In Depth with Olympian Weightlifter Morghan King

Standing 5 foot nothing and weighing in at a whopping 105 pounds, you may expect Morghan King to be quiet, shy, or otherwise little, and frankly, you'd be wrong. This weightlifter (who was born and raised in the Seattle area) is as fun, bubbly, funny and chatty as they come, and I had such a great time hanging out with her and chatting about her trip to the 2016 Rio Olympics, where she came in 6th.

She has one of those personalities that makes you feel like you're best friends, even if you've known her for an hour, and she was constantly making us laugh with her quirky and outgoing style while we chatted in her gym in Bellevue, WA, while the CrossFit Regionals played in the background. She has recently relocated to Arizona, where she is opening a gym with her fiancé and coach, Dean Kruse, called Falcon Weightlifting, where she will continue to prepare and train for the 2020 Olympics. So go get cozy and settle in and prepare to be inspired! Without further ado, let's get right into it!

 

YOU COMPETED AT YOUR FIRST OLYMPICS LAST YEAR AND CAME IN 6TH. HOW WAS THAT EXPERIENCE FOR YOU?

It was surreal. I was really excited to go to Opening Ceremonies and then I found out that I was supposed to compete the day after that, so I didn’t get to go. I didn’t even stay up to see the torch get lit because I was so tired, but it all just felt like the blink of an eye. I was there before everything was set up and after everyone had left, and it was so cool getting done first, because then you get to enjoy everything. I didn’t see any of the big sights because I’m a little afraid of crowds, but I was thinking, well, I just got engaged here, we’ll come back.

THAT’S RIGHT! YOU GOT ENGAGED THERE, WHAT AN INCREDIBLE WEEK FOR YOU BOTH PROFESSIONALLY AND PERSONALLY.

Yeah it was pretty amazing, my family was there, his family was there, it was the Olympics. I joke that I’m screwed now, that nothing else will ever compare to that. Maybe when I have a gold medal around my neck.

THAT'S YOUR ULTIMATE GOAL, YOU ARE CURRENTLY TRAINING FOR THE NEXT OLYMPICS. WHAT’S THAT LIKE?

Yup, that’s the goal, and it’s gonna be a lot harder this time. The talent in America has skyrocketed, it’s pretty exciting. In just a short period of time, juniors are now doing what I did at my first Senior Nationals right now.

 

HOW DID YOU DISCOVER THE SPORT OF WEIGHTLIFTING?

I was doing marathons and triathlons before which was sort of the natural progression after soccer, but I was always realistic about it. I mean I’m 5 foot, I’m not going to be able to go as far and as fast as most athletes. I lost motivation training for them, it was really boring by myself all the time, just being in the pool for hours on end.

So then I started doing CrossFit which I liked because I was able to come in and be competitive again and vie for spots on the leaderboards. I started CrossFit in August, and the next March when the Open rolled around I got talked into participating, and our team made Regionals which was really fun.

I get asked all the time, “how long did it take you to get strong, or to get strong on your coach’s program?”, and I just think back to one of my very first days of CrossFit where we were finding a one rep max for our back squats, and I squatted 90 kilos. So I credit some of it to genetics, to playing power sports growing up, and having a background in gymnastics. Growing up I was always competitive, and I actually graduated with a degree in graphic design, thinking I wanted to pursue something beyond athletics. But I just kept falling back into it. And with weightlifting, I got to a point where it was like, I’m either gonna do this or I’m not, and it’s going to have to be 100%.

 

SO WHAT WAS THE MOMENT THAT YOU DECIDED TO GIVE WEIGHTLIFTING A REAL SHOT?

I think it was at the second CrossFit Regionals I competed in, where we were in the 200’s workout. We were ahead of all the other teams and then we actually didn’t even finish the event because of a judging call, and not hitting extension on some KB swings. And I was devastated. Just so mad, in tears. And then this guy comes up to me and says, 'hey, I just want you to know, those were the best OHS I’ve ever seen'. And at the time that made me furious to hear, but I think that was my defining moment because I went straight to Dean (who was a strength coach) and I was like, I need to get stronger, make me stronger. I just wanted to get really, really good at one thing, and he put me on a strength program that was centered around weightlifting, and I just immediately knew it was a perfect fit. It definitely helped to have someone who was so passionate about the sport, and Dean is still my coach to this day. [And her fiancé.]

I’ve always had that “I’m gonna out-lift everyone in any gym I walk into” mentality (which isn’t always realistic, but what can I say), and I love weightlifting because it’s this brute perfection sport. That feeling of, when you do it right, the world completely stops. I love that.

 

DO YOU THINK THE POPULARITY OF CROSSFIT HAS IMPACTED THE SPORT OF WEIGHTLIFTING?

