By Roderick Wilbon, Sports Editor

It is another Wednesday at 2:45 p.m. in the afternoon. Jerome Anthony Smith is in the gym at Lift For Life Gym. He is working on his weightlifting again trying to improve on his numbers. He and his best friend Antwan Kilbert are working side by side. Smith compares his lift to Kilbert and vice-versa and the challenges are issued. While Smith and Kilbert are best friends they are also rivals in weightlifting competitions. Clang-Clang-Clang is the noise heard as Jerome drops the crossbar finishing a set of squats. “Let’s see what you got,” said Smith.

Smith is a 16-year-old, African-American, young man. He was born in downtown Saint Louis, on the poverty side of town. Violence and crime was a daily occurrence in the neighborhood. His mother Frances Smith did everything possible for Jerome and his five other siblings. A single mother working off the system and maintaining two jobs as much as possible. Frances would get her kids involved with the Lift For Life Gym organization to keep them off the streets.

Lift For Life Gym is a non-profit organization that offers at-risk St. Louis City children a safe, enriching environment in which to strengthen their bodies, enrich their minds, develop healthy social relationships, and learn to make positive life choices. They offer fitness, tutoring, nutrition, and mentoring for St. Louis youth after school. Lift For Life Gym offers more than the Olympic Style youth weightlifting for fitness. Weightlifting is what the organization was built around though in 1988.

Smith’s older brothers and sister went through Lift For Life Gym. At age 8 Smith’s sister began taking him to the gym. He started to see her flourish academically through their mentoring and tutoring program. At age nine Smith joined the weightlifting program and he started to take off. He found that weightlifting is everything to him and he dedicated his life to school and the program.

Now, Smith is sponsored by USA Weightlifting and has access to professional gyms in Saint Louis. He attends Cleveland Jr. Naval Academy High School from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then Lift For Life Gym provides him with transportation to the gym. He’s at the gym from his arrival till six or seven in the evening. Smith’s training regimen is 4 to 5 days during the week. He has three heavy days where he does most of his power lifts and two days where he does fitness, light lifting, and mentoring younger members as a junior coach.

Earlier in April 2017, Smith made the USA team as an alternate for the International Weightlifting Youth World Championships, held in Bangkok, Thailand. He competes at 69 kg (152 pounds) but didn’t get the chance to compete in the event. He saw what it takes though to compete on the bigger international stage. Smith came back home and worked harder and harder. The hard work paid off and he made the USA team as a finalist.

October 28 to November 4 the Youth Pan-American Championships were held in Palmira, Colombia. Smith competed in the competition and came in 2nd place overall. Smith’s Snatch best lift was 120kg (265 pounds) and his Clean and Jerk best lift was 151kg (333 pounds). His overall total score was 271kg (597 pounds). “I’m happy, but not satisfied,” said Smith. “I want to get better I have goals.”

Smith’s mentor at the Lift For Life Gym is Cornelius Harris who is also the Transportation Specialist. Harris is shocked at Jerome’s ability at his young age and weight class. Harris was the first National Junior Champion for Lift For Life Gym in 1996. “I’m proud to drive these guys with their pictures on the side of the van,” said Harris. “When I was Jerome’s age I was 80 pounds heavier and couldn’t do what he’s doing.” Jerome placed first for the 2017 Youth National Championship with an overall 261 score. Jerome goes on to counter Harris’s point. “I told him he wasn’t working hard enough,” said Jerome.

February 15 to 18, 2018 The Nike National Junior Championships are held in Spokane, Washington. It will be a big competition for Smith. The event will serve as a qualification event for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games to be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The Youth Olympic Games are in his sights. “I feel like I should be a selection for that team,” said Smith. His other aspirations are getting an overall weightlifting score of 287kg (633 pounds). He is 16kg (35 pounds) from that and if he hits that target his sponsorship will go up to the next tier with USA Weightlifting. Smith also wants to join Team L.A.B. at The Lab Gym. The acronym L.A.B. stands for Lifters Against Barbells. “I want to be the best one on the team,” said Smith.

At the end of the day Smith has people that keep him well grounded. His mother and brothers inform him to stay humble. His sister calls every week from Jackson State University where she has a full ride scholarship. She inquires and checks on how he’s doing in school. While weightlifting is everything to him, his family reminds him he still needs his education. He doesn’t dismiss the idea of being a collegiate student athlete either. Lift For Life Gym supports him in any endeavor he would like to go through. After weightlifting is over he would like to be a forensic anthropologist. “Everyone is setting the bar high for me.”