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The City Journals

Olympic weightlifting drops close to home with Team Praxis

Sep 07, 2021 03:55PM ● By Rachel Aubrey

Maci Wynn completes a snatch lift at competition, lifting 100 kilos, or 220 pounds. (Courtesy of Debbie Millet)

By Rachel Aubrey| [email protected]

As residents recently embraced the competitive spirit the Summer Olympics brought into their lives, South Jordan resident Debbie Millet has been embracing competition since 2005 when she began her Olympic weightlifting journey at the age of 36.

Millet discovered there weren’t a lot of women competing in Olympic-style weightlifting at a local level at that time. She admitted that she was one of only a handful of women in the gym looking to lift weights, in the days before Cross-fit became popular. Millet recalled finding one weightlifting coach in Utah, Dave Turner, and trained long enough and hard enough to win accolades at a national and international level. Millet is a four-time Masters National Champion, and a two-time Masters World Champion.

“Once I learned how to do the Olympic lifts, I didn’t ever want to train another way,” Millet said.

Olympic weightlifting is comprised of two techniques: the clean and jerk, which is a composite of two weightlifting movements with a barbell. The first part is the clean, lifting the barbell up from the floor to approximately the height of one’s shoulders, then the jerk, where the lifter raises the barbell from the stationary position completely up over the head. The snatch is the continuous motion of moving the barbell from the ground to above the head.

Weightlifting debuted as a sport at the 1896 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, and has been contested at the Summer Olympic games since 1920. Prior to 1920, all lifters competed together in the same events; since 1920, competition is structured by weight class.

In 2008, with a sponsorship from ICON Health and Fitness in Logan, Utah (now iFIT), Millet opened Praxis Weightlifting Center in her home basement, a place where men and women could come and train in Olympic weightlifting.

“I had felt such a duty to be the Olympic weightlifting gym for Utah,” Millet said. 

In Greek, praxis means “to do,” and upon opening her doors, anyone looking to learn, would come to Millet wanting “to do” and to train in Olympic-style weightlifting. After a successful career, Millet has stepped into a role of coaching in recent years, helping the next generation of athletes who have a strong desire to compete nationally and internationally.

“In weightlifting, you compete against your like peers, people your same gender, same weight and I fell in love with it,” Millet said.

One such athlete is South Jordan resident Makayla Walden, who at age 13 is looking to find her way in Olympic weightlifting. Walden began training with Millet in the beginning of 2021. 

“I tried it for a couple weeks, and I fell in love with it,” Makayla said. “It was quite easy to figure out after a little bit.”

Despite her age, Makayla trains four days a week for at least an hour. Her preference is the clean and jerk. Makayla admitted that since weightlifting came into her life, her confidence has increased as well as her physical fitness. She has received a lot of support and encouragement, especially from those who learn of her endeavor.

“They’re usually pretty surprised, but they’re happy and excited for me and many people have congratulated me and encouraged me to keep going even though I’m so young,” she said.

For Salt Lake City resident and University of Utah medical student Maci Wynn, the responses from family and friends were also skeptical upon initially learning of her weightlifting pursuits. 

“They didn’t really understand it at first; they didn’t know much about the sport; they didn’t know why I enjoyed it,” Wynn said. “Over the years, as they have seen me train, seen me make teams, now they are very supportive as they have learned a little more about it.”

Wynn, 26, met Millet in 2017 and has been nothing but dedicated since that time, training with Millet five days a week for two to three hours a session. Currently, Wynn is training for a regional North American competition in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in September featuring USA Weightlifting and Canadian Weightlifting Federation Halterophile Canadienne, and a US American Open competition approaching in December in Denver, Colorado.

At team Praxis, every athlete is training with their own goals in mind, but despite working on individual goals, there is a team mentality where everyone is working together and supporting one another. During the pandemic, the Praxis team members trained in their homes, continuing their progress on homemade weightlifting platforms. Millet said she worked closely with the health department to ensure sanitation measures were met in her home gym and training numbers were limited to one athlete at a time. The entire team would often get together outdoors during the onset of the pandemic, running on trails through the mountains.

“Everyone has their own goals, but when we are able to train together in the gym, we have a common goal of weightlifting,” Winn said. “It’s really special.”

Malia Levy is another example of how Millet has been influential in helping athletes become the best version of themselves. Levy, a student at Lone Peak High School in Highland, met Millet at the age of 12 and began training in July of 2018. By November of 2018, she was a regional gold medalist for her age and weight class. 

“[weightlifting] was a huge learning curve,” Levy said. “I remember walking into the gym for the first time and seeing a clean and jerk. I just thought that was the weirdest thing.”

Of the two Olympic weightlifting exercises, Levy admitted being more consistent in the clean and jerk but was able to take home silver medals in both exercises this past June at the National competition held in Detroit. Levy is currently preparing to compete within her age and weight class, alongside her teammate Wynn in December at the US American Open.

The common denominator for all these athletes, having a coach who cares and who encourages in the gym and out of the gym.

“Debbie doesn’t only care about weightlifting; she cares about us as people.” Levy said.

For more information visit https://praxisweightlifting.com/.