I think it’s changed a little, and I also think weightlifting in general is changing. There is a lot more interest in strength sports these days. The rise of CrossFit has definitely helped. It helped bring light to breaking barriers with women and stereotypes. Weightlifting is a sport that’s really fun to watch- you either make or you don’t. With all the drug retesting and doping violations in recent years there was/is some fear of it being cut from the Olympics altogether, but I’ve been told it’s one of the most watched sports in the Olympics. I mean it’s not a sport you really watch all year, because most people don’t understand that competing less is the goal, allowing you longer training cycles. You don’t want to compete every couple of months, that’s just not sustainable.

I think for Juniors, CrossFit is a great place to start, especially to just build their GPP (general physical preparedness) since they might not be playing other sports in schools these days, and some schools even have PE removed altogether. So you lose all of that- you don’t get to play, to find what you like, and the variety of elements in CrossFit really help that.

 

YOU BREAK SOME WIDELY PERCEIVED STEREOTYPES ABOUT WEIGHTLIFTING WITH YOUR SIZE. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO BE A WOMAN OF YOUR STATURE AND YOUR STRENGTH?

I'm reminded of the time I was wearing a weightlifting shirt at the Pan-Am Games, and I was riding an elevator with these baseball players, and they asked what sport I was competing in. I pointed to my shirt and said weightlifting, and they all laughed. I was like, no, really, I do that. 

It’s funny because two of our best Olympians were my size. Our only gold medalist was a 48k athlete. I was just at a Lululemon summit [Morghan is an elite ambassador for Lululemon] and we were talking about gender roles in sports, and I just kept thinking that when I was growing up, I never saw gender in sports. I was just a competitive athlete. I just wanted to play with the best, and maybe had a little Napoleon complex.

I think one of the things that is great about CrossFit is that there’s no real “body type” for it, but that’s also why I felt like weightlifting was more my style. I mean, it’s definitely hard to compete against the Elisabeth Akinwales, when you factor in body weight and the percentage and tonnage that I am moving around in the same event. Don’t get me wrong it’s definitely possible and we have seen results in that at the Games. The mentality for strong minded women that can do anything is growing at an enormous rate which is awesome to see.

 

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION AND MOTIVATION TO KEEP PURSUING THIS MEGA GOAL TO MEDAL AT THE OLYMPICS?

When I decide to put my mind to something it’s going to be 110%. The last 4 years it was pretty easy because everything was new, I was just riding this high, and making every international team I tried out for. After the Olympics though, I went through this weird feeling of holy shit, it’s over, what do I do next? Am I really gonna put myself and my body and my family and my relationship through all this stress again for 3 minutes of being on stage?

It’s been harder for me after the Olympics to find motivation again, just knowing that it’s not gonna be as magical- it’s going to be really, really hard work. Not that it wasn’t before, I sacrificed my whole life for the sport, but now I know that I have the ability to medal, and I don’t necessarily think I thought that before. I have this "why not me" mentality.

I think a lot of times we put these international lifters on a pedestal because they have been doing weightlifting for so long. With them everything looks like calculated perfection. Seeing the rise of USA in the last couple of years and being on international stages says we are ready for more medalists, and I know I can be one. I do a TON of visualizing, and I always saw myself standing on the podium, but now I really know that it’s possible, I know I’m internationally competitive, and I know that people are watching. 

I also get inspired when I think of myself being a role model. I’m sort of trying to find my groove, figuring out who I want to be as a person, who I want the public to see, and so on. I’m not a super flashy girl on instagram, I like to post things that inspire and motivate people. Something that shows you have to put in hard work to get results. I want mothers and daughters to see me and be inspired just the same. I want to be the inspiring athlete that people want to emulate, and that’s motivation itself.

Yes I’m an athlete but I want to be involved in the community. I think of Kendrick Farris who’s done such a good job with that- staying in the area that he grew up in, speaking to people in a way that inspires the younger generation to put their head down and work. The world could use more role models like that, you can never have enough of it.

I want to be the role model that teaches people that performance is more important than aesthetics, and just because you could gain one more place by dropping 4 pounds, doesn’t mean you should. There’s such a focus on diet manipulation right now and it’s kind of scary- I’ve even had parents ask me about it. I firmly believe until your child has a chance to become internationally competitive, protect their growth and teach them to eat healthy, teach them to love their bodies no matter what. Performance and love of the sport comes before all. Make sure you are having fun with what you are doing.

I’m actually really excited because I am going up a weight class! My body naturally sits in- between two classes, which is actually good for the sport since my coach likes me to train about 2-3 kilos heavier for recovery purposes. But it’s such a trend now to drop weight classes that I’m excited to rebel and break the trend and show people that they can gain weight too.

I’ve never really been someone who’s obsessed with food, but it can be a slippery slope on a cut. Weighing yourself every time you’re in the bathroom and that sort of stuff is not healthy. I mean you always want to watch what you’re eating to some degree, but competing as a 48 for that long of a time became a little bit too obsessive for me. Most of the women that I competed against at the Olympics were 53k weightlifters prior leading up to it.

 

LET’S TALK ABOUT YOGA, WHICH SEEMS TO BE AS MUCH OF A PASSION FOR YOU AS WEIGHTLIFTING.

