[Q&A] Jaden Washington: Cal Strength Junior Member or Captain America?

Written by Nicole Lim

If Cal Strength were the Avengers, Jaden Washington would be Captain America. He’s polite, well-mannered, works hard, and always does the right thing. When I first met Jaden, his raw talent was almost tangible. Over the past two years I have had the opportunity to witness Jaden’s growth not only in the sport of Olympic weightlifting but as a human being paving the way for his future. He’s taking college classes, has his pilot’s license, and plays the guitar... Literally he is the most interesting 19 year old on planet Earth. Jaden is representing Team USA at the IWF Junior World Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan this week and I thought it would be fitting to do a little Q&A with him.

What’s your athletic background?

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I grew up playing baseball all of my childhood. I played football for a couple years age 14 - 15, but never really enjoyed it that much. I did CrossFit from age 14 - 17.

What other sports did you participate in before Weightlifting?

Baseball, Soccer, Hockey, Football, Basketball, Wrestling, CrossFit.

How, when, and why did you get started in Olympic weightlifting?

I did CrossFit for four years and recognized that I loved lifting weights way more than I did the cardio. I was always better at the lifting part of CrossFit and eventually transitioned to weightlifting. I started doing weightlifting meets along with my CrossFit training for about two years before I finally made the switch.

When you came to California Strength and asked to train, how did that transaction go?

Dave (Spitz) asked me lol.

How did you first hear about Cal Strength? What was your first impression?

Dave (Spitz) came to my CrossFit gym in 2015 to do a weightlifting seminar. He watched me lift and recognized the potential I had, afterwards he invited me to come train with the team. After Junior Nationals, I decided to train full time at California Strength, and Dave made Rob my dedicated coach.

What was your first day at Cal Strength like? First month?

My first day at California Strength I was very excited. I lifted with other youth lifters, and watched Spencer Moorman, Rob Blackwell, and Scott Hisaka lift huge weights. Wes Kitts also arrived during my first month and I got to see his technique improve a lot from his first training session. My first month was a big adjustment for me, coming from a CrossFit background, it took awhile to adjust to lifting every day.

Describe your first competition representing Cal Strength.

My first competition representing California Strength was Youth Nationals in 2016. We had our first youth team, where I lifted alongside Kristen Bondoc, Julius Weisberg, Patrick Whitmore, Jared Pagila, and Dylan Mckellar. I pulled out a challenging victory by jumping to a 7kg (14lbs) Clean & Jerk PR at 157kg (345lbs) in order to secure my first National title. It is still one of my favorite experiences remembering the energy in the back room while Rob played the numbers perfectly leading me to win the competition on my second Clean & Jerk, and scratch my third.

What was it like competing with the Senior Team at AO Finals in 2017?

It was an awesome experience. I competed well against the other senior 94kg’s, placing 10th overall and had a fun time watching our teammates compete as well. My favorite part of competing is seeing how relaxed I can get in the back room. I enjoy putting on my headphones and letting my coaches take care of everything else. Having Dave (Spitz) and Stephen (Ngo) help coach me that day made the competition run very smoothly and I appreciated all the help. My coach, Rob, lifted in the same session as me so I had a fun time competing with him as well.

What are some obstacles you have had to overcome being the one of the youngest but arguably the most talented lifter in California Strength history?

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I’ve faced many obstacles being the youngest however many have been corrected. The first is attention, because Dave can’t pay attention to every weightlifter at once. As a world-level Junior lifter, I require a lot of attention both in my programming and during my training sessions. As the senior team coach, Dave has appointed Rob (Blackwell) as my coach; who is now coach of the entire Cal Strength junior team. Rob takes care of my programming, aligning it with other cal strength cycles that have proved to be successful and pays attention to my lifts during training. Having a personal coach has proved to be very advantageous for my training and success in weightlifting so far. Another obstacle is my age itself. As a 19 year old, I have other things to do that some other professional weightlifters do not. I trained through high school and am now training alongside college classes each semester, a job working at my church, and pilot training at a local airport. Being a professional weightlifter is very demanding and keeping up with the educational requirements for becoming an airline pilot requires a lot of time management.

Who are your biggest role models in weightlifting?

Right now I most admire Harrison Maurus. He has already been very successful in weightlifting at such a young age, and after having trained with him for a week, I admire his work ethic and his ability to train through ups and downs. He has been lifting for a long time and I recognize that for a long time he was under appreciated and not recognized for how good he was. He didn't get discouraged and kept working hard, and now everyone knows his name. I hope to have a similar story.

Who is your favorite weightlifter?

I have yet to find a lifter who I really identify with. I’m not a fan of doping and I can’t say that I’m a fan of international weightlifters who have lifted massive weights because of it.

Who is your favorite Cal Strength weightlifter, past or present?

Nicole Lim

What do you think of the Junior programming?

I love the junior programming (most of the time lol). Rob will take a past or present Cal Strength Elite cycle and adapt it to suit us juniors. He usually ends up adding more volume or intensity because of our ability to recover faster. There has been a few really hard strength cycles that have made all of us a lot stronger. My total has increased over 60kg (132lbs) in less than a year because of it! Rob's always looking for ways to adjust the program as we do it, sometimes he doesn’t think I’ll be able to do something and I surprise him, and sometimes he thinks something should be easy and we find out that it’s definitely not.

