Local Olympian reminisces

Every athlete’s biggest dream is to compete in the Olympics with all the elites from all across the world. However, very few actually make it.
Every four years each country watches those elite people on the television screen work with incredible strength and courage.
People all over the world celebrate with them in their success and cry with them in their failures.
Making the journey to the Olympics is no easy task alone.
Melanie Roach is 39 years old, a mother and wife from Bonney Lake, Wash. where she owns Roach Gymnastics & Cheer.
Melanie Roach’s experience in the Olympics as a weight lifter was accompanied by failures and successes just like any other Olympian who strives to make it there.
Her Journey There
There were many difficulties and hardships that had to be overcome and huge disappointments before the time came that Roach was finally able to fulfill her dream and compete in the 2008 Olympics.
Her journey, she says, started out as a child.
“I remember being a little girl, I was probably nine years old when I was watching the Olympics and I remember watching Mary Lou Retton win a gold medal and score a perfect 10. I remember proclaiming to my mother that I was going to go to the Olympics someday,” Melanie Roach said.
But like any athlete, Roach had her share of trails and bumps along the road on her way to the Olympics.
“During my junior year of high school at Auburn High School, I fell from the high bar and dislocated my elbow. I was super sad because it was right before our districts meet so I sort of had to miss that and I did not get to attend. I was so devastated of course because it was my first real injury, so as a result I had to have my surgery which was an arthroscopic surgery during my senior year,” said Melanie Roach.
Roach then goes on to explain her journey after high school as a gymnast and goes in further depth on her injury.
“Then after my senior year when I competed at Auburn High School, I had to have reconstructive surgery because all of the ligaments in my elbow were so loose that the joint was not stable. As a result of that surgery, I did some physical therapy which helped with some of my upper body movements; like strengthening my biceps and triceps so I got tons and tons of upper body work,” said Melanie Roach.
New Potential
This was where her journey began as she became aware of her potential as she exercised her upper body more and more.
Roach continued as a gymnast and met a judge named Andrea Lyons (formerly Andrea Tibeau) who encouraged her to try lifting.
“She came up to me and said, ‘you know you really should try Olympic weight lifting. I took one look at her size and she was very strong, and I just said ‘no thanks!’ I was a little intimidated, but I did come to find out that genetically she was just gifted that way, that is just kind of how she is made,” Melanie Roach said. “Then when I saw her at the end of the season, she asked me again to come try it, so I decided I was ready to give it a try.”
That was when Roach met an Olympic trainer in his garage. She had come out of high school and gained what everyone calls the “freshman-fifteen” in weight.
She went to him with the sole purpose of getting her body back in shape only, but John Thresh knew better than that.
“It was April of 1994 when I showed up at this garage of John Thrush. I remember walking up to him and telling him I did not want to compete but I just wanted to get in shape,” Roach said. “He just said okay and no problem, but of course he knew very well that was not going to happen. Every person that walks through that door usually says the same things as I did.”
John Thrush, Olympic Trainer at the time and now owner of Thrush Sports which is attached to Roach Gymnastics and Cheer, recalls his first impression of Roach.
“At first I did not expect anything in particular from her. She is not very big so I did not think about her being a lifter but she wanted to train so I was okay with that. I did not really have any concrete feelings about her one way or another because I saw her as just another athlete. But then she started training seriously with the idea of competition and in my gym that is what we do. We train national and internationally,” Thrush said.
Thrush has coached many USA Olympians in the past and continues to do so just like the way he helped Roach to get there, as he works at Thrush Sports in Bonney Lake, Wash.
“The Olympics is the ultimate goal and everybody is pointing towards that. Melanie was wise enough early on to realize that maybe I knew more than she did about what we were doing and so she made up her mind that she was going to do whatever I told her she needed to do. She followed up on everything I told her to do the whole way through and that was why things worked out so well in the end.”
Just six weeks after walking through the door of Thrush’s garage, Roach competed in her first national competition and trained to
go to Arizona in 1994 where she took first place.
