Snatching the spotlight: Local lifters earn hardware at youth national championships

Five area weightlifters represented North Platte’s Enzo Athletic Performance at the USA Weightlifting Youth National Championships in Anaheim, California, on June 27-30. Pictured from left are coach Jeff Hoover, gold-medalist Kolten Tilford, coach and ENZO owner Jason Jensen, and silver-medalist Kylee Tilford.

Kolten Tilford cashed in on a lofty promise made a year ago.

The North Platte native had only been weightlifting under head coach Jason Jensen at ENZO Atheltic Performance for eight months when he qualified for the USA Weightlifting National Youth Championships in Grand Raipids, Michigan. Finishing with a bronze medal in the 50 kg weight class in his first trip to nationals set the bar high, but it wasn’t enough for Tilford.

“I’m definitely going to keep going and return next year better than this year,” Tilford told the Telegraph then. “I want to try to get first in the nation, eventually.”

And “eventually” came a year to the day at the 2019 National Youth Championships in Anaheim, California.

Entering the Anaheim Convention Center nearly filled to the brim with fans, Tilford admitted that the jitters had grown with the self-bearing expectations this time around.

“This year I was a lot more nervous to be honest,” Tilford said. “Weightlifting was pretty new to me last year, so I didn’t really worry much, but this year I really wanted to win and I knew I had to show up.”

He blocked out the noise; echoes of scores and lifts from competitors blaring out through the PA.

Tilford gripped the bar and crouched into form when his turn to take the platform came, nailing all six attempts in the snatch and clean-and-jerk to walk away with the 67 kg weight class gold and a top overall rank in the nation among 14-15 year olds of that weight.

“I was trying not to pay attention to what other guys were lifting,” Tilford said. “I was just focused on my lifts and I ended up going 6-for-6, which is pretty awesome to be honest.” And he wasn’t the only North Platte weightlifter climbing the steps to the podium — or the only Tilford for that matter.

Tilford’s twin sister, Kylee, made her USA Weightlifting National Youth Championships debut a memorable one, snagging second place in the girls 59 kg weight class for both the snatch and clean-and-jerk.

“I had a good idea of what to expect since I got to see my brother lift last year, but competing is way different than watching from the stands,” Tildford admitted. “I had 17 girls in my age group, so I knew I had to really fight hard for that second place. I had the adrenaline pumping and that helped me go for all my lifts and even get a PR (personal best) in my clean-and-jerk.”

Kylee landed at No. 2 in the nation when it was all said and done, taking home two silver medals with a 59 kg snatch and a personal best 77 kg in the clean-and-jerk.

The Tilfords joined a host of other North Platte lifters who placed in Anaheim, including Matthew and Sam Musselman, Carson Hoover and Aspen Lavante.

Matthew Musselman finished fourth in the 89 kg weight class for 14-15 year olds, while Sam Musselman finished seventh in the 16-17 year old division. Lavante placed 14th in the 13-and-under 49 kg weight class and Hoover, despite weightlifting with an older division of 16-17 year olds as a 15-year-old, finished fifth in the 81 kg weight class.

“I’m in the 16-17 age group and I’m only 15 and I got 5th place, so I’d say that’s pretty good,” Hoover said. “I had a certain number I wanted to hit, and they were pretty high numbers. I hit a 100 in snatch and a 127 in the clean-and-jerk, so actually going out there and hitting those was super exciting.”

The success among North Platte weightlifters continues to grow with time, and that’s something ENZO Athletic Performance founder and owner Jason Jensen preaches at every afternnoon session.

“I have been telling all these kids that they have the potential to go far in this sport and I think this shows how much potential we have right here in North Platte,” Jensen said. “I think now that they have seen for themselves just how good they are, it will drive them to be even better.”

And North Platte fans have taken notice.

“We had a lot more people go this year and cheer us on,” Tilford said. “It felt good to be able to hear a lot of people cheering for us because that motivates you to keep on going.”

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