I’ve been doing yoga for a long time; my mom and I used to do yoga together. I sort of dropped it for a little because it was hard to balance when I was doing triathlons, because you’d be training 24/7.

When I was doing CrossFit I started it up again and tried flow, restorative, bikram and hot yoga (all the yoga!) trying to find a style that worked for me, and I wasn’t really finding it. Then I saw Sandra Arechaederra, who is a master’s lifter, posting about “yoga challenges” on social media and I wanted to learn more. She totally got me back into it; we did month long challenges and it was so fun. Sandra created this pseudo program for me called #DoYourYoga - just a pose a day- that worked around my weightlifting training. It’s awesome because it has caught on and quite a few people follow it now.

I loved that I had found yoga that integrated weightlifting. I actually always wanted to become a yoga instructor for athletes and offer something that not only takes the functionality of stretching, but includes the spiritual aspect innate to yoga. I grew up in the church but I’m not really religious anymore, so yoga became my church. I’d go to yoga and leave feeling refreshed, whole, and like I had “me time”.

More recently I’ve really been into mindfulness and meditation, which is hard. I actually changed up absolutely everything 6 months before the Olympic trials, which by the way, is 100% completely not recommended. Ha! But. We just knew something was missing, and I trusted Dean. We moved across the country to be with one coach (which didn’t work out), then we moved to train at the Olympic Training Center where I worked with Zygmunt (who is the best human being alive), but he was coaching like 17 people at the same time, which is tough. So we knew something had to change, and that’s when we got with Shahin Nasirinia.

It was around this time that I started doing guided meditations before I slept, on the advice of Holley Mangold, and I would say that I owe at least 60% of my success at Olympic trials to meditation. Going into trials, I told Dean he couldn’t stay with me, and the day before I don’t want to see anyone at all, I just want my mom to bring me food. I spent three days by myself, just being in my own body.

Most people when they get on stage are super nervous and fidgety and I was so calm, so mellow, smiling and excited, because I knew I was ready. It was such an incredible feeling. I don’t think most people work on their brain- they think they can just muscle through it because it’s weightlifting. And I even see it in CrossFit: when you’re doing thousands of reps, yes you can muscle through it, but when it comes down to it, that last 10% is all mental and if you don't have it, you’re never going to get to that elite level.

I’ve always wanted to coach but I’m not sure I want to be in the gym all day every day, that just seems not so fun for me- I’m a very outdoorsy person. So getting into this mindfulness and poring through psychology books makes me want to pursue sports psychology. I mean, coaches are everywhere these days and I think the psychology behind it all has gotten lost in the mix. I feel like it’s considered “hippy shit” and that couldn’t be further from the truth. I must say it is definitely gaining popularity in the athletics community. It’s just learning to be present. It’s learning to be comfortable with who you are as a person and how to achieve your goals in life in an organized manner.

I think we all try to force things on ourselves or change very innate qualities about ourselves, like I have an artistic side that I always wanted to pursue, but I was always super competitive and tried keep sports as a side hobby. And I realized that this “hobby” of sports was pretty time sensitive and if I wanted to do it, I needed to do it.

 

HOW ARE YOU MENTALLY & PHYSICALLY PREPARING FOR YOUR GOAL OF MEDALING AT THE NEXT OLYMPICS?

I would attribute my mentality to lots of things; my nature, how I grew up, having a solid support system, a dad who pushed me and challenged me. But really what I think drives me is knowing that there are people out there who are working harder than me. Knowing there are people who want to beat me. And it’s gonna be a lot harder this time.

Now I have this target on my back. Which is strange because I haven’t really embraced the fact that I’m an “Olympian” yet... sometimes I wonder if that even happened. Such an accumulation of the last four years into moments on stage. I wonder what the root of that is, maybe it’s because I didn’t do as well as I wanted so I’m hungry for more. So now I’m faced with just doing my best. I mean I know what it takes to get there, so I just have to be confident in my hard work and trust that I can get back to that level. And then just deliver that extra push.

I think of Melanie Roach, who came back at 40 and was doing eerily close numbers that she did as an Olympian and I was amazed. I asked my coach about it and he said that it’s easy to get back to where you were... it’s those last couple kilos that you have to really fight for. I feel like that’s where I’m at now.

WHAT WOULD YOUR ADVICE BE TO WOMEN WHO HAVE A BIG GOAL OR DREAM?

Commit to it. If you’re gonna do it, don’t half ass anything. Learn to trust your gut. And if you fail, so what? What are you really going to lose? Money? Money comes back around. You’ll know you gave it everything you had. People are so scared of failure, and I think I am a little bit too, but failure isn’t bad. Commit. 

 

Be sure to follow along on Morghan's road to the 2020 Olympics on her Instagram @kingmorghan and check out her yoga page @liftersyoga !


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ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT TAYLOR GAGE PHOTOGRAPHY

HAIR + MAKEUP BY KLS ARTISTRY


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