From cheers to muscles: former Grayslake North cheerleader evolves into top weightlifter
Distance running was never her thing.
But as Grayslake North junior Emily Larrivee began to focus more intensely on her personal fitness, she and her trainer set a goal to run a marathon.
It would be her first distance race of significance.
The two started training in April and ultimately met up at a Grayslake forest preserve in August to run laps around the grounds. Enough laps for a marathon.
"I had written 'I'm not a quitter' on my forearm with a Sharpie," Larrivee said. "It really helped to be able to look at that while I ran."
Larrivee certainly didn't quit in the forest preserve. She and her trainer, Grayslake North strength coach Tyler Hansen, completed the 26.2 miles that day.
"I am so proud of that," Larrivee said. "It was hours and hours of training. But I did it. I didn't quit."
But Larrivee has quit on one thing in her life, and it was probably the best decision she ever made.
Larrivee, now one of the best female high school weightlifters in the United States, once was a spirited cheerleader.
But when she fell short of her goal two years ago of making the varsity cheer squad at Grayslake North as a freshman, she poured herself into working on her strength and conditioning so that she could make the varsity as a sophomore.
But as she spent more and more time in the weight room trying work herself into a better cheerleader, Larrivee realized that she liked what she was becoming instead: a fierce Olympic weightlifter and a budding, super-fit crossfitter.
She will be competing on Dec. 5 in Atlanta in the USA Weightlifting Youth Nationals in the 16- and 17-year old age group.
She will also be competing nationally in the CrossFit Open in February.
"When I didn't make varsity cheer, I ended up making the JV cheer team instead, and when that (season) was over, I quit cheer," Larrivee said. "I found that when I was doing all that work in the gym so that I could try to make varsity cheer my sophomore year, that I liked conditioning for cheer way more than I liked cheer."
So in the span of the last two years, Larrivee, a novice weightlifter when she started, has overtaken every single female weightlifting record at Grayslake North besides one, the dead lift record of 350 pounds.
She's at 280 pounds right now and has 350 squarely in her crosshairs.
The 5-foot-6, 154-pound Larrivee, who is 16, holds the school's clean record at 200 pounds, the back squat record at 270 pounds and the bench record at 155 pounds.
"Emily's got one of the biggest drives of anyone I've ever met, and the biggest work ethic of any high school kid," said Hansen, a coach and teacher at Grayslake North for 15 years. "She has this really intense desire to better herself. When she was cut from varsity cheer, I think something ignited in her. It was almost like she set out to redeem herself, to prove everyone wrong, and then in the process, she found her own niche, something totally different and she has just eaten it up."
Speaking of eating, Larrivee is dedicated to a clean, vegan diet so that she can maximize her results in the weight room.
She's also concerned about stress and how much sleep she gets.
"Everybody jokes that I'm an old lady. I go to bed at 8:30 or 9 (p.m.)," Larrivee said with a laugh. "I like to stick to my routines. I also do a lot of meditation and yoga and journaling, which really helps with my training. Mindset work is really important in lifting to make sure that you are ready for your training.
"If you think for one second that you can't do a lift, even if it's just this quick thought that goes in and out of your mind, you won't do it. Journaling helps me realize where any frustrations are coming from and it makes me calm. You have to be in the right head space when you lift."
Larrivee says that physical technique in lifting is essential, too. And she has spent hours and hours in the gym perfecting it.
"Before COVID hit, Emily was coming into the gym every morning before school," Hansen said. "Then, she was taking my lifting class during school, then she'd train after school. Then there was COVID, and a lot of people struggled, but Emily set up a gym in her garage, she borrowed equipment from me and some friends and she just went to work."
Most days, Larrivee, who has won two national competitions sponsored by USA Weightlifting called the "High School Throwdown," which crowns America's strongest high school students, is logging at least 5 hours in the gym. She won the Throwdown title as a freshman in the 139-pound weight class and again as a junior in the 154-pound weight class.
"All of this definitely didn't happen all of a sudden," Larrivee said. "I put in a lot of time with Coach, working on technique. But I also really liked being there in the gym. It was fun for me."
Larrivee said it was fun seeing a change in herself. And not just the physical change.
"I found a lot of confidence in lifting that I really didn't have before," Larrivee said. "When I did cheer, I didn't talk to anyone. I just kept to myself. I considered myself unpopular and I put labels on myself that I wasn't good enough. I was pretty insecure. Through lifting, I've been able to start feeling good about myself. I slowly got out of my bubble."