Mike A. Nackoul aims for the 2016 Olympics in Rio Junior earns bronze in the National Collegiate Weightlifting Championships for weight class

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Michael A. Nackoul ’13 earned a bronze medal for his weight class at the National Collegiate Weightlifting Championships and hopes to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
mark cannella
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mark cannella

How can you balance being a world-class weightlifter while studying mechanical engineering at MIT?

Michael A. Nackoul ’13 seems to have the answer. While many students at MIT find that the rigorous academics can make finding time for extracurricular pursuits very difficult, Mike makes it look easy.

A brother of DKE, Mike recently earned a bronze medal at the National Collegiate Weightlifting Championships for his weight class. This prestigious competition can be considered one of the early stages of Olympic Trials for the sport and Mike excelled during .

The championship can be considered as one of the early stages for the Olympic Trials. Mike’s excellent performance placed him eighth overall in the competition. However, since the the USA Olympic Lifting team has decided to take only one male to London this summer, Mike will not travel to the UK this year. But since he is still young for the sport, Mike has taken this news in stride, re-focusing his sights on the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro.

To give a little background on the sport, Olympic Weightlifting is not just weightlifting in the Olympics. This sport is comprised of two functional lifts, the “snatch” and the “clean and jerk.” In short, both lifts are a different means of getting a large amount of weight about your head. In addition to strength, these lifts demand much coordination, focus, and athleticism to be done safely and effectively. During the competition, athletes can attempt each lift three times; the combination of their best weights from each lift determines their score. Mike’s personal records are 145 kilograms (320 lbs.) for the snatch and 186 kilograms (411 lbs.) for the clean and jerk.

Mike began lifting when he was around 12 years old. Up until this point he had enjoyed playing baseball, football, and wrestling. He began lifting to become stronger and more agile, which is not uncommon for many serious athletes.

“After I found out I was pretty good at Olympic Weightlifting, I stopped playing sports one by one,” he said, “I eventually stopped playing football after my freshman year here to focus entirely on weightlifting.”

Mike also remarked that part of his draw to the sport was from his admiration for his older brother, also an Olympic lifter.

His favorite aspect of the sport is the competitive spirit. “I just fell in love with the competition,” he said, “the rest is history.”

Mike lives for the feeling he gets walking up the platform, and knowing that it is just him and the bar. Most often, he feels as if he is just competing with himself.

Balancing MIT academics and weightlifting is very demanding as both pursuits are very taxing, mentally and physically. When Mike is not at MIT, he is working with his coach, Zygmut Smalcerz, (who earned a gold medal for Poland in 1972) in Colorado Springs, Colo. at the Olympic Training Center.

Mike feels that it is his discipline that is most often tested by his training, and he strives not to let himself become overwhelmed. “If you just keep pushing forward and work hard,” he said, “most people find that they are capable of a lot more than they realize.”

What is his secret?

“I am on a pretty similar schedule for most of the year,” he said, “Depending on what my class schedule is like, I either get up early and go the library to do some work if I have an early class, then lift in the early afternoon after class. Or I go lift in the morning, then go to class. If my class is later in the day, then I do school work after. Either way I get up early, so I also usually go to bed early — I have an old man sleep schedule,” Mike explained.

Mike’s favorite song is “Jungle Boogie” by Kool and the Kang. He likes to get funky, and you can expect to see Mike representing the USA and MIT at the 2016 Olympics!