Just before one of the biggest weightlifting competitions of her life, Meredith Alwine ’20 washed her hands and doused water on her face in the restroom. At the sink next to her was a teenage girl, whose eyes widened when she recognized Alwine.
“Oh my gosh, you’re Meredith Alwine!” the girl exclaimed. “Can I get a picture with you?”
A growing fan base is just one of the things the Randolph junior has had to get used to during her climb to the top of the international female weightlifting world.
“In the kids’ class at my gym, these third grade girls watch me and get bummed out if they miss my lifts,” Alwine said with a smile. “Some of the moms have even walked up to me and told me I’m amazing and to keep going. I’m honored that women and young girls look at what I’m doing and find joy and inspiration.”
Although she’s only been competing in the sport for three years, Alwine has already made a name for herself. She first stepped onto the national stage in 2016, when she placed third in the USA Weightlifting National Junior Championships in Philadelphia. She has since gone on to win multiple Junior and Senior National titles as well as three silver medals at the Junior World Weightlifting Championships in Uzbekistan this July.
“Meredith is one of the most promising athletes for her age and bodyweight in the world,” wrote Phil Andrews, chief executive officer for USA Weightlifting, recently in a letter to Randolph President Bradley W. Bateman. “Meredith is as proud of her academic achievements as she is of her accomplishments with USA Weightlifting.”
In September, she was one of 1,600 athletes participating in the American Open Series in Las Vegas, where she broke the Junior American record for the clean and jerk lift, as well as the record for the total, and qualified for the Senior World Championships in Turkmenistan this November. Her performance there also significantly improved her chances to qualify for a spot on the 2020 U.S. Olympic team.
“The level of elite that I’m at now changes the way other people perceive me,” Alwine said. “Before, I was just a junior weightlifter, and I was pretty good. But now I’m considered an elite weightlifter, and I even have a fan base. It’s making me realize just how far I’ve come, and that I’m now considered a professional.”
Weightlifting isn’t the only sport at which Alwine has excelled. She was a competition gymnast until she was 10 years old. Later on, she ran track and played soccer. Just before her senior year of high school, she joined a CrossFit gym and tried her first weightlifting class. As a self-diagnosed perfectionist and fierce competitor, Alwine realized the sport was perfect for her.
“There’s so much mental effort that goes into training,” she said. “From the moment you step forward to put your hands on the bar, you have to be aware of what muscles are activated, what position your wrists are in. As soon as you come off the floor, you have to be aware of where your shoulders are and what muscles you’re engaging. Every single millisecond of it matters.”
Alwine is coached remotely by Travis Mash, a world champion powerlifter and owner of Mash Elite Performance in Greensboro, N.C. Her father, Scott Alwine, handles statistics and logistics for her travels.
“My dad was a Navy fighter pilot and is a very intense guy—he’s read all the rulebooks, looks at numbers, and stalks other lifters’ Instagrams to see what their records are,” Alwine laughed. “He also runs the numbers for me at local meets, so I don’t have to keep track of that myself. And he loves logistics, so he takes care of the flights, hotels, and all that stuff.”
Alwine laughs that her friends often take advantage of her physical strength, recruiting her to help move furniture and always placing their bets on her in arm wrestling matches.
However, when it comes to balancing academics with her weightlifting career, Alwine doesn’t joke. Organization is key. Fortunately, she has supportive professors who have worked closely with her to help her manage competitions and coursework.
“The small size of the school is really conducive to a good relationship and gives me more freedom,” Alwine said. “I love the environment here, and it just makes it so much easier to do what I do. The professors are so cool and supportive. They think it’s awesome.”
Alwine is a philosophy major and a Dean’s List student who has impressed her professors with both her athletic abilities and her work ethic.
