LONDON - Holley Mangold is big, really big. Got a problem with that?
Mangold, who stands 5-8 and weighs 350 pounds, certainly does not. And that this-is-who-I-am attitude has made this super-heavyweight member of the U.S. Olympic weightlifting team the most unlikely of media darlings heading into the London Olympics.
Mangold, sister of New York Jets center Nick Mangold, is anything but shy. She hopes her story will inspire others to follow their own dreams, even if those dreams fall far outside the parameters of traditional social norms.
"I'm a big girl and I'm comfortable with who I am," said Mangold, 22. "I hope when people see that, when they see me, it will give them the self-confidence to follow their dreams, to keep going when others say they cannot do something."
Mangold, who does a good-luck cartwheel before every competition, has brought a new sense of joy to being big and strong.
And make no mistake about it, Mangold is strong. She and Sarah Robles, both in the plus-75 kilogram (165 pounds plus) division, are the only U.S. women weightlifters to qualify for the London Games. Their medal competition is Aug. 5.
Mangold made the team in March after training seriously for a little more than 18 months. She originally had been shooting for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, but then shocked the weightlifting community by taking first place in the clean and jerk competition with a lift of 145 kilos (319 pounds) at the team trials last March in Columbus, Ohio.
Her brother Nick, who is 6-4 and 305 pounds, watched her qualify for the Olympics but will skip the London Games to attend Jets training camp. He called her a great, natural athlete.
"To do what she's done in her sport in such a short amount of time is incredible," Mangold said. "I think it's just a testament to what Holley can do when she puts her mind to it. She's always been that type of person. When she makes her mind up about something, there's not a whole lot of stopping her."
That's for sure. Holley first drew national attention as a teen when she was a lineman on the varsity football team at Archbishop Alter High School in Kettering, Ohio, where she became the first girl to play in an Ohio high school state championship game. Holley admits she heard some "awful things" from opposing players and even the parents of her teammates at the Catholic school, but she said that just made her more determined.
"My parents just always told me I could be whatever I wanted to be," she said, "and, silly me, I believed them."
Mangold's mother, Teresa, had been a competitive swimmer who earned a computer science degree in 1979 when there were very few women in the field.
Her father, Vern, supported Holley's football aspirations by coaching her youth teams before she got to high school.
Since she first took gymnastics lessons as a 6-year-old, Mangold said she has dreamed of winning a gold medal.
"I thought I'd get it for diving or for gymnastics," Mangold said. "I always wanted to be one of those girls, but my body had a different plan."
A few years ago, Mangold thought track might be her ticket to the Olympics. After finishing high school, she attended Ursuline College, a women's school near Cleveland, on a track and field scholarship. When she wasn't throwing the discus and shot put, she was working out in the weight room above the school's swimming pool.
At 18, Holley had won the weightlifting junior nationals after just three months in the sport. In May 2010, Drew Dillon, her lifting partner, friend and now publicist, convinced her to dedicate herself to the sport full time. So in May 2010, despite having a 3.8 GPA in a triple major of philosophy, sociology and theology, she dropped out of school to pursue weightlifting.
Weightlifting in America is not exactly a high-profile sport. Where brother Nick, who signed a seven-year, $54-million contract to play football, Holley's lifestyle is decidedly less glamorous. She has lived in the basement laundry room of the house rented by Dillon and two others in Columbus while training for the Games. "At least my clothes are always clean," she said of her living arrangement.
No American woman has won a medal in weightlifting since 2000, when Tara Nott won gold in the flyweight division. And they aren't projected to medal this year. Still, Mangold admits her goal is earning a place on the medal stand.
Said Mangold: "I don't think anyone comes to the Olympics saying I hope to get eighth. If you're going to do something, you have to go for it."
(Contact Barbara Barker at barbara.barker(at)newsday.com.)(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com)