Zeeland teacher inspires with weightlifting championship

This is part of the series Shore Stories: Life Along the Lakeshore, columns by local and former residents about their lives. 

It began with CrossFit classes about eight years ago. I learned how to do Olympic weightlifting. I quickly found out that I was pretty good at it as I consistently had some of the highest numbers in class … even compared to some of the men in class. Olympic weightlifting is a unique sport that not only requires great strength but also power, mobility and athleticism.

Now I am an International Weightlifting Federation champion.

World Championships

I recently competed in the IWF Masters World Championships in Orlando, Florida. This is an event in which we do a “snatch” and a “clean and jerk.” The combined total weight determines the winner. This was my year as I came out on top and snagged a gold medal in the women’s 87 kg, 40-44 age group, despite coming down with the flu three days before the competition.

Traci Gonzales competes in the International Weightlifting Federation championships in Florida.
It was about five years into CrossFit when I decided to do my first weightlifting meet. It was a local meet at CrossFit Grand Rapids in the fall of 2018. I won that meet and began talking with one of the coaches there and asked if I should pursue Olympic weightlifting. He said “Absolutely!”

In early 2019 I did my first USA Weightlifting meet, which qualified me for my first national-level meet, the USAW North American Open. I knew going into the Open that if I did good enough I could qualify for the world meet later in the year. At that meet I placed second in my age and weight class, which allowed me to qualify for the World Masters Weightlifting Championship in Montreal, Canada, in August.

At this point I didn’t have a coach yet or programming. I was just doing free programming, and my husband was coaching me through meets. I decided it was time to hire a coach to get prepared for Worlds. In August 2019, I traveled to Montreal where I placed third in my age and weight class. The rest of 2019 and 2020 was spent being pregnant with my third child.

When I heard that the next International Weightlifting Federation world meet would be held in Orlando, I knew I had to give it a try again. I began seriously training again and preparing for that upcoming meet. With a full-time teaching, job-part time coaching job, and three kids, getting training in can be difficult, but we made it work.


In December my husband, coach, and I headed to Orlando for  the meet. I flew out on a Tuesday evening not knowing if I’d be able to compete as I had come down with the flu on Saturday.

Thankfully that morning I woke up fever free and gave it my best shot. My best shot was good enough to snag the gold medal. It was not even close to my best performance, but it was enough.

Zeeland teacher Traci Gonzales brought home the gold from the International Weightlifting Federation championships.

What’s great about weightlifting is anyone can do it no matter your age or size. I teach fourth grade at New Groningen School in Zeeland, and it’s so fun being able to share this with my students as well. I love that I’m a role model for my students at school — especially the girls — as well as my own children and other women and men at the gym. If we have indoor recess I write a workout for them to do and they love it!

They also think it’s so cool that their teacher can walk on her hands. I have a handstand walking contest with my students every year.  So far, no one has been able to beat me. Hopefully I can keep my streak going until I retire. My own children have been going to the gym with me since they were born. They see the hard work I put in, and they know their mom is strong!  

It’s great that I can inspire so many different people to get involved with fitness and nutrition.
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