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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Notre Dame High School graduate Olivia Reeves lifts weights Saturday at Tennessee Speed and Strength in Chattanooga. Reeves recently won two gold medals and a silver at the International Federation Junior World Champioships in Uzbekistan, and she hopes to represent the United States in weightlifting at the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

The weightlifting medals are stuffed inside a size 9 shoe box beneath Olivia Reeves' bed. Sticky notes are applied to the box top to remind her where each one came from. The latest ones placed there, and almost certainly the most impressive, are identified as "International Federation Junior World Championships."

That's right. Reeves, who just graduated from Notre Dame High School, won two golds — including the overall gold in her 71-kilogram (156-pound) weight class — and a silver on May 27 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, which also makes her one of the favorites to represent the United States at the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

"That's the goal," she said Saturday morning at Tennessee Speed and Strength, where she trains three times a week with her longtime coach Steve Fauer.

How badly does she want to reach that goal?

"Pretty badly," said the 18-year-old, who will attend the University of Alabama at Birmingham this fall with an intent to major in food science.

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Olympic hopeful weightlifter Olivia Reeves

The ease with which she won the junior world title under less than ideal conditions is a major reason to believe Reeves could definitely add an Olympic gold medal to her shoe box four years from now.

"It took us 27 hours to get there and 33 hours to get back because of an eight-hour layover in New York City," Fauer said. "Thirty hours after we landed, she's on the platform against two girls from Russia, which is relatively close, and another from Uzbekistan. You're always worried about jet lag in a situation like that, but she couldn't have been sharper."

This is how sharp: The girl from Uzbekistan, Kumuskhom Fayzullaeva, finished 11.1 pounds behind Reeves in the overall, a sizable gap in weightlifting.

And when Reeves got back to Chattanooga around 10 p.m. after that 33-hour return trip?

"I went to my job at Chick-fil-A the next afternoon," Reeves said with a smile.

It all started a little more than eight years ago when Reeves' parents, Amber and Jason, were running a CrossFit gym. Olivia didn't take to all the training, but she loved the weights.

"I wanted to be good at a sport that I like and enjoy," she said. "I like weightlifting."

She also likes the responses she sometimes get from boys when she tells them what her sport is and they ask how much she can lift. When she answers, "they get a little intimidated."

The sport basically involves two moves in competition. There's the snatch, which consists of picking the weight off the floor and lifting it above your head in a single motion. Then there's the clean and jerk, which consists of lifting the weight off the floor and squatting with it without your elbow touching your leg, then lifting the weight above your head in a second continuous motion. The scores from those two exercises are combined to produce an overall winner in a weight class.

Of those two, the clean and jerk is almost always the heavier lift. For instance, Reeves' silver medal in the snatch was for 102 kilograms (224.9 pounds), while her clean and jerk topped out at 127 kilograms (280 pounds) for a gold medal. The combined scores earned her the overall gold as well female weightlifter of the week at the junior championships.

"I've trained other weightlifters, males, to reach a world championship, but I've never had anyone win a gold before," Fauer said. "When you work with an athlete every day, you don't always realize how good they are. But with Olivia, the first time she won the nationals I started thinking we could have something special here."

By today's standards for the prototypical text-obsessed, binge-watching, Snapchat-addicted teenager, she is certainly a special change from the normal. Asked what she likes to do on a day off from training and school — Reeves had a "weighted" 4.0 GPA at Notre Dame — she replied: "Work in the yard or clean out my car."

Asked about her diet, Olivia replied: "My family eats pretty healthy. The only thing we drink is water, milk and orange juice."

And a big night out? "Going to a drive-in movie with a few friends," she said.

As for exercise beyond lifting weights, she favors taking the family's two mutts — Earl and Tina — on long walks.

To briefly return to Uzbekistan, eating was more than a little interesting at the team hotel (USA Weightlifting covers expenses for athletes and a coach).

"We found out one meat they served was horse meat," said Reeves, who had never been to a foreign country. "I had what they told me was a chicken leg, but it didn't taste like chicken. Fortunately, there was plenty of pasta and rice, and some really good chocolate pudding, and the breakfast food was good."

Fauer is moderately concerned about her next foreign competition later this year in Colombia. And Olivia isn't the only Reeves family member who will take part in an international weightlifting competition in 2021 — her 16-year-old sister Haley will travel to Saudi Arabia.

But at least for now, it is Olivia who's most often mentioned as an Olympic contender.

And what is she proudest of concerning that expectation?

"I like that it's a good reflection of how much work I've put in behind the scenes," she said. "How I go to bed early, get up early and watch what I do and eat. That I'm willing to work hard to make this happen."

By the time the Paris Olympics roll around in 2024, it sounds as if Olivia Reeves is going to need at least one more shoe box and sticky note pad to hold and document her medals and her golden work ethic.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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