Truman High School graduate Ethan Harak said the scene was like it came straight out of the Movie “Rocky 4.”
He was on his way to a weightlifting competition in Russia and when his airplane landed, he noticed there was snow everywhere. When he got to the venue in Kazan, Russia, he noticed the crowd and venue was much larger than events he’s competed at in the United States.
“Our plane landed and it was snowing and everything was frozen over,” Harak said. “It kind of had that (Rocky 4) vibe. You can tell that they care way more about weightlifting as a country than what America does. The venue was on a big stage and had bleachers going all the way up and big jumbotrons. There’s nothing like that in the U.S.”
Harak placed fourth in the 105-kilogram division in the International Weightlifting Federation’s Grand Prix President’s Cup. His efforts helped his men’s team beat Russia for the first time in 30 years. That was his first time representing Team USA.
“Our head coach got a plaque,” Harak said. “It wasn’t a super big deal because it wasn’t that big of a competition. But still beating them for the first time in 30 years is pretty cool to say.”
He’s built off that success and he previously earned a spot on the Muscledriver USA weightlifting team. He will represent his squad on the national stage today when he competes in the snatch and clean and jerk events at the 2017 Pan American Championships in Miami.
He qualified for the event in the 2016 American Open Championship in the 105-kilogram plus division and this will be his second time competing for Team USA. In the American Open he lifted a total weight of 370 kilograms (815 pounds) in the snatch and clean and jerk, which was good for second place.
He also competed at U.S. Nationals in May and competed in the 105-kilogram weight class and finished second there as well. He totaled 363 kilograms (800 pounds).
Not bad for someone who just started the sport four years ago.
“I’ve been (in Miami) since Friday night,” Harak said. “Ever since I’ve got here, everything has been focused on lifting good. If I am training here, I am eating, sleeping and trying to recover for the next day.”
The Truman grad, who is a trainer at Crossfit in Lee’s Summit, said he was training nearly every day for the Pan American Championships, and now that he’s in Miami, he’s been working out at least 2-3 hours per day.
He qualified for the Pan American Championships as a heavyweight, so he had to work on gaining weight, which included scarfing down a tub of ice cream in an effort to increase his calorie intake.
He was successful as he went from 230 pounds in May to 260, his current weight.
“It’s not all muscle, some of it is fat,” Harak admitted. “Honestly, I’ve been eating as much as I can, trying to eat good to get all of my nutrients in. But sometimes, late at night, it turns into grabbing a jar of ice cream and going to town.”
Harak admitted that the competition is stiff in the 105-kilogram plus weight class, but competing there gives him the best chance to compete for Team USA, as its vacant spots reside in the heavyweight class.
“I am pretty new in that weight category, so I haven’t reached my full potential,” Harak said. “Internationally, there are some giants in that weight class who can move a lot of weight. I am not at the point where I can say I am going to medal.”
When he competes at the Pan American Championships, Harak’s main goal is to score points for his team and place as high as possible. If he is able to earn a medal, that is just a bonus.
“If someone has a bad day, there is a chance (to earn a medal),” said Harak, who is ranked fourth in the heavyweight class going into the event and will compete against three Olympians. “We’ll have to see. I am just going to focus on what I need to do. If I get a medal, I get a medal.”
In the future, Harak said he will aim to make the USA World Team and will try to qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. But for now, he’s just enjoying competing at the national level.
“The fact I am making international teams is pretty cool,” he said. “If I keep making Pan American Championship teams and making world teams, then I would honestly be happy.”