Little man pumps heavy iron

Standing at 5 feet, 7 inches tall and weighing a mere 123 pounds, Sheldon Gilyard’s stature belies the power that the man possesses.

“That you have to be big. That’s probably the biggest (myth about weightlifting),” Gilyard said. “Most of the time when I say I’m a weightlifter, people start shaking their heads. ‘No way, you’re too small.’ That’s normally the typical response. My demeanor, this is how I am everyday.

“Anybody you ask, ‘What do you think about Sheldon?’ they’re going to say something about weightlifting and they’re going to say he’s always calm. They also think weightlifters are aggressive. That’s not me. I’m the complete opposite. I’m always calm, but when I get on the platform, then that other side, the aggressive side, kind of comes out a little bit.”

Gilyard, a 27-year-old working in the master’s of social work program at USF, is one of the nation’s top weightlifters and will be competing at the National Championship and U.S. World Team Trials Friday through Sunday in Manhattan.

While Gilyard may not have size on his side, his accomplishments in the field certainly stand tall.

In high school, Gilyard was a two-time state champion in addition to being named Florida’s Weightlifter of the Year his senior year. He’s also the reigning national champion, a title he’s held four other times since 1995.

“I competed in high school and won the state championships my junior and senior year,” Gilyard said. “I basically broke all the state records. I won Weightlifter of the Year my senior year of high school, and I was introduced to one of the Florida national coaches at this banquet put on by milk.”

Gilyard, who has been actively competing since 1993, bounced around the state from there, attending the University of Florida before coming to USF in 1997.

However, Gilyard received a setback a few years ago when a rule change affected his training. While he had been allowed to use USF’s varsity athletics facilities at the Sun Dome by signing a waiver, three years ago they forced him to move to the recreation center to continue his training. He now only works out two times a week at USF, commuting to Bradenton twice to use facilities there.

“One of the determining factors was that for me coming to USF was that I was going to be able to train with the varsity athletics at the Sun Dome,” Gilyard said. “I got a lot of support from the athletic department. Unfortunately, that’s not the case now due to rule changes and I’m having to train inside of the rec center and drive down to Bradenton to a facility down there two times a week. I’ve had to make some adjustments, but I’m not going to let the things that come in front of me stop me.”

One thing that never gets in Gilyard’s way is a little weight. Competing in the 123-pound class, Gilyard can put almost 2 1/2 times his own body weight over his head. In the two Olympic lifting events, the snatch and the clean-and-jerk, Gilyard’s bests are 97.5 kilograms and 122.5 kilograms (about 280 pounds), respectively.Someday, Gilyard hopes that he can climb the platform wearing the red, white and blue, perhaps as soon as 2004 in Athens.

“My ultimate goal is to be at the Olympics,” Gilyard said. “(It would mean) everything. With everything that’s going on to say I’m doing my part to represent and try and show that the U.S. can be competitive in a sport that’s predominantly dominated by foreign countries, it means everything. There is nothing that I can think of that means more to me.”