FARGO — Connor Heinsch first joined the weightlifting team at Moorhead High School to help him stay in shape for football.
Emily Stamm went out for weightlifting as a way to boost her confidence. She was looking for something to do after school, and wanted to “get to know some new people” at Moorhead.
Across the river, Nic Renner’s competitive nature got him started in the sport. Renner, a rising junior at West Fargo Sheyenne, was out-lifted by a friend a few years ago who was a member of Sheyenne's club weightlifting team.
“I’m a naturally competitive person, so I was just like, ‘I gotta beat him,’” Renner said. “I just wanted to get better at it. ... I saw it was growing exponentially and I wanted to be a part of it. My strength coach advised me to do it, and I just hit the road.”
Heinsch, Stamm and Renner, all relative newcomers to the sport, will soon be making their debuts on the national stage. They qualified for USA Weightlifting’s National Junior and Youth Championships, held June 25-July 4 in Detroit.
“I love the idea of competing on that stage. That adrenaline rush, there’s no feeling that’s quite like it,” said Heinsch, who recently graduated from Moorhead. “The progress that I had seen, even in the offseason coming into this past weightlifting season, continues to drive me.”
Heinsch hit the road Thursday morning to make the 13-plus hour drive to Detroit. He doesn’t compete until Wednesday, June 30, but has a younger brother lifting on Saturday in the 13-and-under division.
“It’s pretty surreal. It was not something I ever thought of,” Heinsch said on heading to nationals with his brother. “Last year, I was questioning whether I'd even make it to the state level, to the state championships this year.”
Heinsch took second in the 96 kilograms weight division at the state meet in April to qualify for the USA Weightlifting National Junior Championships. He secured a total of 225 kilos (496 pounds) between the snatch and clean and jerk. The performance earned him a top-25 ranking in the country for his weight class in the Junior Men’s age group.
“That was about a month and a half back, so I’m hoping for better than that at nationals,” said Heinsch, who is aiming for a total in the mid-to-upper 230s. “I want to have the best meet of my career.”
Heinsch and Stamm — two of the five Spuds going to nationals — have stayed ready with early-morning practices in Moorhead’s weight room from 6-8 a.m.
Stamm is ranked No. 8 in the country for her weight class (81+ kilograms) in the 16-17 age group. She qualified for the National Youth Championships at Moorhead’s fifth annual Spud Thud in late March, securing a total of 131 kilos between the snatch and clean and jerk. Stamm needed to lift 122 kilograms to earn a trip to nationals.
“I definitely didn’t think I would get this far,” said Stamm, a rising junior.
Stamm produced a personal-best lift of 141 kilograms (311 pounds) at the Minnesota state weightlifting meet to take first in the 81+ weight division and set a new state junior varsity record. She’s slated to compete Monday in the 16-17 age group.
“I’m really excited to see what it all looks like — that’s the first thing,” Stamm said. “And then I’m just excited to get out there, do my best and show them what I’ve got.”
Renner will be up against a teammate of his, Chase Hoffman, at the National Youth Championships. The pair will face off Monday in the 16-17 age bracket in the 89 kilograms weight division.
“I feel ecstatic about it. It’s kind of fun to be competitive against a friend at a national level, and I’d like to see what comes out of it,” said Renner, who last competed in weightlifting in late January.
Renner, who also plays football for Sheyenne, is ranked No. 7 in the country in the 89 kilograms (196 pounds) weight class. He lifted a personal-best total of 209 kilograms (461 pounds) in December, but is predicting he'll hit around 230 kilos at the national competition, he said.
“I'm excited, but also a little nervous about it because being on a national stage is nerve-racking,” Renner said. “I know all of the competitors are out there to do the exact same thing I want to do.”
Six Mustangs qualified for nationals in total, but only two are going.
Moorhead graduate Chrisanto D’Agostino, who finished 10th in the world at the Junior World Championships last month, will be competing in the 96 kilogram weight division at the National Championships.