Curiosity got the best of Ethan Harak one afternoon in high school, and it started him down a road that could one day lead to representing the red, white and blue on the international stage.
The 2009 Truman High School graduate recently competed at the USA Weightlifting National Championships in Salt Lake City, Utah, and brought home two silver medals and a bronze. Next week, he heads to Colorado Springs, Colorado, having accepted an invitation to train for a week at the United States Olympic Training Center there.
Competing in the 105-kilogram class (231 pounds) at Salt Lake City on July 20, Harak had the second-best snatch lift of 151 kg (332 pounds) and third-best clean and jerk lift of 183 kg (403 pounds). His 753-pound total was second-best.
In the snatch, competitors lift the weighted barbell from the floor to above the head in one motion. In the clean and jerk, they bring the bar to their chest, pause, then raise above the head.
“I was a little nervous ... I’m always nervous the day or two before a meet, and the morning of,” the 23-year-old Harak said. “But after I’m warmed up and sitting there waiting, you just let all your hard work do its thing. I was in a good place, and my mind was free.
“Leading up, you have to make sure you’re eating right. I was easily under 105 (kilograms) and I still felt strong, which is key. It also helped having my family there to support me.”
Harak started lifting weights in his early high school years, keeping himself busy after football and basketball. He said he and a friend happened upon Truman teacher and coach T.J. Barnett in the weight room one day and asked if they could work out with him.
“He showed us the ropes as far as fitness; he set up the basics,” Harak said of Barnett.
Harak competed at powerlifting meets during his high school years, and after Truman he graduated from Rockhurst University. During that time, he didn’t realize the possibilities he still had for powerlifting, and for a year was “just doing the normal gym stuff.”
He started going to CrossFit in Lee’s Summit two years ago after seeing his parents do the same, and switched full-time to weightlifting after he and his CrossFit coach, Aaron Axmear, mutually realized his weightlifting abilities far exceeded the other disciplines.
Harak said he trained simply to try qualifying for the national championships last year but didn’t advance out of a “last-chance” meet in Kansas. However, he qualified for the 2014 nationals during a November 2013 meet in St. Louis, then a month later brought home a bronze medal in the snatch from the American Open in Dallas.
“You have three attempts for your snatch and three attempts for your clean and jerk, and they add the best together,” Harak said, explaining how meets work. “There is a lot of strategy, actually.
“You don’t want to open at a weight you may or may not hit. You want to open with something you know you’ll hit, because the bar won’t get lighter. Part of a coach’s job is to see what other lifters are doing.”
Harak now resides in Bloomington, Indiana, as he was accepted into Indiana University’s chemistry graduate program and is working toward his Ph.D. He trains at Stonebreaker Athletics in Bloomington, and one of its co-owners, Jennifer Agnew, wrote the necessary coach’s recommendation that resulted in Harak’s invitation to Colorado Springs. Only the top 24 lifters in each region receive an invitation, he said.
“It’s just a way to bring new talent in and see potential competitors,” Harak said of his upcoming trip to the Olympic Training Center. “We’ll be introduced to the training environment and the coaches.”
Also on tap for this year are the National University Championships, Sept. 25-28 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the American Open Championships, Dec. 12-15 in Washington, D.C.
“Most of the guys I’m competing against, they’re full-time weightlifters,” he said. “I have to split my time with going to school, so it’s tougher.
“I just want to represent the U.S. in some international competition. It doesn’t have to be the Olympics. It could be the Pan Americans.”