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From Olympic Weightlifting to Witnessing

By any measure, Shane Hamman is a big man. For the 2004 summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, this super-heavy weightlifter weighed a hefty 350 pounds. He boasted a 62-inch chest with biceps just a couple inches shy of two feet in circumference.

Despite the muscle, "America's Strongest Man" could do a standing back flip, dunk a basketball, and squat lift a world record 1,008 pounds.

Nobody's kicking sand in Shane's face this summer either, even if he has slimmed to a svelte 300 pounds. Besides, the ultimate source of his incredible strength isn't found in 35-inch thighs and a 22-inch neck. It's found in his southern-farm-boy values and a rock solid faith in God.

"I had a good country raising in a Christian home with a huge amount of morals," he says. "There were times I didn't want to go to church, but my parents dragged me there anyway, like they were supposed to."

Shane started to bulk up in the teen years by picking cantaloupes and pumpkins in the sweltering Oklahoma fields for his family's produce stand. He could hoist 60-pound watermelons—one on each shoulder. "I cracked open a lot of melons and ate them right there in the hot fields."

Nicknamed "The Hamster" for his speed, Shane played high school football. But by his junior year, he wanted to be a competitive lifter. At 18, he entered his first competition and broke every drug-free teenage record there was.

Every workday for the next eight years, Shane spent eight hours in the fields followed by two-and-a-half hours in the gym. At the age of 26, he moved into the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. At 28, the dream he had nourished since the fourth grade came true—he made the Olympic team. Though he has not medaled in two Olympic attempts, he came in seventh in Athens, the best American super-heavyweight result in years. And he's won nine U.S. championships.

Shane still goes home as often as he can. Back to Shekinah Church, back to the farmhouse where his mother, Carol, bakes his favorite cherry pie and the weightlifting gym remains just as he left it, in the adjoining shed.

But as often as 60 times a year, Shane speaks to high school assemblies nationwide for Rachel's Challenge (RachelsChallenge.com), the ministry that grew out of the death of student Rachel Scott in the Columbine shooting tragedy. More than 90,000 students a year listen to this Christian titan steer them away from violence.

"I've had gang members in the inner city, girls and guys in tears, come up and tell me that they would change their lives and treat others with kindness and respect," Shane says. He's rejected more lucrative job offers because he loves kids and wants them to know how valuable they are in God's eyes.

Weightlifting has opened many doors for Shane. He was at the 2008 Beijing Olympics—not as a competitor, but providing color commentary for NBC's coverage of the weightlifting competition. He's okay with not being a contender. This way, he gets to return to the Olympics "without the stress."

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