Interview: Kara Doherty
These days, it’s much easier than it used to be if you’re an Olympic lifter and you’re looking for a place to train. Because of the CrossFit explosion that’s happened over the last ten years, most cities in this country (and other countries) have multiple gyms where athletes have access to platforms, bumper plates, and bars. All you have to do is pick a CrossFit box gym, and you’ve got your weightlifting home. Many people don’t realize that it wasn’t always like this. Believe it or not, there was a time when OLifters practically had to resort to criminal breaking and entering if they wanted a place to train.
Kara Doherty comes from that time. From the beginning of her career in Canada, Kara learned how to pay her dues with tough training conditions that would drive many lifters to quitting. When she left home to attend college, she had to continue to fight to pursue her weightlifting goals…simply through battling for a place to train. As she won national championships and rose to the international level, Canada’s lack of financial support for weightlifters threw even more challenges in her path. In every stage of her weightlifting life, Kara has encountered obstacles.
And none of them have stopped her. Her heart and determination have plowed through every difficulty, leading her to an incredible string of successes. Kara is a lifter’s lifter, and we’re thrilled to deliver her story to you.
Tell us about your background. Where are you from, where do you currently live, what’s your occupation (if you work in addition to training), family life, what kind of sports background do you have outside of lifting, etc.
I am from Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. I currently live in Mountain View, California and train at Catalyst Athletics. I am a part-time personal trainer and a full time mom. :) I started on the Catalyst Athletics staff in January 2010 and in September 2011, I took a hiatus for a little over a year to focus on being a mom. Now I mainly instruct the Catalyst Athletics seminars and help substitute when needed. I also have clients outside of the gym and work with a group of teachers at my husband’s high school in San Francisco.
Outside of lifting, I have attempted many different sports but never considered myself to be athletic until I found Olympic weightlifting. I attempted various sports growing up, such as baseball, figure skating, dance, swimming, gymnastics, you name it. I gave them all a fair chance but really enjoyed synchronized swimming and weightlifting the most. I was fairly decent in synchronized swimming, placing in the top tier of my events, but because I was also competitive in weightlifting at the same time, my parents suggested I choose between the two sports. I was involved in several after school activities and two sports and my parents seemed to be spending all their evenings driving me around town. The choice was easy; I loved lifting weights so I chose weightlifting. I enjoyed it more and felt it was a better fit for me. For some reason, I seemed to be drawn to sports not common to most. I mean, who does synchronized swimming and Olympic weightlifting, two sports that are pretty much on the opposite ends of the sports spectrum!? I liked that weightlifting set me apart from everyone else and it was something I was actually good at. I’m glad I stuck with weightlifting, as it’s been a driving force in my life path. I can’t imagine where I would be today if it wasn’t for that very important decision.
Describe your weightlifting history. When/how did you start? Who have your coaches been? What championships and international teams do you have on your record? What are your best lifts?
I started lifting in August of 1994 at the Fury Weightlifting Club (named after the 1964 Plymouth Fury car sitting in the garage behind the club). I asked my father, who lifted at the time, if I could come out to watch him lift at “the barn” (our weightlifting club had 4 platforms in a barn out in the country, quite literally in the middle of nowhere) to see what weightlifting was all about.
My father had been lifting since he was in high school. When three kids came along, he decided to take several years off of lifting so he could be at home to help my mom. When he felt ready to get back into weightlifting, he continued with his same friends who were still involved in the sport. I had seen my dad compete a couple times when he got back into lifting but didn’t show any interest until I was eleven years old. When I asked my dad about lifting, he didn’t think I was serious about it because of my heavy involvement in other activities. He told me once I turned twelve that he would introduce me to weightlifting.
To his surprise, I followed up with my dad the following year. My dad drove me out to the barn and introduced me to Cal Stevenson. Cal coached me through my first workout. I was hooked! I asked when I could come back. I’ve never quit since that very day.
I have been coached by several great coaches:
My first coach was the late Cal Stevenson. (Sadly, Cal passed in January 2011). Although it was my father who introduced me to lifting, he felt it would be in my best interest if he did not coach me. He didn’t want it to cause any tension in our relationship. Cal coached me for a few years until our lifting environment at the barn became so unbearable to train in during the winter because the propane heater broke. It’s very difficult to train in -30 degree C weather with 5 layers of clothing on! We were a pretty tough lifting crew, but we had our limits. Believe it or not, the bars got so cold that we would blow torch them to warm them up so our hands wouldn’t freeze to them!! We always joked that we should change our club name from the Fury Weightlifting Club to the Flurry Weightlifting Club. Don MacNeil offered to move the club to his home garage (with heat!!!) so we could continue training.
Don MacNeil took over coaching duties for several years until he decided to put his home up for sale, which forced us back to the barn. During this time, I moved eight hours north to Ottawa to attend the University of Ottawa and train from September through May on my own. During the summers, I would go back to my regular training regime at home.
