When we first heard CJ Cummings’ name nearly 10 years ago, we knew that one day he had the potential to become an American hero. Now, his moment has arrived. In just a few days, the hometown kid from Beaufort will take his shot at Olympic stardom and U.S. weighlifting immortality. But his career and his incredible journey to the global stage in Tokyo almost never happened.
Cummings was born in 2000 and grew up in the Lowcountry alongside his brother Omar and older sister Crystal. A gifted athlete from the early years, CJ continually showcased his prowess on the football field and was eying his opportunity down the road to star on Friday nights and earn himself a chance to play in college.
But his weightlifting destiny was already in place long before.
When Crystal was just 10 years old, Coach Ray Jones visited Lady’s Island Elementary School for an exhibition. After a quick introduction to the sport, the young girl was hooked. Already a multi-sport standout, Crystal became a natural at weightlifting and stuck with it through the beginning of her high school career.
Then one day, Coach Ray told Crystal about a conditioning opportunity centered around weightlifting, and the older sister thought that it would be beneficial to her brothers CJ and Omar. Despite her father’s refusal and desire for his sons to instead stick to football, Crystal drove the two boys over to Beaufort Middle School for their first exposure to weightlifting.
After a few lessons learning the ropes of the Olympic sport, their parents eventually bought in. The daunting discipline came quickly and easily to the future phenom. At the age of just 11 years old, CJ accomplished a near-impossible feat: lifting double his body weight (200 lb) in the clean and jerk (a two-step lift where the weight is brought to shoulder-level before it is raised overhead), becoming the youngest to ever pull it off. A new star was ready to shine on the national stage.
It wasn’t a popular decision when CJ decided to quit playing football and focus full-time on weightlifting. An activity that was initially taken up to help complement his gridiron skills quickly became his passion. With his impressive strength and unrelenting work ethic, Cummings enjoyed an unforeseen and meteoric rise to the top of the national youth circuit. At the age of just 14, the Beaufort native shattered the men’s 62kg American record with a monstrous 337-pound lift. A year later, he struck gold in the 69kg weight class at the 2015 Youth Pan-American Games.
The national media started noticing, and Cummings began to be tabbed as the country’s greatest weightlifting hope. The wonder kid just kept on winning. In 2019, he completed an astounding four-year clean sweep of the Junior World Championships, becoming the first of any gender to ever achieve that goal. It was looking like a fifth consecutive was in the bag in 2020, but the coronavirus outbreak turned everything on its head. All of a sudden, his dreams of accomplishing his task of destiny at the Tokyo Games were deferred.
But the seven-time American record holder didn’t let an unfortunate setback write his script. During the past year, Cummings committed himself to take care of all the little things that could make the difference between a medal and a long trip back empty-handed. Despite limited workout opportunities due to the pandemic, he did what he could to elevate himself both physically and mentally to prepare for whenever the stage began to get set. He grew his faith in God and developed a determination to help him push through an unprecedented storm of uncertainty. Now, he has come out a 21-year-old who is ready to write his name among the short and hallowed list of U.S. Olympic weightlifting legends.
Not since 1984 has an American man captured a weightlifting medal at the Olympic Games. But thanks to a hard-working kid in the South Carolina Lowcountry and his sister who pushed him to take his athleticism to the next gear, it all could change this week. We’ll all be watching on Wednesday, as our very own CJ Cummings finally gets his chance at ultimate glory.
By Wes Kerr