Sarah Robles, U.S. Weightlifter, Finds Sponsor, Overcomes Adversity On Way To Olympics


For some athletes, the Olympic dream come true is not gold medals or cereal box sponsorships, it's just being able to compete. For these athletes who train far from the spotlight, simply reaching the Olympic Games can prove a tougher test than any they will likely face when they arrive, win or lose. Such is the case with female weightlifter Sarah Robles, who overcame self-esteem issues and financial hardship on her uneven road to London.

After qualifying for the London Games during Olympic Trials in March by lifting a personal-best 567.6 pounds, Robles wrote about her excitement on her blog, Pretty Strong:

I'm going to start out with saying, we qualified for the Olympics!!!! I would say I, but my coach and I are a team. His successes are mine and mine his. "It's you and me against the world kid." It's also a "we" because of all of the hard work, sacrifices, financial dents, love, and pity, were all put in by all of my friends, family, coaches, and strangers to get me to this point. It's our time and our glory.

A former Girl Scout who competed in the discus and shot before taking up weightlifting in 2008 under the tutelage of noted coach Joe Micela, Robles writes the blog with Jessica Gallagher, a close friend and fellow lifter, to address issues facing female weightlifters and debunk myths about the sport.

"What we wanted to accomplish with the blog was to make it more female-oriented because we feel that our sport is so male dominated," Robles told NBC Sports. "And we feel that there are so many prejudices or stereotypes or misunderstandings about women and weightlifting and any form of strength training or strength and conditioning."

A few weeks before the Summer Games, the 23-year-old spoke to Buzzfeed about the relative difficulty of female weightlifters in attracting sponors.

“You can get that sponsorship if you’re a super-built guy or a girl who looks good in a bikini," Robles told Jessica Testa of Buzzfeed. "But not if you’re a girl who’s built like a guy.”

Given her incredibly tight budget -- the 23-year-old California native told Buzzfeed that she lives on $400/month from USA Weightlifting -- and the limited window of opportunity of most Olympians to capitalize on their participation in the Games, Robles could use corporate backing more than many of her peers.

On Pretty Strong, Robles and Gallagher accept donations, explaining the predicament of weightlifters.

Being a full-time weightlifter is hardwork! We train twice a day at least three days a week and once a day, three days a week. We don't have much time for jobs or other sources of income. We volunteer our time to the community and represent America on the international stage. Help us reach our goal-Making an Olympic team!

Not long after Testa's Buzzfeed profile began disseminating Robles' story, the Olympian started to gain some supporters. A friend set up a campaign to help her and Micela prepare for the Olympics and then a petition was launched by ThinkProgress to get the highest ranked weightlifter in the country a sponsor.

And it worked.

It wasn't Nike (an early target) or Adidas (which Alyssa Rosenberg of Slate pointed out doesn't sponsor any weightlifters despite making weightlifting shoes). Less than two weeks before the Opening Ceremonies, an internet advertising company called Solve Media announced its sponsorship of Robles.

Solve Media CEO Ari Jacoby told ThinkProgress that the campaign "really hit home" and sparked his decision to reach out to Robles.

In an appearance on Fox Sports' "On The Record," Robles was asked what she is looking forward to most in London besides competing. To her, having her family there actually trumps everything.

"Not everybody is going to be there, but to be able to at least be with my family and see them in London is going to be the best part," she said.

Robles' mother will be making the trip not thanks to SolveMedia but with the aid of another company. As part of a campaign supporting the mothers of Olympians, Proctor & Gamble is paying her way.

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