What are your accomplishments?

My current accomplishments include 2016 Youth National Champion, 2018 Junior National Champion, 2016 Youth World Team Member, 2018 Junior World Team Member, and 2018 Junior Pan Am Team Member.

What has been your favorite cal strength moment so far?

My favorite moment was probably Wes (Kitts) betting me $50 that I couldn’t double 200kg (440lbs) in the Front Squat when my best prior to that day was only 190kg (420lbs). Well 15 minutes later I was 50 dollars richer after doing 200kg (440lbs) for a triple!

Being one of our youngest lifters, what are your goals and where do you hope to see the Cal Strength team in the future?

My long term goal is to make the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. More short term goals include making a USA Senior International Team in 2019 and a big goal is to win a gold medal at Junior Worlds in 2019. I hope that the Cal Strength team can continue to grow and acquire new members over the next couple of years. I’d like to see more members lifting for our gym at National meets.

What does leading the Cal Strength Junior team mean to you?

It’s been an honor leading the Cal Strength Junior Team so far. I honestly really enjoy encouraging the other members of our team and watching them grow alongside me in the sport. We are all very new to the sport still and it’s really fun to have people to progress with.

Why do you think junior and youth Olympic weightlifting is growing? Where do you think young talent is coming from?

As weightlifting gains popularity, more and more young athletes are starting to get into it. The Youth and Junior level has always lifted weights as a means for improving other sports like Football or Track, but now with National and International competitions available for both Youth and Junior athletes, the sport is continuing to grow and attract more athletes than it ever has before. The growth of CrossFit has helped a lot too. CrossFit teen athletes are being introduced into weightlifting as I was, and many of them eventually decide to stick with weightlifting.

Do you believe athletes that show potential and progress at a young age such as yourself have longevity in the sport? Why?

I believe that longevity is possible with a lot of hard work, but not guaranteed. Countless athletes at the Youth and Junior level have showed amazing potential only to be taken out by injuries. If young athletes want to compete and be successful at the Senior level, they have to get there first, and injury prevention should be a huge priority for the athlete and the coach. Young athletes can also get burnt out by training too often or too seriously for long periods of time. Youth and Junior weightlifting should be a huge time of growth for the athlete to prepare them for serious international competition as a senior athlete, without burning them out or letting them get hurt before they reach that level.

What competition are you preparing for now?

The IWF Junior World Championships in July, 2018. This is my first Junior international competition and I’m very excited. My goal is to win this competition next year but this year I want to make all of my lifts and have a great experience.

What’s your mental game like? How do you stay focused and motivated?

Whenever I'm competing I always have on headphones so that I can focus. I visualize my lifts over and over again and try to stay as relaxed as I can. All of my anxiety disappears as soon as I sit down in my chair in the warm up room. I just listen to my music, relax, take my warm-up lifts and let my coaches take care of everything else.

Do you do any mediation or visualization exercises?

My dad talks to me about visualization a lot. It’s really important to go over the lifts in my head over and over again so that when the moment comes I have nothing to think about but making the lift. I’m still working on visualization exercises but so far they have helped me to relax and stay focused.

What is your favorite weightlifting exercise and why?

My favorite lifting exercise is definitely Back Squats. Heavy Back Squat triples on Saturday's are my favorite.

What is your least favorite exercise and why?

My least favorite exercise is High Hang Cleans. I use the excuse of my long arms but I just suck at them haha.

Three things you would say to a young athlete that is just starting out in Olympic weightlifting?

Don’t expect to be really good really fast. Even after learning the right technique and competing it will take a long time to really get good. I am still not there yet. Remaining injury free should be a huge priority. Too many young lifters have had their careers cut short because of injuries. Always look to learn. Find out what successful people are doing in their programming and training, and see how you can learn from them.

What do you do when you’re not weightlifting?

I do a lot of other things when I’m not weightlifting. I’m a full-time college student, getting a Communications degree and I'm a pilot, currently working on my instrument rating, and a worship leader at my church. I organize the band and the set lists for every Sunday and for monthly events. I also play Fortnite and hang out with friends when I have free time.

What's the last good book you've read?

I recently had to do an analysis essay on a passage from a book called “iGen”, but actually really enjoyed the book. It was about the effect of technology on the new generation of teenagers which is having a significant impact.

What's your favorite food?

Noodles for sureeeee anything that has noodles in it, I love.

If you could be one animal, which would you be and why?

If I could be any animal... I would definitely be a lazy dog so I could sleep all day and have people feed me.

One thing about you that most people don't know?

I don't cuss! I love saying things like “Holy Guac” “Gosh Darn” and “Freakin”.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

When I grow up, I want to be an airline pilot and an Olympian. I always figure that since United Airlines sponsors Team USA, they would jump on the idea of having an Olympian that is also one of their pilots in a commercial!

Any last words before we sign off?

David McKellar, if you’re reading this… I’m sorry.