Interview: Samantha Lower
It’s a lot of fun to hear from weightlifters who have gone through the whole range of experiences in this sport. The excitement of getting started, the great early years when you’re constantly getting better and improving, the plateaus, the injuries, the times when you have to step away for a while, the comebacks, the big moments…all that jazz. Samantha Lower is only 26 years old at the time of this article, which still seems pretty young to a lot of the old crusty asses who read this magazine. However, she’s definitely one of those athletes who have run the full gauntlet in Olympic weightlifting.
A product of the Florida high school weightlifting system, Sam has put in a lot of mileage over the years. She is currently one of our top American female lifters in the 58 kilo weight class, battling it out for the medal podium with a big group of other talented gals. This sport is her life story, all the way to her marriage to another national competitor, Thomas Lower. The enthusiasm and positive attitude she has for weightlifting are easy to see when you read her words. We are proud to give you a look at her journey.
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.
First off, thanks for having me! I'm originally from Daytona Beach, Florida, now living in Austin, Texas, with a few stops in between. I have lived in Colorado, Louisiana, and Wyoming as well, all for weightlifting. Currently I train full time in my garage, though I do the occasional side weekend work for weightlifting such as seminars and classes, including assisting for Weightlifting Wise's Art of Coaching Weightlifting Seminars by Ursula Garza Papandrea, classes at Dane's Body Shop here in Austin, clinics for Juggernaut Training Systems with Chad Westley Smith, and workshops/classes with my husband Thomas for Lower Weightlifting.
Thomas and I have been married for two years now and I am a "mom" to our two beautiful pups, and better yet, they are my training partners! As far as an athletic background, I started gymnastics at the age of three. I thank my mom every day for starting me so young in a sport where I could develop speed, strength, and explosiveness, which came in handy when weightlifting became an opportunity. Then, as a teenager I switched over to competitive All Star Cheer and Dance. Again, with all the tumbling and jumping, I continued to grow more explosive.
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?
Weightlifting came into my life in 2002 as a freshman at Spruce Creek High School. Unaware at the time that my school was a pioneer in Florida High School Weightlifting history, with the men's team having 25 Florida State Weightlifting Championships titles and where 1996 Olympian Tim McRae came from, I took it as an elective my first semester. Mike Randow and Tom Bennett were the weightlifting coaches, and though I'm sure I looked like a scrawny spastic mess with a bar in my hands, they somehow decided they saw some potential and recruited me for the women's weightlifting team.
In Florida, high school weightlifting is a sanctioned state sport; we bench and clean and jerk as our two events. Tom Bennett, who was a weightlifter and my first coach, asked me after my first season with the Hawks if I wanted to continue weightlifting on the "off season" and do the real weightlifting, learn to snatch, and compete year around! I couldn't have been more excited to find out I could do this all the time.
In May 2003, I competed in my first Olympic Weightlifting meet and I was hooked. I continued the next three years, competing in high school weightlifting and winning a State Championship, Olympic weightlifting, All Start Cheer, and Dance teams. Senior year, my coach encouraged me to apply for a resident slot at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. After my performance at the 2006 Junior Nationals and meeting the OTC Women's team coach, Bob Morris, I was invited out as a training special for a three-month "trial.” At the end of the nerve-wracking, crazy fun three months, we had our National Championships. Our performance was being used as the deciding factor of a resident slot, and after the competition Bob had given me the good news that I had been accepted as a resident at the OTC! I trained there through 2006 and 2007, having an amazing experience with inspiring training partners, and making Junior and Collegiate Teams along the way.
I then took some time off, moving back home and working on the beach 40 hours a week. Weightlifting was an active hobby, training through the 2008 Olympic Trials, and competing in cheer again for another year. Anyone who has experienced the love for weightlifting that I have knows you can't stay away for long, though. So in August of 2009 I got a call from Dr. Kyle Pierce of LSUS and USAW High Performance Center, inviting me out to start training again, and I moved out to Shreveport a week later.
After making a couple more Collegiate teams, I sustained a good enough injury to take me out for over a year. At World Universities Games in 2011 on my successful 2nd attempt clean and jerk, my scalene pulled tight enough on my first rib and hearing a crack, I sustained a stress fracture. With adrenaline going and not feeling any pain, I continued out onto the platform for my 3rd attempt. After completing the clean, I went to dip for the jerk and I had broken my first rib, and earned a free ride in the ambulance in Shenzhen, China. Good times.
Six months after breaking my first rib, I went into the doctors for a CT scan and results showed my bones were still not fully bonded, so I continued to take time off just waiting for the day I could lift again. In December 2012, healthy enough, Thomas and I had a heart to heart and decided I was going to give weightlifting another shot on a serious level. By then we had moved to Jackson, Wyoming and I knew I was going to need remote coaching. I called someone I knew I could entrust my career with and had always enjoyed working with and success with programming, Bob Morris, one of the best technical eyes in the country. He accepted, and we email and I send videos to him daily. Now that we are in Austin, we are only a short hour drive to Queen Ursula's gym, and Bob likes if I can make it there once or twice a week to get some eyes on me for direct feedback and a better training environment. My best competition lifts to date are 83kg Snatch and 100kg Clean and Jerk at 58kg body weight. Competition stats and results are by class and then all international teams by class.
