By day, Kyle Wilp teaches kindergartners at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School in Seymour.
Outside of that, the 34-year-old spends time lifting weights at home, at CrossFit Seymour or with his coach in Bloomington.
Whether he is receiving support from his wife and two daughters at home, the athletes he coaches at CrossFit Seymour, coach Wil Fleming in Bloomington or his kindergartners, Wilp said it’s all encouraging and motivating.
That all has helped him become a nationally ranked weightlifter.
“It’s huge to have the support, to have people pushing,” he said. “That really helps a lot, that support system.”
Wilp won his first meet in March 2021 in Indianapolis and qualified for the USA Weightlifting American Open Finals in December in Denver, Colorado, where he placed high and qualified for the USA Weightlifting Nationals this summer in Las Vegas, Nevada.
He liked having the people he coaches in Olympic weightlifting classes at CrossFit cheering him on and the kindergartners asking how he did after his competitions.
“It’s encouraging, and you almost didn’t want to have a bad day or a bad performance because you know they are going to ask you about it,” Wilp said, smiling.
More than three years ago, Wilp began working out at CrossFit Seymour and started with the light class, which doesn’t use barbells or weights.
A couple of coaches convinced him to give Olympic lifting a try. That includes snatch, where a person raises a weighted bar from the floor to above his or her head in one movement, and clean and jerk, where a person brings the bar to his or her shoulder level and then above their head.
“I did that more for fun for a while but didn’t take it too serious,” Wilp said.
When he had an opportunity to teach the class, Wilp obtained his USA Weightlifting Level 1 certification.
“While I was there, the instructor was the first one that says, ‘Hey, you should look at competing. I think you could easily get a 400-pound clean and jerk,’” he said. “Before that, I’m thinking, ‘There’s no way.’ At that point, I’m like, ‘Eh, yeah, maybe, I don’t know. That’s insane. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.’”
When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, resulting in gyms being shut down, Wilp had just ordered plates and a barbell for his house, so he began lifting at home.
“Then at that point, just working on those lifts, my numbers started getting pretty good and it’s like, ‘Maybe that guy wasn’t too far off,’” he said.
He obtained his Level 2 certification online, and it was taught by one of the heads of USA Weightlifting.
“We had to post one of our lifts. I posted that and he’s like, ‘With some fine-tuning, you could be a pretty good lifter,’” Wilp said. “That’s the second guy that has told me that, so I don’t know if they are joking or what.”
After talking to his wife, Amanda, Wilp wrote programming for himself and started taking it seriously. Then he realized if he really wanted to be good, he needed a coach. He found out Fleming was in Bloomington, reached out and began training with him in September 2020.
Fleming looks at Wilp’s weaknesses and goals and writes a monthly plan for him. Wilp records himself lifting at home and sends them to Fleming so he can provide feedback, and he also goes to Fleming in Bloomington when he can.
About a month in, Fleming told Wilp he should try his first competition to gain experience. That’s the one in Indianapolis.
Fleming’s goal for Wilp was to get good lifts to qualify for the American Open Finals. That would require hitting 303 kilos.
Wilp did just that, scoring 131 on snatch and 172 on clean and jerk. There were two male sessions with 20 competitors each, and Wilp won.
“I definitely think I wouldn’t have gotten into it had it not been for CrossFit. I probably would have never even found the sport of Olympic lifting, so I feel like that was a big step,” he said.
“Then even just going to where I was going to coach and then just a few people putting that bug in my ear, it was kind of like, ‘Maybe I can do that,’” he said. “I feel like the big step for me was getting a coach. A lot of that, maybe I could have done it on my own, but I don’t think so, or at least not as quick. I think getting that coach made a big difference.”
Wilp focused on strength building for the American Open Finals. He needed to reach 311 kilos to qualify for nationals and felt that was doable.
He ended up hitting a little bit lower on his first snatch than he wanted to, 130 kilos, and missed 132 but then hit 133, which was a personal record.
He had 10 minutes to warm up for clean and jerk, so he ate an apple to regain some sugar and a Snickers candy bar for quick carbohydrates.
Wilp opened at 165, missed 173 because he was readjusting his hand and then hit 178, also a personal record. He accomplished what he needed to: 311.
For his session, he placed third in snatch, first in clean and jerk and second in total.
That was a sweet feeling because he noticed a difference in competition and atmosphere compared to the local meet.
“In Indy, I’m the guy. At Denver for finals, I wasn’t,” he said, smiling. “I wasn’t even close to the caliber of people that were there trying to qualify for the Olympics. The atmosphere is insane. … It’s a big deal. It’s just you feel it instantly.”
His next big meet is nationals at the end of June. Before that, he has several meets to prepare himself for the big stage.
Based on the number he hit in Denver, he qualified for some meets for his age group. In March, he will compete in the North American Open Series 1 in Columbus, Ohio, and at the beginning of June, he will compete in the PanAmerican Masters Weightlifting Championships in Puerto Rico.
The latter will be his first international meet.
“With the opportunity there and then the numbers, it’s looking like I could compete for a medal,” Wilp said.
In December, he will compete in the World Masters Weightlifting Championships in Florida.
“Again, another international meet and hopefully world champion there,” Wilp said.
Even though he has been involved in weightlifting for a short amount of time, it already has become a passion.
“I think what’s nice about the sport of weightlifting is you do compete against others, but it’s also a sport where it’s very individual and you’re going to get what you put into it,” he said. “Yes, my coach can write the programming, but if I don’t do it correctly, I don’t give it my full attention, I’m not going to see those gains I want, so I like that there’s that individual push.”
It’s also a great activity after he has spent the first part of the day in the classroom.
“For me, it’s a nice break,” he said. “I can forget about that for a couple of hours, I go out there and I just lift. Maybe it has been a rough day, and it’s nice because then ‘Hey, all right, I’ll take it out and I’m going to squat really heavy today.’”
Most of all, it’s fun for Wilp.
“I enjoy just even the challenge of where I’m at now of these little gains is what I’m chasing,” he said. “When you’re new, you get these big numbers. Now, it’s ‘OK, I’ve got to put in the work to get these little numbers, little increases.’”
This year, Wilp will move into a different age category. That’s another plus about the sport because he can continue training and doing weightlifting as long as he enjoys it and is able to do it.
“Really, if you do it properly, you train the right way, which I feel like I can trust my coach completely, I know I’m not going to get overuse issues, I’m not going to push myself and do things wrong,” he said.
“As long as I am injury-free and have the time, I will continue to do it as long as I can,” he said. “Even if that doesn’t mean I’m pushing the international meets but still just competing locally for fun, that’s going to keep me healthy, strong to hopefully live longer for my family and my kids.”
Fleming jokes with Wilp about being the “strongest kindergarten teacher in the world” to break the tension at competitions. He wants to keep that title, too.