For Mike Duffy, proficiency wasn’t an issue.
At around age 8, he could jump, climb ropes or walk on his hands just as well as anyone else in his gymnastics class.
“Something about it, I just lost interest in it,” said Duffy, who will soon finish his freshman year at Urbana High School.
Duffy possessed the blend of strength, flexibility and balance required to succeed in gymnastics, but he needed to find a sport where he could march to the beat of his own drum. He really couldn’t do that in baseball, which he played for about four years.
“He’s not too big into team sports, relying on other people to pull their weight,” said Pat Duffy, Mike’s father.
With the help of his father, Mike Duffy found a sport in which he can literally pull or push significant weight — all on his own.
The younger Duffy will compete in USA Weightlifting’s National Youth Championships, which take place June 27-30 in Anaheim, California. Duffy, who will turn 16 on Nov. 14, is one of 31 competitors entered in the male age 16-17 73-kilogram (160.6 pounds) weight class.
“I like lifting the heavy weights,” said Mike Duffy, who took up the sport last June at Central Maryland Gold Olympic Weightlifting Club in Frederick. “I like the environment [at Central Maryland Gold]. I like the people a lot. They’re friendly, they’re really welcoming, and they’re always willing to help no matter what.”
Mike Duffy’s weightlifting coach, Brandon Crawford, has mentored weightlifters at CMG for a year, and he has seen his fair share of athletes try their hand in the sport. It doesn’t take him long to figure out if they’re cut out for weightlifting. He’ll immediately see the attributes of a strong gymnast.
Olympic Weightlifting’s two events — the snatch and the clean and jerk — require athletes to lift barbells with several weight plates above their heads. In both disciplines, competitors must lift from a squatting position, making flexibility and balance a necessity.
“Especially nowadays, kids play video games,” Crawford said. “They don’t play sports as much. So when they come in to our club, they’re not very flexible, they can’t really do the movements. [Mike Duffy] didn’t have that problem.”
After he dropped baseball, Mike hadn’t done much of anything in athletics for a two-year period. Pat had been doing CrossFit at X-Project School of Fitness in Frederick for a year, and in January 2018 he asked his son if he wanted to give CrossFit a try.
“Yeah, I was a little skeptical,” Mike said. “I didn’t really know what to think.
“I was a little nervous to try it. Going to a gym with a bunch of people and not having done a sport in a couple of years, that made me a little nervous.”
Mike casually researched CrossFit and then came to a simple conclusion: He needed to become physically active again.
“I was tired of not really doing anything, just sitting at home not doing much,” he said.
Pat became enamored with the structure of CrossFit, which for him requires churning out several workout activities in a one-hour time frame. Mike enjoyed the lifting activities, but he wasn’t a big fan of running — or structure. Some of Pat’s friends at X-Project saw Mike as having natural talent for weightlifting and proposed that Mike visit CMG.
“They just noticed he’s perfectly proportioned for this stuff,” Pat said. “His strength builds really quickly, and he has good joint flexibility, and he picked up on proper technique really quickly — and he just seemed to have a knack for it, really.”
After just six short months at CMG, Duffy qualified for the youth national championships. In a USA Weightlifting-sanctioned meet at the OSS Weightlifting Club in Catonsville, Duffy lifted a combined 168 kilograms (369.6 pounds) in the snatch and clean and jerk.
“[At CMG], he didn’t have somebody barking at him, ‘Hey, go do this. OK, seven minutes later, go do this,’” Pat said. “In the weightlifting gym, it’s, ‘Here’s your workout. Take 15 minutes or two hours to do it. It’s your pace.’”
In addition to possessing the necessary physical tools for weightlifting, Crawford said, Mike has the proper mindset for the sport.
“Mentally, you have to be persistent,” Crawford said. “It’s not the type of sport that’s going to be rewarding every day.”
Crawford said injury can often dissuade weightlifters from continuing to compete. Shortly after qualifying for the youth national championships, Mike sustained a lower back injury that kept him away from competition for close to three months.
“Ever since the first week I started, I really loved it,” Mike said. “I never really thought about quitting.”
He actually improved his performance in Catonsville upon returning, lifting a combined 185 kilograms (407 pounds) last Sunday at a meet in Rosedale.
“Some kids may let success get to their head,” Crawford said. “That is the opposite of him. He’s just very happy to have this thing that he enjoys, and he doesn’t take it for granted.
“He’s proud of what he’s accomplished, but he wants to get better.”