W hen University of Colorado senior Phil Locker leaves his house around nine each morning, he packs a lunchbox with a turkey wrap and a bag full of other high-protein snacks to eat before he returns home around seven each evening.

The integrative physiology major has no choice. He eats between 4,000 and 5,000 calories a day in order to stay at around 85 kilograms, or 187 pounds, for his weight class in Olympic-style weightlifting competitions.

When running between his 15 credit hours, working in a sleep and chronobiology lab, studying for MCATs and training two hours most days, he doesn't have time to stop and make lunch or dinner.

"I bring (the lunchbox) to class and I get made fun of," Locker said, laughing.

Locker, who finished 11th at the American Open Championships in December, is originally from the Chicago suburb of Buffalo Grove. The 21-year-old took up Olympic-style weightlifting during his senior year of high school.

He'd played football for the majority of his life as a fullback and nose guard, but a coach at his local gym encouraged him to try the clean and jerk and the snatch in the spring after his senior season.

What hindered Locker's football abilities helped him excel at the two Olympic events. He's flexible but strong, smaller and shorter than most football players and doesn't like cardiovascular exercise much.

"I was too small to play college football and kind of slow," he said. "So I started lifting spring semester and caught the bug. I got hooked."


His first coach, Roger Nielsen, coached the U.S. national team at the 1992 Olympics, as well as numerous other Olympic athletes in the last two decades.

Locker now works with Randy Hauer in Boulder at Flatirons Crossfit. The two are working toward the 2013 University Nationals Weightlifting Championships in April.

On a Monday evening in early January, Locker began stretching before his workout.

"How many classes are you taking this semester?" Hauer asked him. Four, he answered.

Competitive weightlifter and University of Colorado senior Phil Locker chalks his hands while working out on Jan. 14, 2013, at Flatirons Crossfit in
Competitive weightlifter and University of Colorado senior Phil Locker chalks his hands while working out on Jan. 14, 2013, at Flatirons Crossfit in Boulder. Locker finished 11th at the American Open Championships in December. (JEREMY PAPASSO)

The two chatted about Locker's holiday break as he chalked his hands and began putting weights on the bar. His warm-up weight is 130 kilos (286 pounds). He's a colorful figure in the gym: Locker wears bright red shoes, a gray USA Weightlifting T-shirt and royal blue knee braces -- all set off by his flaming orange hair.

Locker says later that when he's practicing, he tries to clear his mind completely so that he doesn't over-think a lift or hurt himself.

Before competitions, he visualizes lifting the bar easily before stepping up. Both Olympic events, the clean and jerk and the snatch, are more about technique and less about strength, Locker says.

"I like the technique," Locker said. "It takes years to perfect. But when you do it right it feels amazing. It feels weightless. Pretty much no matter what weight is on the bar, it should be easy."

His coach said the two spend a lot of time on Locker's consistency in competition. An athlete gets three attempts for both events, totaling six lifts that count toward a final point tally. The more weight, the higher the final tally.

In order to hit all six lifts, Hauer said, the two of them set realistic goals and then implement a plan, much like what Locker needs to do to get into medical school. (Hauer is also helping there; he has written Locker letters of recommendation for medical school applications.)

They start at a reasonable weight for the first lift, then slowly begin increasing weight until they reach Locker's competition maximum for the third attempt.

That slow-and-steady work ethic carries over into other aspects of Locker's life, Hauer said.

"It's having the discipline to put in the work required to make the goal a reality," Hauer said.

Locker is constantly checking in on the different facets of his life, trying to make sure he's at the top of his game for school, his career path and weightlifting.

The question for Locker now is whether to keep pursuing weightlifting after college. His dad is a gynecologist, but Locker said he's considering something like orthopedic surgery, a field in which he would work with athletes and can learn more about the body.

"We're coming up to the end of the school year," Hauer said. "He wants to go to medical school. He's got MCATs. Where is weightlifting going to fit into that?"

Locker isn't concerned. He spoke to a radiology resident at a recent weightlifting competition, and the two talked about how weightlifting can help break up the hours of studying.

"This would be my workout," Locker said. "You need to have something to ease the stress and keep your mind from going nuts."

--Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.