2 months ago by Amelia Lawrey

Things With Wes Barnett

Olympic weightlifter. Clean sport advocate. Icon.

Wesley Barnett is a decorated weightlifter, avid cyclist, husband, and father. He discovered a love of the bicycle later in life after he concluded a world-class sporting career that culminated in two trips to the Olympic Games. Prior to joining Thorne’s team as the Vice President of Business Development for Athletics seven years ago, he worked within the Olympic Movement as a Team Leader of Sports Performance (2008-2014) and Director of the US Olympic Winter Games (2014-2016). While looking for a solution for athletes who were testing positive due to contaminated supplements, he found Thorne.


In my former life, I was a weightlifting athlete.
I was fortunate enough to make two Olympic teams, 1992 in Barcelona and 1996 in Atlanta. It all started in 1984 at a youth center in South St. Joseph, Missouri, where I grew up. The youth director there, Dennis Snethen, who would be my future coach, came into the gym one day, interrupted our basketball game, and announced, “We’re having a weightlifting meet today. You have two choices. You can compete or you can go home.” Not wanting to go home on a Saturday afternoon, I agreed to compete. I was 12 years old at the time and was taught how to do the lifts (The snatch and clean and jerk – Olympic lifts).  In my first ever competition, I finished in 4th place…out of 4! Training continued throughout the Fall and the following Spring, I qualified for the AAU National Junior Olympics. After great success there, I was hooked.  

I’m the guy on the former USA weightlifting logo. There’s the snatch lift which goes from the floor overhead in one continuous motion, and then there’s the clean and jerk, a two-part lift, which comes from the floor, up to the shoulders, and then is jerked overhead. I was exceptionally good at the jerk portion of the clean and jerk. It was really natural to me and as such, it captured someone’s attention in the national office at USA Weightlifting and they used my silhouette as their logo for years.

I have a statue at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and Chula Vista. The sculptors wanted a body type that could represent all athletes. In other words, if you looked at me and my stature, you might ask, “Is this a track and field athlete? Is this a weightlifting athlete? Is this a basketball player?” I had the body type that lent itself to the body type of many sports. I was chosen because I looked like an “athlete” and not necessarily a weightlifter. 

During my time in the Olympics, performance-enhancing drugs were a major problem in my sport.  I was taught growing up to always do things the right way no matter what.  Integrity is how you behave when no one is looking. This was very frustrating because not everybody played by those same rules, especially in the Olympics. I love to compete and I love to win. It was difficult to do either of those things well when the playing field was not level. I knew I had to show up, do my best, and let the chips fall where they may. I wasn’t going to cheat to win. My mentality was different. I had people in St. Joseph who looked up to me, especially the kids, but many adults as well.  I not only had to look everyone in the eyes, I also had to look at myself in the mirror. I was not going to be a hypocrite. I had to live with myself and the decisions I made. That was something that I cared more about than winning.

That’s a big part of why I’ve always advocated for clean sport.
I was concerned when athletes were testing positive and it was proven they had ingested a tainted product.  These athletes weren’t trying to cheat.  They were just the unfortunate end product of players in the industry who put profits over people. To me, this was unacceptable. This concern for athletes took me on a 10-year odyssey to find a company that could solve this huge problem. It seemed nobody else wanted to solve it, so I was going to do whatever I could to help. That is how I found Thorne. I shared with them what I was trying to do and they shared what they were already doing. I was blown away. At that moment I knew Thorne was the company that would provide the solutions that I’d been looking for over the past decade.

One of the things that makes Thorne unique is the people who work there. They take what they do so seriously. The passion the employees bring to work goes into the manufacturing of the products. Thorne manufactures our products in our own facilities, whereas the vast majority outsource their manufacturing to a 3rd party. All told, Thorne boasts nearly 1 million square feet of manufacturing space.  If you don’t make your own products in your own facility, you can’t even come to the table to begin to have a discussion about quality. Along with the manufacturing, we also do extensive testing on our products. We’re the only supplement company in the world that collaborates with the Mayo Clinic on education and research.

