SHAWNEE, Kan. (AP) — Six days a week, Abby Flickner will open a door in the southwest corner of the former South Park Elementary School, descend a short flight of steps, and saunter down the dark hallway illuminated only by the glow of the sunset and the area she is about to infiltrate.
The classroom, which was two smaller rooms, had its separation wall knocked down. The ceiling panels have been removed, and sometimes there will be music from the Russian Red Army to set the mood.
The lesson is about to begin, and 12-year-old Abby, of Shawnee, reports to her place after taking a look at the homework on the board.
Abby's lesson isn't reading, writing, arithmetic or Russian. It's Olympic weightlifting. Her supplies are pink Nike Romaleos 2 weightlifting shoes, a Trinity Performance Wear shirt, a barbell and weight plates heavy enough to crush most children her age.
Her teacher, coach Boris Urman, is preparing Abby and six teammates for the USA Weightlifting National Youth Championship, which takes place in Austin, Texas, from Thursday through Sunday.
At the 2015 Nationals in Minneapolis, Abby, then 11, set a 13-and-under record at 31 kg (68.3 pounds) with a snatch of 30 kg and a clean-and-jerk of 42 kg, earning her a spot atop the podium.
This year she has moved up to the 35 kg (77.2 pounds) division and is looking to set more records and earn another gold medal.
"Eventually I want to get to the Olympics in 2020," Abby said. "I just have to work hard and focus."
While 2020 isn't impossible, the goal might be a little unrealistic as it would take American record lifts in the 48 kg class for Abby to qualify.
There is a growth in the sport at the smaller weight classes, though, and by the time Abby is 20 in 2024, she could have the experience to pull off an Olympic run.
In 2012, there were four girls competing at 39 kg and lighter nationwide. Now there are 62.
Abby began lifting about four and a half years ago as she watched her brother, Justin, train with Urman for football.
Abby first turned to weightlifting to gain strength for gymnastics, but she dropped that pursuit three years ago to become a full-time lifter.
Her father, Matt Flickner, initially had the feeling that Abby's lifting would stunt her growth and development.
"When Justin started doing it, I had no idea that kids did this and there were competitions," Matt Flickner said. "If you think about it: A kid that grows up on a farm, he's throwing around hay bales all day long and working with livestock. It's a physical job, and those kids grow up to be big and strong and nobody bats an eye at it.
"This is no different. I would say there is a difference between the power lifting and the Olympic lifting. The power lifting probably isn't suited for kids. To learn the Olympics lifts is fine as long as you have the proper coach, who knows what he's doing. Boris has been doing this for 50 years. I have complete trust in him that he's going to coach them right. I've seen kids with injuries, but none from Boris' team."
Urman said the talent in his gym is hard working, and Abby is no exception.
He remembers when she was 8 — and even then she wasn't shy, Urman recalls, partly because she had won a bronze medal in her first year of competing. He said Abby would go to competitions acting like she owned the place. He liked the confidence she exuded.
"The farther we go into the forest, the more trees we'll see," Urman said. "It's harder, trust me. It was easy when she was little, now it's a little bit tougher."
Urman said lifting is an adult's sport — a very serious sport. Unlike hockey or soccer, two sports that are popular in Urman's native country of Russia, weightlifting's not always fun.
"I'm not an easy person," Urman said. "When I'm coaching, I have to make a champion. I can't treat (you like), 'I love you because you have blue eyes.' No, no, no. I have to treat you here, very hard, to push you to be a champion to celebrate your gold medal."
Because of her champion status, Abby already has a sponsorship deal with Marc Pro, a conditioning device that provides electric stimulation to muscles for faster recovery time. Abby uses Marc Pro after practice and competitions to release tension. She said a typical session lasts 30 to 60 minutes.
In addition to having a sponsor of her own, with the help of her father Abby has created Trinity Performance Wear. The line of athletic apparel is designed for women, and the young entrepreneur already has Shenae Lundberg of the National Women's Hockey League on board as a representative of the brand. In May, when the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series came to Kansas Speedway, Trinity Performance Wear sponsored Kansas City, Kan., native Jennifer Jo Cobb's truck. Abby also teamed up with Spring Hill's Megan Meyer when she competed at the NHRA Kansas Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka.
The two-time USAW Youth National Olympic-Style Weightlifting Champion isn't worried about winning when she goes to Austin — all that matters is setting personal records. Abby is also trying to qualify for international competitions, she says, noting it might be cool to visit a new country.
"I'm going there for something that I love to do," Abby said. "I would know what it's like to compete against people from other countries and big crowds. That would definitely help me."