At 4-foot-11 and 108 pounds, Bella Rodriguez is living proof that dynamite comes in even the smallest of packages.

The Dacula resident, who graduated last spring from Hebron Christian Academy, competed in five sports — basketball, soccer, volleyball, track and field and flag football — for the Lions, with state basketball and volleyball championships in her portfolio. She also ran on the school’s state-champion 400-meter relay team on the track.

“I grew up in an athletic family and I’ve been into sports since I was really little,” she said.

And now that her high school career is over, Rodriguez, 19, is moving on academically — she’s studying at Lanier Technical College in Hall County — and athletically. About 18 months ago, Rodriguez began training to become a weightlifter and has already made a splash in the sport.

In early March at the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio, Rodriguez qualified for this spring’s Junior Pan American Championships in Manizales, Colombia, by capturing three gold medals and the overall title in her weight class in Olympic weightlifting with a snatch of 68 kilos (149.9 pounds) and a clean and jerk of 91 kilos (200.2 pounds).

The Arnold Sports Festival was Rodriguez’s third national event in the last nine months — she placed third at her first meet last June in Las Vegas and came in third again this past December at a competition in Atlanta.

Rodriguez said that she had no previous interest in weightlifting but climbed on board with the encouragement of Spencer Arnold, who has coached several Olympic athletes and owns and operates Power & Grace Performance in Lawrenceville.

“We have a strength and conditioning program as an elective at Hebron, and my sophomore year, we got a new coach, Spencer Arnold,” she said. “He is the coach at my gym now. He asked me to join his team the moment that we met. It took a little bit of convincing, but I finally gave in the beginning of my senior year and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Rodriguez, a North Carolina native, said her rapid ascent in the weightlifting world is the product of two different factors — her size and her coaching.

“From an early age, I’ve been told I’m super-quick and explosive and luckily enough, that’s what you need for weightlifting,” she said. “Every other sport I’ve participated in, for some of them I was a little too short. Everything I come with is perfect for weightlifting. I love it. It challenges me in more ways than in the weight room. It has opened my eyes to a lot of other things, like accepting and overcoming challenges.”

When asked how she was able to become competitive so quickly on a national stage. Rodriguez said, “That was all Spencer Arnold. He saw me every day in the weight room for two years and he was one of the coaches that stayed by my side the entire time. He saw all my potential. He told me he would use that to benefit me and to develop me in the correct way.”

With a strong performance at the Junior Pan American Championships in May, Rodriguez could become part of the discussion for an Olympic bid, although she thinks her chances are better for the 2028 games, as opposed to next year’s Summer Games in Paris.

Rodriguez always harbored an interest in becoming an Olympian — just in a different sport.

“I grew up doing gymnastics,” she said. “My size is suited to gymnastics. I grew up in a military family, so we were always moving, and staying in a gym consistently wasn’t an option. So I stopped gymnastics, but the plan when I was little was to make it to the Olympics as a gymnast. I still want to compete in the Olympics, but now as a weightlifter.”

Rodriguez must raise some $8,000 for the trip to the Pan Am Championships and has established a GoFundMe page to offset trip expenses. For more information or to help with her journey, visit