All of our products go through multiple phases of testing with our sports products going through one final stage for NSF certification.  Before raw materials arrive at our facility, they are 3rd party tested. We set the certificate of analysis to the side and retest for quality, purity, and potency. If it doesn’t meet our standards, we reject it.  What we reject is ultimately sold to our competitors. We screen for over 600 pollutants, toxins, contaminants, herbicides, pesticides, and heavy metals. If it passes our standards, we begin the manufacturing process. We batch test through the manufacturing process, then conduct one last test at the end to ensure nothing was missed. Only then do we make the product available for purchase.

Products that are NSF-certified get tested by the National Sanitation Foundation. Which is the gold standard when it comes to screening for banned substances in nutritional supplements. There’s not a single ingredient in any of our 300+ products that is on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) prohibited substance list. This fact, coupled with our testing process helps to ensure nothing an athlete doesn’t want is in our product. Even with that, we check and recheck our products anyway.

One of the most common vitamin deficiencies we see across the board, not just in athletes, is Vitamin D.
You could pull 100 people randomly off the street and test them and you can almost guarantee 85% or more would have some level of Vitamin D deficiency. Some feel because they go outside they are getting their vitamin D. Your skin absorbs sunshine in different ways and at different levels. You have no idea what your absorption rate is and how your body is actually absorbing, utilizing, and uploading vitamin D. Thorne wrote a great Take 5 Daily article on vitamin D and how our bodies absorb and utilize it.

I got into cycling by running my mouth. There’s a bike ride here in Colorado (that is sadly coming to an end) called Elephant Rock. One distance is 100 miles. There was a group of colleagues at the Olympic and Paralympic Committee gathered around talking about this ride. I asked what the distance was and how long does it take to do it. One of my colleagues answered that it took him 8 hours. I remember saying, “8-hours”, in total shock. I told him, “I can walk a mile in 10 minutes, so on a bike, I could probably do it 3”. After some quick math, 3 minutes x 100 miles equaled 300 minutes, 60 minutes in an hour x 5 is 300 minutes. I then blurted out, “I could do it in 5 hours”. He handed me the entry form and now the stage was set. I didn’t own a bike, had never ridden on the road, had no equipment, and no idea what I had just talked myself into. Fortunately, because of where I worked, I went over to the head coach for the women’s track cycling team, Andy Sparks, and said, “Here’s what I’ve talked myself into. Do you think I can do it?” Andy assured me, “You can do anything you put your mind to.” Long story short, I trained for several months like a man possessed (with lots of help from coach Andy, a dietitian, a physiologist, and others and finished the race (they called it a ride, I called it a race)  in 5 hours and 25 minutes. It would have been under five hours but one of my “domestiques” had to use the restroom in the first 25 miles and completely disappeared after waiting for him for 15 minutes, so we left him. I then miscalculated a rest stop and skipped one thinking another one was a short distance away and ran out of hydration and food. I was in no man’s land for about an hour until I could refuel. I fell in love with cycling after that.

Thorne supports Human Powered Health athletes by supporting their training and their recovery. You have to be a human before you can be an athlete. We support the athletes by helping to ensure they are climbing onto the bike in a non-deficient state. This means their vitamin and mineral levels are where they should be before they begin an effort and start depleting things. We focus a lot on taking care of the human side of the athlete which carries over to the athlete side. Secondarily, we support fueling, recovery, and nutrition they may not be getting or getting enough of through their diets.

I love the Human Powered Health tagline that true health is self-made. At Thorne, it’s not a one-size-fits-all model. We try to be a one-size-fits-ONE model. Everybody is different. That’s why I love working with Human Powered Health. There’s so much synergy and overlap between what Thorne and Human Powered Health believe in that it was a no-brainer to work with an organization that basically was pursuing the same sort of mantras and getting people to understand themselves as individuals. 

When I’m not working or cycling, I’m spending time with my family.For so long I traveled pretty extensively with my job. I like being at home and taking care of the yard and just doing “old man” stuff. I take great pride in keeping my yard pristine. I love being active, playing basketball, going out and hiking, walking the dog and just being with the family. I’m a big foodie as well. We’ve got a lot of really unique restaurants here in Colorado. But everywhere that I go, I try to eat something new and get a taste of the local flavor.