From Konawa to Beijing: Olympic Chad Vaughn proud of blue-collar roots

By Jenni Carlson Modified: August 13, 2008 at 1:00 am •  Published: August 13, 2008
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KONAWA — To see where Chad Vaughn became an Olympic weightlifter, you have to move the riding lawnmower and the ATVs.

The shed in his parents' back yard is filled with all sorts of equipment and tools, but there in the back corner of the living room-sized space is a plywood platform.

It is three sheets thick with a fourth in the middle. Along both sides are thick black pads.

Normally, such padding is used in horse trailers.

In the Vaughns' shed, it buffers 400-pound barbells.

This is where it all started for Chad Vaughn, on a homemade platform on the outskirts of Konawa. The humble beginnings cultivated a small-town, down-home sensibility that has carried him all the way to the Olympics.

"Growing up in a small town, everything's not readily available,” said the two-time Olympian, who lifts today in the 77-kilogram weight class. "I guess you just learn how to make do with what you've got.”

He learned that from his blue-collar parents, Gay and James. Same goes for his hard-scrabble hometown, a one-grocery-store community 20 minutes northwest of Ada.

Both showed him how to work hard, then supported him every step of the way.

"It really is cool,” band teacher Donny Longest said. "Like we told all the band kids last week ... ‘Make sure you watch.'

"People are going to be paying attention.”

They know, after all, just how far Konawa is from Beijing.

•••

Don Gallagher flipped through the black-and-white pages of a yearbook.

Standing in his still-deserted room at Konawa High School, the American history teacher eventually found what he was after.

"He was a skinny kid,” he said.

Gallagher pointed to a photo.

"This was the weightlifting team that year.”

In the lower left-hand corner was a scrawny kid with a floppy tuft of hair and a white T-shirt two sizes too big.

Chad Vaughn, the caption read.

"That shows you what work and determination will do for you,” Gallagher said.

Vaughn's thighs are bigger now than his torso was then. He had no dreams of becoming an Olympic weightlifter, but then Alan Ogles came to town. The football assistant coach introduced the high school players to Olympic-style lifting.

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