05/30/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT
WHEN TUEMONTEL WILIMMSSHOW came calling, Cassie Clark said no. When Late Show with David Letterman came calling, she said no again. Cassie was worried that TV would present her as a curiosity rather than the serious athlete she is.
In March, competing at the National Junior Weight Lifting Championships in St. Joseph. Mo., the petite 15-year-old high school sophomore from Savannah, Ga., stunned the weight lifting world by cleaning and jerking 165 pounds, 88 pounds more than her closest female competitor and better than all but two of her male counterparts. Because of that performance, she is the first female to be invited to join the men's junior national squad at their three-week training camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
Cassie doesn't expect to compete against male Olympian lifters—international rules prohibit that—but she does want women's weight lifting recognized as an Olympic event. In the meantime she would like to help dispel misconceptions about her sport. "People confuse weight lifters with the big, bulky, veiny women you see on American Gladiators, who pump iron and put oil on their chests," says Michael Cohen, who coaches Cassie and 45 other teen weight lifters in a converted gym in a former elementary-school cafeteria in Savannah. "Most of our girls look like gymnasts—only their legs get a little bigger."
Weight lifting isn't the only thing on Cassie's mind, though. The daughter of an accountant and a receptionist, who are now divorced, she is an A student at Johnson High School and wants to be a schoolteacher someday. "A lot of guys are attracted to her, but they're afraid to ask her out," says teammate Shawn Wilson. "They can't handle the fact that she can lift more than they can or that she's got a serious brain."
Cassie, for her part, knows exactly whom she doesn't want to dale. "I've given up on guy weight lifters," she says. "It's too hard in the gym, concentrating on yourself when they're around. They can't stand being ignored for that long."