willy fernandez

Some athletes might think having your entire athletic future ride on three attempts in as many minutes is madness, but for Olympic Weightlifter Willy Fernandez, it’s actually slowing things down.

Try surviving a fast-paced, 4-minute pro paintball match.

Fernandez started playing pro paintball in high school, traveling the world with the New England Avalanche and other teams. The intense, explosive matches were an adrenaline rush for Fernandez and fed his love of competition. A former high school football player, he admits he’s just wired that way.

“I love to compete,” he said. Then, with a quick smile, added “I NEED to compete.”

He loves the intense spotlight that comes with Olympic Weightlifting. While others might wither under the unforgiving glare of three judges, Fernandez thrives when the spotlight is on him.

The path from paintball to weightlifting ran through CrossFit. Back in 2011, Fernandez knew he needed to get into better shape and sought out Centerville CrossFit. Immediately, he was hooked. The challenging workouts, the sense of community, and the chance to compete kept him coming back, even with a busy travel schedule for paintball and going to college for a degree in mechanical engineering. 

“You push your body into a dark place and keep pushing,” Fernandez said about CrossFit. It forced him outside his comfort zone, but it also highlighted the natural advantage he had in weightlifting. He recently shifted his focus to weightlifting, stepping back from the intensity of CrossFit. 

He follows the main site workouts of Catalyst Athletics, and trains at Centerville CrossFit, where owner and head trainer Mitch Lyons coaches him on technique.

“I really don’t need special programming, because my technique’s not there yet,” he said. 

His size (he’s 5’4”) and speed work in his favor for Olympic lifting. As his technique improves, he knows he’ll see his totals go up. He’s only 24, so he has plenty of time to make that happen.

Fernandez has one semester left before graduating from Wright State University with a degree in mechanical engineering. With his sights set on a career in the aerospace industry.

At the gym, he has the same determined focus on the future.

“Right now, I have one goal: qualify for the American Open.”

Fernandez knows that goal is within his reach. He’ll take the platform on Oct. 26 at the Second Annual MidWest Strongest Unicorn weightlifting meet. He has to lift a minimum combined snatch and clean and jerk total of 219 kg, or 483 lbs. 

“You have to be super accurate; hit that weight every time,” he said. “You have to look at the bar and think, ‘You can hit this.’”

When the bar hits the ground after your third attempt, you should be exhausted.

Three attempts in three minutes.  

He’s ready for the real thing.