National Meets and Placing
-2004 Junior Nationals 5th
-2004 Nationals 7th
-2004 American Open 6th
-2005 Junior Nationals 3rd
-2005 School Age Nationals 1st*
-2005 American Open 1st*
-2006 Junior Nationals 2nd
-2006 Nationals 3rd
-2006 American Open 2nd
-2007 Junior Nationals 1st*
-2007 Collegiate Nationals 1st*
-2007 Nationals 2nd
-2007 American Open 5th
-2008 Junior Nationals 1st*
-2008 Nationals 7th
-2008 Olympic Trials 3rd 53kg
-2008 American Open 5th
-2009 American Open 2nd
-2010 Collegiate Nationals 2nd
-2010 American Open 2nd
-2011 Collegiate Nationals 2nd
-2011 Nationals 3rd
-2013 Arnold 2nd
-2013 Nationals 2nd (1st* cj)
-2013 American Open 1st*
-2014 Nationals 4th (2nd sn)
International Meets and Placing
-2005 Young Louis Cyr 1st* (Montreal, Quebec)
-2006 Junior Pan Americans 5th (Cali, Columbia)
-2007 Trofeo Sicilia (Caltanissetta, Sicily) 2nd
-2007 XII Trofeo Internazionale Sicilia (Carini, Sicily) 3rd
-2007 World Universities 2nd (Lima, Peru)
-2008 Quebec Junior Championships 1st* (Lachute, Quebec)
-2010 World Universities 3rd (Thaichung City, Chinese Taipei)
-2010 Crillo cup 3rd (Caguas, Puerto Rico)
-2011 World Universities games 9th
-2013 Senior World Team first alternate (Russia, did not attend)
Please give a basic description of your training. Just tell us as much as you can about your program, weekly/yearly planning, etc.
Currently, Bob has me training eight times a week, Monday through Saturday with 2xdays on Mondays and Wednesdays, and Sundays off. Bob does a fantastic job with my programming and working around old injuries to avoid any flare ups. He has me stay very close to the lifts, with some variety in block work and powers depending on where I am at in my cycle. For squats, currently I only do a Front Squat two to three times per week. Like most lifters, we all have nagging injuries and I have a few bulging discs in my lower back, and for some reason I cannot back squat without getting hurt, along with no RDLs and a few other little tweaks. So I definitely have some challenges he works around, but we get the work in!
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?
Injuries, those are my biggest obstacles and the most frustrating part of training. I have a chiropractor here in town I work with to keep up on maintenance or put any flare ups in check, Dr. Jill Thompson with Austin Sports Therapy. I've gotten some great exercises for my back from Dr. Quinn Henoch, from Darkside Strength and Juggernaut. And recently I worked with Derrick Johnson of Texas Barbell Club while he was here in Texas doing seminars, and he helped show me some great glute activation exercises that I now do before every single training session. I'm only a few weeks in with doing them, but added those to my other warm up exercises, I have already felt a difference in my glutes and I'm using them more in my lifts, and it's reducing pain in my knee from tendinitis. As far as changes in the sport, there are of course a few things I would love to see happen to the benefit the lifters. One thing that I think would be great to see is prize money or pay out at National meets! The sport has grown so much in the last few years, I feel like this is a very feasible idea, especially with so many local meets doing it. And what a great incentive for our top athletes to battle for, and I'm sure since most are self-funded, holding down full-time jobs, and full-time training, they could use it.
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 main goals for my weightlifting career include both making a Senior Pan Am and World Team. I've achieved these goals at a junior and youth level and when I came back after injury, these became my main focus. Of course I understand that things will not happen overnight and before I can do anything, I know I need to stay healthy in order to train, trying that "slow and steady" approach. I definitely want to stay involved with weightlifting as far as coaching and helping the sport grow when I'm done with my top years. I'll hopefully channel my inner Ursula and start producing our future athletes... and maybe dye my hair red. I know my husband and I would love to open a weightlifting gym, though just not sure in what part of the US just yet. We move a lot!
Who are some of your major influences, people you look up to, etc.? Who are the people you want to thank for your success?
I feel like I have a ton of influences! This is definitely not a one-man show, and because of how mental this sport is, it's so important to have support and people you look up to. Just to name a few, when I started out I was a 48kg lifter, so of course I had looked at the performances of Robin Goad and Tara Nott. Then as I began to meet more lifters at the national meets, I loved watching Natalie Woolfolk Burgener, Cheryl Hayworth, Doreen Fullhart, Cara Heads, and Carissa Gump. So you can imagine how inspiring it was to me that when I got accepted out to the OTC, I was training everyday with all these ladies and more!!! It was such an incredible experience as a junior lifter just watching and getting pushed by these strong women day in and day out.
Today I still look up to all of these women from my OTC days, but I became very close with one in particular that still pushes and cheers for me today and someone I can call when I need a little motivation or inspiration, Amanda Hubbard Sandoval. Not only is she an amazing person and athlete, but her dedication and drive was just so very inspiring to me. I'm currently waiting for her comeback. And of course I would not even be here without my coaches, Tom Bennett who started me, Kyle Pierce who got me going again, Ursula Papandrea, the incredible athlete and coach who has to deal with my craziness, and of course Bob Morris, who is the main man who shaped my lifting and technique and is still kicking my butt daily. The love of my family and support from them was/is always crucial. Lastly, it's the man who is making my dreams even a possibility, allowing me to train full time, and who is my biggest support system: my husband Thomas. He is there with me day in and day out to encourage and keep me motivated! I, of course, want to make him proud, but I also want to achieve these goals for myself and see my hard work pay off!
Your work is already paying off, Sam. And we’re all excited to see what you do in the future as an athlete and coach. Thanks for sticking in the sport, and best of luck with everything you do.