HARRIS COUNTY, Ga. (WRBL)— Two years ago, a Harris County teen picked up a barbell not knowing it would eventually earn him a spot representing Team USA. Now, the national weightlifting champion and American record holder is set to compete in the Junior World Championships Thursday, Nov. 16.
“He’s an anomaly,” Gabe Chhum’s coach, Jeremy Warner, told WBRL. “When you see statistics of what it takes for an Olympic weightlifter to make it to a Senior World Championship, it’s years of development, right…. And here comes Gabe Chhum.”
Chhum, 19, started out as a teen in a garage teaching himself.
“I stumbled upon a video of weightlifting. Then I went into my garage, and I bought a bunch of equipment, went on YouTube, started looking at tutorials and stuff like that, and really taught myself how to do it with a jaggedy bar and some steel plates,” Chhum said. “It was pretty rough.”
Chhum started training at Foundation Training Facility. There, owner Lee Garcia introduced Chhum to his now coach.
“Lee reached out to me, Lee and I served in Ranger Battalion together, and he said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this young kid who wants to do weightlifting. And I told him I knew a guy and you’re the guy,'” Warner said. “I show up and there’s this young, stud wearing SpongeBob SquarePants shoes and lifting decent weight for his size. He moved well and had taught himself everything in a garage. So, I was just like, ‘Hey, man, I’ll train you. Let’s do this.’”
Within his first year of training and competing, Chhum qualified as a 55-kilo lifter for Senior Worlds.
“He’s the only one that I know of in history, at least on their training metrics, who has accomplished that,” Warner said.
Chhum went on to become the Junior Pan American Champion in his first international meet, in his second he placed eighth in the world in the Senior World Championships. All preparing him for Olympics 2028.
“Never in my life would I ever think there’d be any possible chance of going to the Olympics,” Chhum said. “Ever since I was a little kid, I always wanted to be in the NFL, but never would I have thought of going to the Olympics. It was like the last thing on my mind.”
Now, Chhum’s preparing to take on the 2023 Junior World Championships in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Warner says Chhum’s weightlifting career wouldn’t have taken off without dedication, sacrifice, and total commitment. He advises any other young athlete to give it their all.
“Whatever you do, do it 100%. You have to be willing to give 100% every day, not just on the days that you feel like it, but if you really want it to be successful, you have to understand that it takes a little bit of sacrifice on other sides of life to really be successful,” Warner said.
For those interested in taking up weightlifting; Chhum shares the following advice.
“Make sure you learn the basic movements and technique of the lift before trying to throw on a bunch of weight, make sure you’re doing it correctly, so you don’t hurt yourself,” Chhum said. “The second thing is, I’d say find a coach… and the third thing, get your diet in order.”
Chhum has three different opportunities to bring a medal home Thursday.
“You’ve got the best of three attempts of the snatch, which is taking the barbell from ground overhead and one motion. Three attempts of the clean and jerk, which is taking the bar from the ground to your shoulder and then shoulder to overhead. And then the combined total,” Warner shared. “So, the combined total is what would determine the actual World Champion. And then the two individually are your chances to also either be the gold medal in the snatch or the gold medal in the clean and jerk.”
Chhum is currently preparing in Mexico. Folks in the Chattahoochee Valley can support him by livestreaming the competition set for Thursday, Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. EST.