Interview: Caleb Williams
When you become a competitive athlete in any sport, it's very difficult to make it to the top of the mountain. Winning a national championship, breaking records, or maybe even winning a world championship...it takes a phenomenal amount of talent and hard work to make these things happen. Most athletes never reach these kinds of heights.
Caleb Williams has achieved these things...in two different sports. Starting as a powerlifter, Caleb established himself as one of the best in the world. Then, as you'll read in this interview, he made a decision to walk away from the sport he had conquered and venture into something new...Olympic weightlifting. Now here we are years later, and he's a national champion and record-holder in the O-lifts. We mentioned how tough it is to be the best, right? Well, imagine what it takes to be the best in more than one area. Caleb Williams is one of the most accomplished strength athletes in the business.
And this interview completes the husband-wife combo, because we published one with his wife Kelly Rexroad Williams a few months ago. These two have done incredible stuff in their athletic careers, and they've also dedicated their lives to helping other people become better lifters. We're proud to bring you a look at the life of United States National Champion Caleb Williams.
Tell us about your background. Where are you from, where do you currently live, what’s your occupation (if you work in addition to training), family life, what kind of sports background do you have outside of lifting, etc.
My name is Caleb Williams. I am originally from Beaver, Pennsylvania (small town outside Pittsburgh) and have lived outside of Atlanta, GA for 10 or so years now. I own a gym with my wife that houses two businesses, Peak Performance Weightlifting as well as Crossfit Gwinnett. I have an awesome family of my wife Kelly, son Rex, dog Kilo, cat Jet-Fire (Rex named that) and we have a couple goldfish. I can’t remember their names but they are named after characters from the Skylanders video game which is Rex’s favorite. Growing up in high school, I played football (tailback and free safety) and ran track. I ran the 100m, 200m and 4x100m. Every now and then they would throw me in the 4x400m relay, but that was way too far! I also competed in powerlifting.
Describe your weightlifting history. When/how did you start? Who have your coaches been? What championships and international teams do you have on your record? What are your best lifts?
I began competing when I was 11 or 12, but my start was in powerlifting, not weightlifting. I competed in powerlifting for about 11 years. I was fortunate to win 10 National Championships, be a member of five IPF World Championship Teams and to win two World Titles and a silver medal. I still hold the IPF Junior squat record with 327.5 kg @ 67.5 kg weight class. In the middle of my career, I decided to give weightlifting a shot. I always followed it growing up and had the dream of one day competing in the Olympic Games. So at 20, I knew it was now or never. So I retired and made the transition to weightlifting. It was not an easy transition, but has been very rewarding. Starting out, John Coffee was my coach and I met my amazing wife at Coffee’s Gym. Now Zygmunt Smalcerz is our coach and has been for three to four years. We are very lucky to have him. I have won the past three National Championships at 69 kg class, have been on a couple of Pan American Teams and been a member of the World Championship Team in 2009 in Korea and 2013 in Poland. My best competition lifts are 128 kg snatch and 166 kg Clean and Jerk (which is the American record) as well as the 294 kg Total.
Please give a basic description of your training. Just tell us as much as you can about your program, weekly/yearly planning, etc.
My training has changed some over the past few years. Zygmunt’s programs are very involved and have a high volume as well as high intensity. But they produce results. I train once a day, that’s all I have time for, six days a week. The big change has been the addition of CrossFit. A few years ago when we brought CrossFit Gwinnett into our gym, I hadn’t done much of it. I decided to do more so I could learn more about it and become a better coach. At that point in my career, I was okay with my lifts going down a little bit, so I gave CrossFit a shot while still training for weightlifting. The opposite ended up happening…. as I got more into CrossFit and doing a WOD almost every day after my lifting, etc., my conditioning got better. Some areas that were being neglected were strengthened and I was better mentally prepared to attack the weights. As a result, my lifts have gone up and I’ve been able to stay healthy and be a better all-around athlete as well! I was very surprised. I try not to compete too often. I have been doing this a long time and do best while only having two to three major competitions in a year.
Describe some of the obstacles you face, or maybe some things that frustrate you in your weightlifting life. What kinds of changes would you like to see, either personally or with the sport in general?
The weights frustrate me sometimes! The biggest obstacle I probably face is time. Having a family (and spending time with them), running two businesses, coaching seminars, meetings and things like that take up a lot of my day. I have to schedule my training time. If I don’t, then it will get pushed back and then I’ll either be really rushed or have no time to get it done. If we could find a few more hours in the day or something, that would really help. Overall I have been blessed to stay relatively injury free, besides my shoulder this past year, but that is pretty much gone now. My tiny hands might be considered an obstacle….I wish I could use a women’s bar!! I take my training and competing very seriously and I have goals that I want to attain before I am done, but I have been doing this a long time and now I really want to see Kelly succeed and reach her goals and we have a lot of young athletes that are competing in weightlifting that we are very proud of. I want to see them grow into the future of the sport! As far as the sport goes, I think there are some good changes going on. USAW seems to be making an effort to support some of their top current athletes and it’s trying to bring up and develop the next wave of athletes as well. I believe that the bottom line, unfortunately, will be incentives. To keep a talented young athlete in weightlifting and not to play some other sport for a scholarship, etc. and to motivate your top lifters to make progress, break records, improve international rankings, etc., there will have to be a level of incentive that is sufficient enough and aligns with the goals of USAW and the athletes.
What are your plans and goals for your weightlifting career? How do you see your future in the sport? Do you plan to stay involved in weightlifting after your top competitive years are over?
Right now, I am taking my career one year at a time. I have goals I want to hit for this coming year, but they mainly have to do with competing against myself and becoming a better athlete and lifting bigger weights. I try not to get caught up in what anyone else is doing. If I am fortunate enough to win Nationals along the way and make the World Team, that would be great. Kelly and I will always be involved in Weightlifting. I am a competitive person and think I will always have to have some sort of competition to drive me. Even if it’s walker races when I get older, I’ll win that! We hold local competitions at our gym and have a great team of School-age, Junior, Open and Masters Lifters that we love to coach and see them grow to love the sport as well. I am not a fan of politics, so I’m not sure that I will be involved on that level in the sport, but I love to see lifters lift!
Who are some of your major influences, people you look up to, etc.? Who are the people you want to thank for your success?
John Coffee helped me get started in this sport and gave me a place to train. Without my Powerlifting background, I might be a very different lifter today, my football coach, Brian Churovia and his father got me started in powerlifting and convinced me to do my fist competition…that’s where it all began. My wife Kelly is amazing and is always supportive, no matter what. Without her, I wouldn’t be able to do anything that I have. One day I want my technique to look like hers. Zygmunt Smalcerz is the other key to anything I have accomplished. Without Kelly and Zygmunt, I likely would have retired by now, but they keep me passionate and focused. God has blessed me with a gift and allowed me to remain healthy, I want to make the best of it and be able to pass it along to others that we are fortunate enough to work with!