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PETALUMA

Sweat equity, it’s the barometer in which all sports are measured. Sweat represents effort, commitment, knowledge acquisition and then ultimately, hopefully, success. Sweat is a liquid adhesive. It connects everything.

You can never get enough of it. Right?

Chloe Tacata of Rohnert Park, Athena Schrijver of Santa Rosa and Will Prokop of Petaluma are weightlifters. At the Youth National Championships on June 13 in Daytona Beach, Fla., the three kids became national champions in their age groups. Tacata even set the American record for the snatch.

Each kid trains four days a week.

For one hour each day.

You read it correctly. That’s not a typo. If you’re a parent, an athlete or a coach, that’s not what you know or believe as gospel.

“How can you create champions without working them?” That’s a question Freddie Myles heard again and again, between dismissive giggles and shrugs. Myles is the owner and coach of Myles Ahead Weightlifting, the club that produced those three national champions. That question would arise at tournaments, local and national, and the answer they would receive from Myles never satisfied them.

“More (practice) is not necessarily better,” said Myles, 37.

That answer would be nearly as off-putting as others Myles would provide.

“I want to make sure they have time to do their homework,” he would say.

This confuses some coaches who have their weightlifters work out twice a day in the summer. Which, of course, didn’t mess with another apparent Myles conundrum that has left some coaches speechless.

“I want them to have fun,” Myles said.

How Myles came to this philosophy — that less can actually lead to more — was an outgrowth of his experience as a kid. He was quick, athletic and believed he had to be going 24-7, 365 days a year.

“I got burnt out on sports,” he said. His reaction to year-round, one-sport dedication is not uncommon. Studies have revealed that 70 percent of all kids who begin youth sports quit by the time they are 13. Many factors contribute to such an exodus, but the loss of joy associated with being treated as a mini-professional is certainly one of them. Which helps explain the next sentence, a sentence that quite obviously shows Myles’ weightlifters travel to the beat of a different drum.

“I got him (Myles) good in the face with glitter,” Schrijver said.

That’s how Schrijver celebrated her national championship. OK, OK, if Casa Grande’s football team wins state this fall, we can be pretty sure the Gauchos won’t be spraying coach Trent Herzog with glitter.

But it’s the thought that counts, the thought these are games played by children, not by children who are living their parents’ dreams but rather by children who are living their dream: playing with their friends. In this case, their friends are weightlifters.

“And we also saw ‘Divergent’, ” Schrijver said of the movie that completed her post-match celebration with her friends.

If I had to remind myself once, I had to remind myself 10 times that these three kids were national champions at anything. They are what they appear to be — kids. Tacata, 14, is a sophomore at Tech High School. Schrijver, 13, is at Rincon Valley Middle School. Prokop, 11, is at Grant Elementary. They are kids, which was never more obvious than by the following statement.

“It’s hard to get my mind around (being a national champion),” Prokop said. “I try not to think too deeply about it.”

They don’t puff out their chests, throw out a swagger or give that dehumanizing look that now appears standard for accomplished athletes — Why are you in my space?

And yet the girls know they are different, and proud of it.

“We break the stereotype of girls in sports,” Schrijver said. “We’re not little girls quietly sitting in the corner. And we’re not volleyball players or cheerleaders.”

They are kids who lift weights, sometimes over their heads. They do this knowing full well few people know their craft.

“They want to know how much I can curl,” Schrijver said. She doesn’t curl, except with her cat.

“I tell them I pick up kilos of weight,” Prokop said, “and they don’t how much weight a kilo is.”

“They ask me how much I can bench,” Tacata said. She doesn’t bench, unless it’s to sit on one.

Offended? They are not. For them life is not a popularity contest. It’s doing what feels right and what feels fun, answers pre-teens and teenagers don’t always get to answer for themselves. That weightlifting has provided that answer is a compliment to the sport, a compliment Myles views growing in influence.

“When I began my gym in 2005,” Myles said, “there were no (weightlifting) gyms in either Sonoma or Napa counties. Now we have five in Sonoma County alone.”

If Myles has provided the seed for growth, that compliment can only be exceeded by another one, one he never saw coming.

After nationals, a coach approached Myles. He noticed Myles sent 18 kids to nationals and that 60 percent of them medaled.

The 13-and-under girls won the team title. The 15-and-unders girls placed second. All this with no one working more than four hours a week.

“You know,” the coach said to Myles, “you might have something here.”

All that glitters is not always gold. It can be a smile. Thursday there it was, that smile on Myles’ face, all bright and shiny.

To contact Bob Padecky email him at bobpadecky@gmail.com.