Just two years after forming a girls weightlifting team, Academy at the Lakes is sending some of its team to regionals.
Seniors Maggie Hull and Natalie Davis will compete on Jan. 22 in the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) Class 1A Regionals at River Ridge High School in New Port Richey.
At districts last week, Hull, in the 129-pound weight class, recorded a 110-pound bench press and a 130-pound clean-and-jerk for a combined total of 240 pounds.
Davis, competing in the 154-pound weight class, benched 80 pounds and clean-and-jerked 110 pounds for a total of 190.
This year’s team has seven members, which is quite impressive considering there was just one weightlifter in the program’s first year, when former the academy’s former football coach John Castelamare was overseeing the program.
After Castelamare’s retirement, Marla Oliver took over as the girls weightlifting coach this season.
Oliver, who also doubles as the girls basketball coach, used her knowledge as a certified personal trainer to develop a specialized weightlifting program.
The program is geared toward strengthening the muscles used in the bench press and the clean-and-jerk.
“I did a lot of research to find different (activities) they could do if things weren’t working or building up their lifts,” Coach Oliver said. “We just started using resistance bands with the bench press. I did a lot of research on that and I have probably two or three girls that increased their bench by 10 pounds in two weeks.”
Coach Oliver, an avid weightlifter herself, implemented exercises that centered on using a barbell to perform the military press, bent-over rows and squats. She also emphasized the use of free weights and body weight exercises like pushups.
“All of (the girls) have seen tremendous gains,” she said. “Every girl in the program.”
Her program also stresses a proper diet — ensuring girls get the proper ratio of proteins and carbohydrates so their bodies can recover, and also see improvement in their results.
“When they start working out and they start seeing results, they want to eat better and healthier,” Oliver said.
Oliver has been influence on Davis, who’s also a captain on the cheerleading team, to take the next step in her development as a competitive lifter.
“I like having a coach that wants you to do better and not really be easy. I love our coach,” Davis explained. “She’s the best because she pushes us, but she’s not mean about it and I really like that. She knows what we can do and pushes us for that.
“She’s so motivating, especially at meets,” Davis said.
Grace Faith, a fellow senior, regards Coach Oliver as her “biggest motivator.”
“Coach definitely cracks us into shape,” Faith said. “I don’t think I can do certain things and she will tell me: ‘You are 100 percent capable of doing it.’ I wouldn’t be lifting half of what I’m lifting now if I didn’t have somebody telling me I could do it.”
This year, the interest in the academy’s girls weightlifting team flourished with the help of Hull, as she encouraged some of her friends to give weightlifting a shot.
“I just kind of went like, ‘You should try it,’ for those that were on the fence about it,” Hull said. “I was like, ‘Just come for a practice and see how you feel.’”
Hull’s support helped fellow classmates like Faith to stick with the sport once they tried it out for he first time.
“I couldn’t even lift the bar at the beginning of the season when I started and Maggie told me: ‘It’s going to be okay. You’ll gain,’” Faith said. “She’s been giving me advice all season.
“The first meet was definitely intimidating. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I saw all of these girls who have been doing it for years and I was intimidated, but then I realized I wanted to just do my best,” she added.
With regionals looming for both Hull and Davis, the key for them is to get into the proper mindset during the event.
“Weightlifting is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical,” Hull explained. “At a meet a couple weeks ago, I went to bench 100 or 105, which I’ve done thousands of times before and for some reason I scratched out. …That got in my head and I did terrible the rest of the meet. It’s just about trying to get your mental game strong.
“Its like a mental block. It’s not a physical one,” Davis added. “I know I can do stuff. You just have to push through it.”
To advance to the state championships on Feb. 4, both Hull and Davis will likely have to add at least 5 pounds or 10 pounds to their current lifts, which is much easier said than done.
“It’s a lot more than you think,” Hulls said about the challenge of adding just a few more pounds to current lifts. “You think, ‘Oh, 5 pounds is not a big deal and then you actually lift it, its like: ‘Oh, my gosh.’ It’s crazy how much of a difference it makes.”
While academy’s program is still in its infancy, Oliver is confident it can continue to grow — even though the team is losing three seniors from its roster.
“I just think it’s a great sport,” the coach said. “Some girls never even thought they would do weightlifting, but once they get started, it’s addictive.
“It just shows the girls that they can do more than one sport or do something that may not be in their comfort zone,” she said.
Seeing more peers get involved in the sport could also lead to more interest in the future.
“Growing up, I never really saw a lot girl weightlifters and never really had anybody to look up to,” said Faith, who plans to attend West Virginia University next year. “But, seeing people from this school who have succeeded so much in the sport of weightlifting is really cool. It’s growing a lot.”
Davis, who plans on attending the University of Florida next year, believes the recent shift in adolescents’ attitudes toward fitness will also lead to more girls getting involved in weightlifting.
“It’s becoming a lot cooler to work out and that sounds kind of weird, but there was a big phase in teenagers where it was a lot cooler to be like: ‘I don’t work out. I just like to stay at home and watch Netflix,’” Davis said. “But now, people like to work out and like to have a gym buddy. That’s really cool because it’s a lot of fun.”
Published January 20, 2016