FALL BRANCH, Tenn. (WJHL)– Heather O’Daniel has always been a competitor, growing up showing horses. She also fell in love with fitness during her time in the Army which helped her become a world champion weightlifter.

“There’s a reason why you have the training you have and it’s to get ready for that mission that you don’t know if it’s coming around the corner,” O’Daniel said. “It may or may not ever show up, but you got to always be prepared and ready and that’s how I am with the platform.”

Staying ready is something O’Daniel has lived by since joining the Army in 1991.

“I have a great uncle who was a three-star general at White Sands, and then my grandfather was a full bird colonel. I was the only female in our family who went into the military to serve our country,” she said. “It’s something that I take very seriously, and I’m very honored to be able to have done.”

O’Daniel was stationed at Ft. Riley, Kansas in the Medical Support Battalion for three years.

“I was the first female group to go through Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, for our basic training,” O’Daniel said. “They did not treat us like females. We were soldiers.”

What she learned in the service carried over into an award-winning hobby, Olympic weightlifting.

“I started it actually at 48 years old. You’re never too old to start a new hobby. Since then it’s just been the go, go, go for me and I just absolutely love it,” she said. “It’s mentally tough, physically tough. The training is very hard. You have to be very dedicated.”

It started with Crossfit, where she fell in love with the weightlifting portion. Now, she trains four to five days a week virtually with her coach in Oregon. She won gold in all of the categories at her first competition in 2021.

“I’ve always been a competitor and I haven’t been showing lately. So when I just was able to get into the gym and start training something, it was just me. It was me and the barbell,” said O’Daniel. “I didn’t have a horse or a teammate that had to make the difference. It was, ‘What is it that I can do?'”

Since then, O’Daniel won silver at the Pan American Games and qualified for her first World Championship last December, where she won gold.

O’Daniel recently returned from another Worlds Weightlifting Championship in Poland where she won gold again.

“You just got to be tough because you’re you’re doing things that aren’t always enjoyable. But you got to get the mission done. Whether it’s march, if you’re in the field, or if you’re on the platform,” she said. “If you have something in front of you, you’ve got to get it done and sometimes it’s enjoyable and other times it’s not.”

O’Daniel says her time in the military not only helps her compete but also in her career as a real estate agent and in life.

“I don’t ever know who my competition’s going to be or how good of a day they’re going to have. But you got to be ready. You’ve got to be your best. I think the two things that really parallel one another, whether in the military or lifting weights or in real estate, you’ve got to be ready and on your game, always,” O’Daniel said.

O’Daniel and her family moved to the Tri-Cities last year.

Along with being a real estate agent, she also coaches others at Fit for Life Farm and Crossfit Glorified in Limestone.