It is approximately 3,515 miles from Tahlequah, Okla. to Lima, Peru, as the crow flies.

Most likely not a route traveled often, but former Tahlequah Lady Tiger Hunter Elam has done it, with a couple pit stops along the way.

Elam is a 59kg weightlifter for Team USA, and competed in the 2019 Pan-American games, where she came in sixth overall with a 205kg total. She’s relatively new to the sport, but still has eyes on making the United States Olympic Team for the Tokyo games.

A soccer star at Tahlequah High, Elam took a year off competing once she got into college, but eventually took up competitive fitness. Despite some success, she said it wasn’t for her.

She really just liked lifting weights.

“Someone ended up just kind of letting me know that, hey, you’re aware that you can compete in the sport of Olympic weightlifting,” she said.

As the cliché goes, the rest is history.

She worked by herself with a remote coach for a time, until she caught the eye of Travis Mash, head coach of Mash Elite Performance, one of the top weightlifting gyms in the country. He invited her to his Lewisville, N.C. facility to try out for the team.

“I didn’t necessarily know what to expect,” Elam said. “I just kind of went with it. I had a gut feeling that it was the right decision. It went well. I loved it, I loved the team, and I think I moved there within like two to three weeks after.”

All this while she was just weeks out from planning to start nursing school.

“I remember my mom, and she’s like, ‘Well, I’d rather you’d look back and say that you did give it a shot and you did give it a try, rather than sitting back and being like, what if?’” she said. “There’s always the option to move back, and so you might as well go try it.”

It was the right move.

Elam has steadily climbed the ranks of American weightlifting, most recently winning the national championship in her weight class. She is part of a growing wave of Team USA lifters who aim to bring the sport back to prominence stateside.

“We’re having a chance to medal at the Olympics, medal at these international competitions,” she said. “Four years ago, (that) was not the case.”

Even with her success, she still thinks of Tahlequah as home, and says she regularly gets messages from friends and former classmates.

“A lot of them will say, like, ‘Hey, I saw something in you then that I knew that you were destined to do something great,’” she said. “It’s super cool knowing that I still have them in my corner.”