Chelsea Hopkins, 46, is a champion in many ways. A nurse, a wife, a mother and a weightlifter. Hopkins, who is a 1994 Cottage Grove High School graduate and grew up playing softball, volleyball and soccer, began competing not long ago in competitions.
“We had to do weightlifting in high school to do varsity sports, so I had kind of done a little bit of it before. I’ve kind of continued to do physical activity throughout adulthood.”
In 2015, she had moved back from Idaho, where she had lived for 15 years and attended college. Once home, Hopkins started going to the CrossFit gym in Cottage Grove. “That’s when I started getting really into it,” she said. “That [weightlifting] is part of what people do in CrossFit. I was better at the weightlifting than the other things.”
Hopkins won gold in the IWF Masters World Championship in December and set a new U.S. record in the clean-and-jerk. Hopkins also won the national championships in April and took gold in the Masters Pan American Championship in San Juan, Puerto Rico in June of 2022.
How did Hopkins go from CrossFit in Cottage Grove to being a champion?
“When he [Hopkins CrossFit coach] sold the gym and moved, he was encouraging me that I should just do Olympic weightlifting full time,” Hopkins recalled. “I kind of hemmed and hawed about it a little bit.”
In March of 2019, a doctor that Hopkins worked with opened her own weightlifting gym and had started a competitive team. She then announced she was looking for team members and Hopkins gave it a shot.
“In the beginning, you get personal records (PRs) a lot, so that keeps you wanting to do it,” Hopkins said. “But after you have been doing it for a year or so, they (PRs) come further and further apart. You do all this training for this one moment. That has to keep you motivated. We don’t really have a season, every three months we have a meet. Those things you are consistently looking forward to. It’s more of a marathon than a sprint.”
On top of working a full-time job as a nurse, Hopkins spends eight to 10 hours a week in the gym lifting.
“My husband is really supportive. When I told him I was going to make this switch, that it was going to take up a lot of my time because I was going to be in the gym a lot, he didn’t care. He thinks it’s awesome,” Hopkins said.
After just one national meet under her belt, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States and several events got canceled. In addition, the gym was closed.
“My husband built me a squat rack with two plastic buckets from Jerry’s [Home Improvement] and some 2x4 just so I could keep training through COVID,” said Hopkins. “That was probably the hardest year — just to keep training even though we didn’t know if or when we were going to compete again. I had to keep my eyes on the long game.”
Hopkins participated in the World Championships virtually in 2021, where she earned silver.
“That’s when I realized, ‘Oh my God, this is a thing. I can do this.’ My coach was even stunned,” she said. “I was like, ‘I think I can win this next year.’”
Hopkins was scheduled to then participate in the Pan American games in Orlando, Fla., but tested positive for COVID-19 three days before she was scheduled to fly out.
“I decided to keep training. That’s fine, when is the next meet?” Hopkins asked. “My coach said we are just going to focus on nationals. 2022 is when we are going to do everything. I went to nationals hoping to be competitive. I was hoping to win, but it’s kind of a surreal thing. Everybody else is just as good as you are.”
Hopkins took silver in the snatch but was behind in scoring going into the clean-and-jerk.
“When I went out to take my last clean-and-jerk attempt, I was the last lifter. My coach told me before I went out, ‘You have to make this to win and it’s a new U.S. record, so don’t screw this up,’” she recalled. “I was super nervous, but that’s when adrenaline takes over. I have to make this — and I did. I was stunned that I won nationals and set a new U.S. record.”
Hopkins went to Puerto Rico shortly after and set the U.S. record for clean-and-jerk again, then at the World Championship in December, broke her own record for a third time.
“I’m still kind of in disbelief that it was real,” Hopkins said. “At nationals especially, I woke up the next morning thinking I dreamed this. I rolled over and looked at the table and said, ‘Oh, that really happened.’ My husband laughed. It wasn’t just some kind of crazy dream. It’s been really crazy this year and pretty awesome.”
Up next for Hopkins is National Masters competition in a little under two months, located in Valley Forge, Pa. The World Championships will be held August of 2023 in Poland, where Hopkins also hopes to participate.