But like most athletes, Roach faced many challenges along the way to reach her dream. She began training for the 2000 Olympics but just six weeks before hurt her back and was unable to attend that year.
“I had to watch these women that I had competed against for years go against each other and go on to the Olympics and I was not able to go. I had a really hard time and I did not even watch the opening ceremonies in 2000 because it hurt so badly for me to not be there,” Melanie Roach said.
Roach took this down time as an opportunity to start a family and have children, though her disappointment in not being able to compete in the 2000 Olympics was a weight that never did leave her shoulders.
That was until Roach and her husband Dan Roach made the decision to make a comeback in the 2008 Olympics.
“We obviously had to make a lot of changes to make everything happen but I was supportive and I looked at it as something that she wanted to do that was right there in her hands back in 2000, which slipped out of her grasp because of the injury,” Dan Roach said. “At the time I did not know if she would be able to make it just knowing that she had a bad back and was a little older to be lifting. Not to mention the fact that we were juggling our kids and our business along with everything else. But I felt really strongly that I needed to let her just give it her all and her 100 percent, so at the end of the day she would not have to look back and say she wished she would have given it one more shot.”
As Roach made her second attempt to compete in the 2008 Olympics for weight lifting, she, along with her husband and family of three children at the time, had to make a number of sacrifices to make her dream as a little girl happen.
“We made a number of sacrifices, financially for sure. With her training schedule, if we wanted to sneak out for a weekend with the kids for a little vacation or something, that just was not an option. There were no weekends because she trained every Saturday. That was a sacrifice, also with the kids in general,” Dan Roach said. “She was generally there during the day but she would sometimes have to leave town for meets. She also had a training schedule in the evenings so that was a sacrifice. For all of us, it was a challenge that she chose to train so intensely which required her to do so much more than the average person would do. Different hobbies and things like that were put on hold and we just focused 100 percent on the goal of getting to the Olympics.”
Shortly before the Olympics went underway in the year of 2008, the media had a specific interest in Melanie’s story. All of the newspapers and magazines wanted to know how she was able to make such a glorious comeback, while also caring for family, owning a gym, and supporting her husband as he ran in the State Legislature. Roach and her husband were hesitant at first to accept media but then they both realized they wanted to share her story with the world.
Making a Difference
“That was her one time to have her message be heard throughout the whole world and have that platform. What an incredible opportunity it was to be able to send that message to others. Just the hope that you can overcome obstacles. One of the biggest parts that sent a message was that we had a son with autism and had to deal with that, so it was an incredible opportunity for Melanie to be able to talk to those people directly who were dealing with it as well,” Dan Roach said.
Dan Roach goes on to explain how he and his wife Melanie Roach made the decision to accept the calls and interviews and let the media get involved.
“So we decided that she had that little window and once it was gone it was gone, so we should just take it as experience and touch as many people as we can. So when we finally made the decision, that was when she started saying yes to everything and it got really crazy. Either you say no and just do not do it at all, or you say yes and try to accommodate everything.”
One thing that the media got a strong grasp of at the time was the amount of time Roach spent training and altering her lifestyle, just so she could fulfill her dream.
“For the training part; you can only train your body so much in weight lifting, but it goes way deeper than that. You have the actual hours where you are lifting weight. She would be Put in about 25 hours a week just training that way in the gym actually weight lifting,” Dan Roach said. “She also had to put time into visual work where she would literally just lay there and visualize weight lifting, rather than actually doing it physically. In addition to her weight lifting, she would do core exercises and those were morning and night for half an hour each. There were three straight years of her training.”
Roach made her return in the 2008 Olympics and competed for weight lifting. This experience helped her to take that weight off her shoulders of the heartbreak she felt before when she was unable to compete eight years back in the 2000 Olympics.
“It was really hard, but because I had come so close the time before, I just had to go back. I thought about it a lot for the five years that I was away and had three babies,” Melanie Roach said. “I am very blessed that I was able to go back and replace all those sad feelings and the heartache and replace all those with happy and positive experiences and I learned so much on my comeback, it was amazing.”