhlman doesn’t give up, not while her coach is critiquing her, not while she pushes herself. She simply goes back to the bar and picks it up again. 

She keep continues to pick it up because she knows that the harder she works, the closer she will be to standing in front of millions of people, representing the United States at the Olympics.