“I have enjoyed working with Meredith since our first advising meeting during her first-year orientation,” said Kaija Mortensen, a Randolph philosophy professor and Alwine’s academic advisor. “She was a joy to have in my first-year seminar, and I’ve been continually impressed by her diligent, thoughtful work in her courses, as a tutor, and the way she juggles her high-level academic work with her high-level work in the gym. She has been incredibly involved in shaping her academic experience and proactive in making the schedules work so that neither aspect of her life suffers.
“We joke that she is a double-major in philosophy and weightlifting, but it’s not really that much of a joke,” Mortensen added. “They are the two focuses of her life right now, each with their deadlines and training and exam periods.”
Alwine ultimately wants to become a lawyer, and she plans to continue her quest for the Olympics even while in law school and later as a practicing attorney.
“Weightlifters have very long careers,” she said. “Some people go to three or four Olympics and keep it up into their 30s and 40s. It has a long lifespan as a sport and a really low rate of injury. I see myself doing this for a long time.”
Despite all of her success and passion for the sport, there are days when Alwine just wants to be a “normal” college student.
“I don’t always want to eat the way I need to, and I don’t always want to go to the gym,” Alwine said. “Last semester, I really solidified my friendships and got involved on campus, so getting on the plane to go to meets was hard.”
However, those negative feelings fade once she arrives at her competitions.
“When I get to the meet, start lifting, and see my friends and the fans who are cheering me on, all of that motivation comes back,” Alwine said.
In fact, the competition community is what Alwine enjoys most about the sport. She has made friends all over the world at various meets—many of whom are her fiercest competitors.
“This sport is really about the experience and getting close to the other lifters,” Alwine said. “I have this new group of friends now, and we get to travel the world and have all these experiences together. Winning and getting titles is all very motivational, of course, but I don’t think I could do it without the people.”
Since she came to Randolph, Alwine has been training at CrossFit Lynchburg, where she’s established even more friendships and a network of her strongest supporters.
“We’ve got this really great community, and they’re all so respectful and supportive,” Alwine said. “I went to a meet in Richmond recently, and everyone came to watch. And when they have meets in Roanoke or Richmond, I go and watch them.”
Owner Jerrod Ruhl, who teaches minor league CrossFit weightlifting, raved about Alwine’s work ethic.
“In competitive weightlifting you’ve got to accumulate strength, which takes time, but Meredith is on a very steep trajectory upwards,” Ruhl said. “If she keeps it up and stays healthy, certainly the possibility is there that she could be in the Olympics, which is amazing.”
As of October, Alwine had set 15 state records in Virginia and two American weightlifting records. She is also a two-time Junior National champion, American Open champion, and a Junior World silver medalist. And as her list of accolades and personal experiences in the sport continues to grow, so too does her confidence.
“Over the course of my weightlifting career, I’ve really changed the way I get on stage and approach the bar bell,” Alwine said. “I see it as my lift and my platform, and I’ve gotten much better about just owning that. I’m much more comfortable with the sport and who I am.”
However, nothing would make Alwine happier than to represent Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
To qualify for one of the four coveted spots on Team USA, she will need to compete in six international events over the next 17 months against the best lifters in the world.
She must place near the top of the world rankings in her weight class, and also be considered more likely to win a medal than her teammates in the other nine weight classes.
“It may seem like a long shot, but Meredith’s success in local and state competitions, her two Junior National Championship wins, her seventh and second place finishes at Junior World Championships, her Senior National medals, and now selection to her first Senior World team in just three years makes one think that she can accomplish anything in this sport,” said her father, Scott Alwine.
Alwine and her father used to kid about her becoming one of the best weightlifters in the world. It’s no longer a joke.
“To reach the Olympics in 2020 would be incredible,” Alwine said. “Making the Olympics requires a type of dedication and motivation that lasts through many bad days and bad training sessions and the aches and pains that come with it.
“It means sacrificing other aspects of your life like school, friendships, relationships, careers, and more, so that you can reach this crazy goal,” she added. “It’s unreal to think that I could do it.”