Training in University was probably the toughest training I’ve ever endured outside of lifting in -30 C degree weather. I was able to get through it with a lot of self-discipline and determination. It was my competitive goals that kept me on track and my diligence to my program.
I was given special access to train with the University of Ottawa varsity football team, but it wasn’t as glorified as it sounds. I basically got access to a key to go train in the basement of the athletic building. I rarely saw any football players in the lifting room, which was an old racquetball court turned into a weight room. They much preferred the spotlight upstairs with the dumbbells vs. the barbells. Eventually my access to the key was restricted unless I had someone to accompany me in the basement. Now you would think it would be easy to find another training partner at a major university in the capital city of Canada, but that was not the case. Luckily I had some really good friends that would accompany me for some of my workouts, otherwise I would have to lie to the front desk and say my training partner was in the bathroom to get access to the key. Luckily, the year after the new rule was put in place, my brother chose to attend the same university. Knowing how important my training was to me, he would attend my workouts. I would plan my training around his school schedule to make it work. Without my brother, many of my workouts would not have been possible. For that I am truly thankful and forever indebted to him!
Cal and Don both shared coaching duties until I moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado to work for USA Weightlifting at the Olympic Training Center. The late Rodger DeGarmo offered me a position with USAW in 2007 once I completed my Master’s Degree in Sports Administration. I jumped at the opportunity to move to the United States and work in my field of study, not to mention train at a world-class facility.
Paul Fleschler, the Men’s Resident Coach, took me under his wing and programed for me. Not only was the altitude a challenge to get used to but training five days a week was definitely an eye opening experience. In Canada, I had only ever trained three days a week, so the addition of two extra days seemed extreme (let alone hearing that athletes at the training center trained twice daily a few days during the week). I would say it probably took my body a month to get used to this type of training in addition to being less apprehensive about training among the best athletes in the country. I was able to train during my lunch breaks and after work with the Front Range Weightlifting Club.
Greg Everett became my coach when I moved to California and started lifting at Catalyst Athletics. Now I thought I had learned everything I needed to know by the time I moved out to California. I mean, what could Greg possibly teach me after lifting for over a decade??! Greg taught me to look at lifting in a different way. I had never really coached the Olympic lifts before because I was so focused on my own lifting. I never cared to analyze other lifters on the platform or in training. Being around his coaching, and being given the opportunity to coach, has allowed me to learn more in the last five years than the previous years combined. I think Greg was actually the first coach to point out to me that I never released my hook grip in the clean. These are things I never thought about throughout my lifting career. I just did them. Greg has a certain way of explaining things or giving cues that seemed to click with me. Greg challenged me mentally and physically by pushing me in training unlike I have ever done before. He even named my most difficult program after me, called “Kara’s Nine Weeks of Heaven.” If you ever get a chance, you should give it a try! J If you can get through that, you can get through anything. I did my best lifts ever on that program.
Below are the Championships and International Teams I have competed in:
I have been to 14 Canadian National Championships.
Canadian National Championships:
1997- 59 kg class-Regina, Saskatchewan- 2nd place (Women’s bar introduced to weightlifting)
1998- 63 kg class-Ingersoll, Ontario- 3rd place
1999- 63 kg class-Winnipeg, Manitoba- 4th place
2000- 69 kg class-Vancouver, BC- 1st place
2001-75 kg class- Collingwood, Ontario- 2nd place
2002-75 kg class- Valleyfield, Quebec- 1st place
2003-75 kg class- Vancouver, BC-2nd place
2004-75 kg class- Valleyfield, Quebec-2nd place
2005-75 kg class- Regina, Saskatchewan-1st place
2006-75 kg class- LaPrarie, Quebec-1st place
2007-75 kg class- St. Thomas, Ontario- 2nd place
2008-75 kg class- La Prairie, Quebec-3rd place
2009-75 kg class- Kelowna, BC-2nd place
2011-75 kg class-Toronto, Ontario- 3rd Place
2001 Junior World Championships- Thessaloniki, Greece
2002 Junior World Championships- Havirov, Czech Republic
2002 American Open- Savannah, GA, USA
2003 University World Championships- Pavia, Italy
2003 American Open- Atlanta, GA, USA
2004 University World Championships- Maryland, USA
2005 University World Championships-Nice, France
2008 North American Open- AZ, USA
My best lifts ever are 90 kg snatch and 107 kg clean and jerk. I currently hold the Ontario Senior Records in the snatch and the clean and jerk. My Ontario Junior records were just recently broken after 12 years of being in the record books. L
Please give a basic description of your training. Just tell us as much as you can about your program, weekly/yearly planning, etc.
