Emma Dalke, 14, does a clean-and-jerk in the garage of her Salem home on Wednesday, Jan. 6. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

On December 4, Emma Dalke put on a tunic, picked up her weights, and stepped in front of a camera in her Salem garage. The 14-year-old student was participating in the 2020 National Youth Championships with USA Weightlifting.

She would end the competition in sixth place for her age and weight class.

Olympic weightlifters tackle two lifts during competitions. In the snatch, they pick up a barbell and move it overhead in one smooth pull. Dalke's best lift on December 4 was 56 kilograms.

In the clean-and-jerk, weightlifters pick up a barbell and stop at chest level. Then, they push the weight overhead. Dalke's best lift was 73 kilograms. To put this in perspective, Dalke weighs 88 kilograms. She lifted nearly her entire body weight during the competition.

"It's exciting to watch," says Dalke's mom Trisha Palm. "She's kind of a natural at it. It looks like it's easy, but me doing it myself, I know that it's not. She is definitely a lot more graceful and natural at it than most people."

This was Dalke's second formal competition. In her first, completed in Eugene in the fall, she broke state records for both the snatch and the clean-and-jerk. She was prepared for an in-person competition this time.

The National Youth Championships was an in-person event until November when the organizers switched to an online format due to COVID concerns.

"It was really weird, but it was nice not to have to go anywhere. Because of all the nerves," Dalke said.

"It was kind of interesting," Palm said. "An announcer would tell you when the next person was coming, and when it was your turn, the camera would click over to you and then you would do your lifts. And there would be judges from Colorado that would either declare it a lift or a no lift. And then you would wait your turn for the next time."

Ten months ago, Dalke didn't know much about weightlifting.

"I started out with cross-fit. One of the lifts you do for Olympic lifting was in that, and the coach told me I should just start lifting individually instead of cross-fit," she said. "So then I started doing that and really liked it."

Dalke prepared for her competition for 12 weeks with in-person training sessions three to four days per week. Her trainer, Ruben Martinez, came to her home gym to supervise workouts and ensure Dalke used proper form to avoid injuries.

"I've been training a lot," Dalke said.

As a high school freshman, Dalke has plenty of school days ahead. She plans to keep lifting throughout high school and college. And she hopes to compete in the Olympics, either as a youth or as an adult, at some point.

In the meantime, she'll keep training, although she isn't quite sure when her next competition will be held. And she knows she may inspire other students to take up the sport, although it isn't right for everyone.

"I think everybody should give it a try, but some people aren't like that or aren't athletic. They don't like working out or whatever," she said. "But I think they should give it a try."

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