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Posted 3/20/2014

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By Vince Little
USACE


WIESBADEN, Germany – At 5-foot-2 and a shade over 115 pounds, Martha Manuel hardly looks like an imposing figure. But appearances, as they say, do deceive on occasion.

This little lady is a real beast in the weight room.

As the only female member of Team ASC Zeilsheim, a local weightlifting club, Manuel has set a handful of records in the women’s 53-kilogram classification this winter at competitions around Hessen. She’s also gaining some name recognition along the way – her exploits have been profiled in several German newspapers and publications.

On March 8, she helped Zeilsheim capture the state championship in a road meet against Langen. Not bad for someone who only began competing last August.

“I love Olympic weightlifting because it’s all about focus and technique, and it’s exciting to get to push yourself every week to reach new [personal bests],” said Manuel, who works as an architect for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District. “It’s also a great sport for us shorter people. … Most women avoid lifting because they think it will make them bulky, which is hilarious because it could not be more opposite. Just look at me.”

Olympic lifting consists of two events: the snatch and the clean and jerk. In the first, athletes must lift a barbell from the platform to locked arms overhead in a smooth, continuous transition. The latter is a composite of two movements. The clean portion compels the lifter to move a weighted barbell from the floor to a racked position across deltoids and clavicles, while the jerk involves lifting it above the head until the arms are straight and the bar is stationary.

In December, Manuel earned her first record by breaking the old state mark in the snatch. She’s eclipsed several more plateaus since then, most recently establishing new Hessen bests in the snatch (55 kilograms/121 pounds), clean and jerk (66/145), and combined total (120/264.5).

The 30-year-old native of Charles Town, W.Va., says her path to the sport can be traced to CrossFit Wiesbaden. She joined up about a year ago and then started Olympic lifting last May.

“I fell in love with it,” she recalls. “My CrossFit coach took me to Zeilsheim one day to improve my lifting technique, and the gym just kind of adopted me.”

Team ASC Zeilsheim has 10 members, but only five participate in each meet. Manuel faces a language barrier during events and training sessions. Her coach, Peter Krinke, doesn’t speak English, so they “mostly communicate through charades,” she quipped.

“Honestly, I’m a little fuzzy on a lot of the details because all the info is in German,” she added. “Many details get lost in translation. I just show up and lift heavy stuff.”

She’s done that so proficiently in the past seven months that Krinke says he can’t imagine his squad without her.

“In short, Martha is our family jewel,” he said through a translator. “She is very friendly … and our audience is enthusiastic about her – she is our flagship. With her [consistency] in the team contests, Martha is a top performer, and it wouldn’t be possible to think about the team without her.”

Manuel remains committed to CrossFit Wiesbaden, where she’s a Level 1 instructor. CrossFit, a trademark strength and conditioning brand, combines functional training in weightlifting, running and gymnastics. It requires proficiency in a number of high-intensity disciplines.

She said she hopes to compete with a team at the 2015 CrossFit Regionals after wrapping up her Germany tour and returning to the U.S.

“I just love the community in weightlifting and CrossFit,” she said. “It’s like having a second family. Even during competitions, you are always holding your breath and cheering on your competitors, hoping they make every lift.”

Krinke said “MJ,” as she’s known to friends, has unlimited potential in the world of weightlifting – if she ever decided to pursue it full time.

“Martha has the ideal body dimensions and also the physical flexibility required for weightlifting. MJ is the best in Hessen and a champion in her weight category,” he said. “We work intensively on her improvable technique when she trains in Zeilsheim. … I wish Martha would specialize in weightlifting and learn as much as she can about the techniques, methods and training concepts. There’s no telling how far she would go. She could even transmit her know-how to future U.S. weightlifters as a trainer.”

Manuel’s next appearance will come at the Hessen Individual Championships, set for April 12 in Zeilsheim. That closes out the German season until fall.

In addition to her CrossFit pursuits, she’d like to take a shot at qualifying for the USA Weightlifting National Championships back in the United States. The national governing body sanctions five different events annually in all age groups.

“I have another year of training in Germany before I [move] back to the States to reach the required weights,” she said.

Manuel engages in a rather stringent and rigorous regimen – she trains for Olympic lifting four times a week while also doing CrossFit up to five days. She just started taking gymnastics classes on the local economy as well.

“The hardest part of training for me is trying to eat clean and eat massive amounts every day to maintain weight,” she said.

When trying to hit her marks in weightlifting, she says it can be a case of mind over matter. Focus is every bit as important as physically slinging the barbells around for two hours in the gym.

“It really is a mental game,” she said. “There are days where you come in and everything feels light, and occasional times where the warm-up feels like a cartoon anvil. But you learn to leave the stress at the door and if you’re lucky to have a good coach like I do, they help you adjust your training plan each day, depending on your focus.

“At this point during competitions, I don’t even notice there’s an audience; it’s all just white noise until I finish my lifts.”

Manuel is accomplished in her day job, too. She joined Europe District in 2011 and graduated from the agency’s Leadership Development Program last year.

She said there are parallels between her career and athletic endeavors, especially when it comes to the mental approach.

“The biggest effect I can see actually is a huge gain in confidence and leadership,” she added. “On my last evaluation, my boss noted the significant change in how I handle myself as a leader at work, and I really think a majority of that stems from my time in the gym. When you’re working with some amazingly strong athletes and going into the gym every day to push yourself beyond what you thought you could just the day before, it changes how you approach life outside the box.

“There’s no room for being tentative or for self-doubt. You just have to go in knowing you’re strong enough and ready to just go at it without hesitation.”

architect CrossFit Wiesbaden Europe District Germany Hessen Leadership Development Program Martha Manuel Olympic weightlifting Peter Krinke Team ASC Zeilsheim U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vince Little weightlifting Wiesbaden