Currently, I’m not on any type of training program. Or as Greg would describe it, I am on the “Aimee and Kara training program,” which means Aimee and/or I come into the gym (usually 2-3 days a week) and we do whatever exercises we feel like. I on the other hand like to refer to it as the “I’m happy with that!” program. I go into the gym, pick an exercise and work up to a weight that I feel I’m happy with for that day. This is not recommended for athletes who want to improve; however, I do feel I’m able to maintain a decent level of strength until I decide I want more structure in my lifting or actually have a goal or competition in mind. I decided to take a break from Greg’s program after the 2013 American Open. I don’t feel it is right to ask Greg to program for me when I don’t have any upcoming events in mind. I know it takes a lot of time and effort to put together a program and it’s not fair to the coach or myself if I don’t follow it through. Greg has already had to modify most of my programs post-baby, as I was not capable of completing the programs to his expectations like I was able to in the past. Greg has been a saint regarding his flexibility and understanding when it comes to training with external demands.
Describe some of the obstacles you face, or maybe some things that frustrate you in your weightlifting life. What kinds of changes would you like to see, either personally or with the sport in general?
I have been fortunate enough to have Aimee and Greg welcome my daughter Kayla into the gym so that I can continue lifting. So as you can imagine, gym life has definitely changed for me. Right now, one of my current challenges is balancing my lifting with being a mom. Focusing on lifting while I am trying to keep an eye on my almost-two-year-old running around the gym entails a whole new level of focus. It can be very stressful at times. She of course is my main priority, so when a diaper needs to be attended to or she is on the verge of a meltdown because it’s close to naptime, those situations takes precedence over a perfectly timed set or an additional exercise.
If you asked me what changes I would like to see in the sport of weightlifting? Canada is still not on the same level as the USA regarding financial support for their elite athletes. This has been an ongoing struggle as long as I can remember. For instance, back when we made an international team, we not only paid for our entire trip but we also paid for our warm ups to represent our country. Funding is also an issue in the US, but until this sport is on the same level as major sports such as football and basketball, we can’t expect too much in terms of change.
What are your plans and goals for your weightlifting career? How do you see your future in the sport? Do you plan to stay involved in weightlifting after your top competitive years are over?
My first major goal after my daughter was born in 2012 was to make weight for the 75 kg class, qualify for the American Open and compete, all in a span of 5 months post C-section. I was back in the gym 3 weeks after surgery just to move around and do some light bar work. My training regime changed drastically. I couldn’t warm up as long as I used to, I was taking longer rest breaks in between sets (and I already was known to take long rest breaks prior to baby!!), my body was slowly getting back to finding it’s “normal” balance again after slowly losing the 55 pounds I gained during pregnancy (yes, you heard that right….I was a hefty 100 kg at full term!) and I was stressing out about getting through all the exercises on my program. Needless to say, I was very pleased with my 5th place finish.
I currently have no concrete plans or goals for my weightlifting career. I still plan to compete because I enjoy the challenge. Perhaps I will train and qualify for another Canadian National Championships in the near future. For now, I just plan to continue to have fun in the gym and try to keep my strength up.
I have no doubt that I will still be involved with weightlifting when my competitive years are over. It’s been such a huge part of my life from lifting, to work, to volunteering (I was on the Ontario Weightlifting Association board, team manager of the 2006 World Championship team for Canada in the Dominican Republic and had the privilege to volunteer at the 1999 Pan Am Games in Winnipeg and 2003 World Championships in Vancouver) and great friendships. Also, my husband, Kevin Doherty, keeps me involved to some degree with his weightlifting team (Hassle Free Barbell Club) as well, so it will definitely be in the family for some time.
Who are some of your major influences, people you look up to, etc.? Who are the people you want to thank for your success?
Some major influences in my weightlifting career were my fellow Fury Club teammates. Seeing them qualify for national and international events was inspiring. They encouraged me to train hard and work for what I wanted. I think that’s what made our local club successful, not only provincially, but nationally and internationally as well. The bar was set pretty high, so everyone worked hard and it usually paid off. I also looked up to female lifters like Maryse Turcotte and Jeanne Lassen who made countless world teams and even went to the Olympic Games. I’m sure most people would be surprised to hear that I didn’t look up to Naim Süleymanoğlu (aka Pocket Hercules), Kakiashvilis and Pyrros Dimas after having a chance to meet with them and being considered quite high on the weightlifting celebrity list at the time, but my weightlifting influences were a bit more realistic.
I couldn’t go without thanking my dad for introducing me to weightlifting, his countless hours with me on the road, driving me to all my weightlifting meets and his endless support. I would like to thank my mother, sister and brother for being such an amazing support system in everything I do surrounding this sport and their ongoing patience and understanding. I would like to thank each and every one of my coaches for all of their knowledge and effort to making me a better athlete. Finally, I would like to thank my husband for being my cheerleader, motivator, and sharing the same love for this amazing sport.