Walking into Coffee's Gym in Marietta is certainly an experience. The tiny gym in an old shopping center, is packed full of weights but still gives off a relaxing vibe.
Maybe it is the chocolate Lab, aptly named Kilo, that walks up with his tail wagging. Or maybe it is the friendly faces of Caleb Williams and Kelly Rexroad, a couple that works and trains at the facility.
The pair met late last year when they began training together for the Olympic weightlifting trials in May at Georgia Tech. That, in and of itself, was quite an experience.
"It was an honor to make it (to the trials), only the top 30 in the country make it," said Williams, who works at the Quest Gym near his home in Duluth. "It was a really cool week. They had a really good venue and the energy there was really exciting. Everybody there was competing for just a couple of spots so every attempt, miss or make, made a difference."
That kind of pressure, typically unique to sports on the highest level, makes a lot of athletes nervous. But Williams is not a typical athlete. That's why it was no surprise that the 5-foot-2 Pennsylvania native was composed when his turn came.
"I don't necessarily get nervous," Williams said as he leaned against one of the machines in the gym. "You get excited ... you just have to work on staying focused. You do it in the gym too, stay focused and visualize the attempt ... I try to focus on stuff like that and not on everything that is going on around me."
Though Williams does a ton of lifting, he always makes sure to take a day off here and there and hang out at the pool with his girlfriend and her 2-year-old son, Rex. That helps Williams stay relaxed and makes it easier to get back in the zone. Staying focused though might come a little easier for Williams given his history as a lifter. Even though he is relatively new to weightlifting, the 23-year-old is barely a rookie.
"I've done strength sports for a long time," Williams said. "I did powerlifting for a long time before I did weightlifting. The difference is in power lifting you compete in the squat the thrust and the dead lift. So I did that for about 12 or 13 years. About a year and a half ago, I switched over to weightlifting, where you do the snatch, the clean and the jerk."
The switch, according to Williams, came because he wanted a new challenge. When he was powerlifting, Williams won 10 national championships. He went to the world championships five times and won two of them, grabbing two second-place finishes and fourth once.
Why change anything after success like that? The answer was simple for Williams.
"Powerlifting is not currently an Olympic sport," Williams said. "I have always wanted to be in the Olympics. I figured it was time to give it a shot, I figured it was now or never. The body doesn't get any younger."
Williams, who finished in the middle of the pack at the Olympic Trials where only three qualified, said it is a firm goal of his to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. That goal, according to girlfriend and training partner Rexroad, is very realistic.
"He's a pretty strong little guy," said Rexroad. "I definitely think he has a shot at the (2012) Olympics. I think that he could do a lot for the sport in general. And he has got a huge backlog of lifting weights and a lot of these people (in the sport) don't have that."
Rexroad also shed some light on the fact that powerlifters are not held in the highest of regards by weightlifters, and she never lets him forget that.
"Some people, especially in our sport, kind of look down on powerlifting, but he was from a legit federation and he's just strong," said Rexroad. "Olympic weightlifting is more of a complete athleticism, whereas power lifting, especially (in the U.S.), you don't necessarily need strength, you just need a lot of mass."
That is also the subject of playful ridicule for Williams.
"He gets picked on a lot," said Rexroad with laughter. "Everybody picks on him, it just sort of comes with the territory. But he is strong and he is certainly laying a good ground work for himself and for Olympic weightlifting."
For now, Williams will fly out to the West Coast, where he will train with ex-Bulgarian coach Ivan Abadzhiev, who despite a shaky exit from the Bulgarian team, is one of the best in the business. If all goes well for Williams there, he will continue to train under Abadzhiev with the hopes of reaching his Olympic dreams.