BUTTE — Olympic Weightlifting is a sport most people will never try. It is difficult and requires a high level of dedication, strength, and patience. Riley Gelling, a 12-year-old from Butte, shows these traits to an extent far beyond his years. But every time he lifts the barbell, he further proves his perseverance, as he never thought he would ever get to participate in the sport he loved just a few months ago.
“My bone in the bottom of my femur was dead,” Gelling said, “so I couldn’t do anything with that leg.”
About a 18 months ago, he was diagnosed with Osetonecrosis — a disease caused by a loss of blood supply to the bone. This disease can result from prior injury, but can also happen inexplicably. Gelling was unable to squat or put serious pressure on his leg — an incredibly unfortunate injury, given his sport of choice.
“[Applying pressure] would just really, really hurt my leg and it caused me to limp,” he said. “It’s really rough because I always wanted to do this. But then I got my knee injury, so I couldn’t do it.”
Gelling was too dedicated to step away from weightlifting. Instead of sitting out, he participated regularly on his one leg.
“We had him squatting with his one leg, his good leg,” said his trainer, Anthony Fields. “And then [he was] doing mainly upper-body and core exercises.”
Several months passed and it seemed like he might have been been done with the sport as quickly as he picked it up. Gelling was considering surgery to repair his femur, often the only option to help heal the bone. But, miraculously, the femur began healing itself. After an 11-month wait, he received the ok to begin training again. His staying tough and working through the injury seemed to pay off.
“The odds were stacked against him, for sure,” Fields said. “But he definitely had a better chance having trained through that injury than just to sit on the couch and play XBox the whole time.”
He has been training on both legs for a few months now, although his leg is not fully healed. Gelling has continued his hard work and a few weeks ago he decided that he wanted to compete in his first-ever weightlifting meet — a national qualifier in Butte, held on April 8.
“I was pretty excited,” Gelling said about getting to participate. “I knew that I was working so hard at it that I could probably do really good.”
Just making it back to the platform was an amazing feat for the young man. But he went even further, qualifying for the national championships.
“I never did think I was going to get to lift again because of [my leg],” Gelling said. “But then I surprised myself and I did. For my first meet, I qualified for nationals.”
The national competition will be held in Atlanta this June, and he will be making the trip to Georgia. His leg is expected to be back to normal for the meet. After being knocked down by injury, Gelling will enter Atlanta with a leg up on the competition.