Three years ago, Sae Vang didn't think he'd ever get on an airplane, much less travel the world competing in Olympic weightlifting meets.
The Sacramento High club team, part of the Hassle Free Barbell Club run by Doherty and his brother Kevin, is one of the top junior weightlifting programs in the nation.
Thursday night, Vang and other members of the Sacramento High team shook hands with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and lifted in front of prominent Sacramentans on the outdoor patio at Lucca Restaurant.
It was part of a fundraiser for the team organized by Schwarzenegger, who pledged to raise $50,000 for the team to send athletes to international competitions.
"This is not the regular fundraising that we normally do, but this is for a special cause," Schwarzenegger said. "They're the best of the best in the world in the junior division."
The Sacramento High club weightlifting team has qualified two dozen athletes for international competitions in the last three years, Paul Doherty said.
But it has run out of funding to send them. So Schwarzenegger stepped in to help.
Schwarzenegger first met the team at his fitness competition in Columbus, Ohio – the Arnold Classic – in March. He visited the weightlifters earlier this month in their gym at Sacramento High and learned that they had qualified several athletes to compete in the 2010 Junior World Championships. But team members were unable to travel in June to Sofia, Bulgaria, to compete because of a lack of funds.
Thursday night at Lucca, Schwarzenegger told the story of a politician in Austria, Fredi Gerstl, who became a patron of youth sports, including the teenage Schwarzenegger's weightlifting team.
"I never forgot that," Schwarzenegger said. "I feel like I should always do the same thing."
Schwarzenegger set a goal of $50,000 to give the team a travel fund for the upcoming Junior and Senior World Championships.
Some attendees wrote checks and others pledged more donations to bring the total amount donated on the night to an announced $55,000.
Sending one athlete to an international competition costs about $3,500 to $4,000, Doherty said.
All are kids who have "never even been out of the neighborhood," he said.
They come back changed.
"They're like, 'It's a totally different world,' " Doherty said. "They get so much perspective on life, and what hard work is, and what success is."
Keylin Mackey, 20, was a football-minded student at Sacramento High who didn't make grades his first two years of high school. A 2008 Sacramento High graduate, Mackey still competes with the Hassle Free club. In the most recent national rankings for the Men's 85kg Junior division, Mackey is No. 1.
"(Doherty) told me, 'You could make a living off this. Your name could be known around the world,' " Mackey said. "That's what I want. And it's happening."
Mackey qualified for the 2010 Junior World Championships but couldn't go without funding. He'll be one of the first lifters to benefit from the money Schwarzenegger raises, Doherty said.
As will Sae Vang, who said he wants to pursue weightlifting as a career.
"Life has come together now," Vang said. "It's great."