BRADEN RIVER — Ali Lacey had never experienced anything like it before.
Stepping on the mat, in 2005, for the clean and jerk, the 101-pound Lakewood Ranch High junior looked around in awe. Weightlifters wanting to make history and spectators eagerly cheering on their daughters packed every square inch of the gym.
Lacey knew exactly what she was capable of, and there was never any doubt in her mind that she would be proudly walking out of the gym that day with a state championship medal hanging around her neck.
After all, Lacey had finished third in the girls weightlifting state championships as a sophomore — the first year the sport had become state sanctioned.
After benching 120 pounds, Lacey found herself about 15 pounds outside of first place. But, with all of her competitors’ final scores already posted, Lacey knew exactly what she needed to do to land herself atop the podium.
With one valiant lift, Lacey hit 150 pounds, setting a new school record and capturing the Lady Mustangs’ first girls weightlifting state championship.
Following her record-setting lift, Lacey began running around the gym and jumped into her coach’s arms in celebration.
It was a moment Lacey had been working toward ever since she walked off the medal stand in third place the year before.
“My coach told me, ‘You can win it,’” Lacey says. “That became my one goal. I’m going to win. It was an attainable goal. I knew I could do it.
“It was amazing,” Lacey says. “I had never done anything like it. I wasn’t (always) first. There were people who were better than me, but it was something I really enjoyed. I like the competition — the push from other people.”
Now eight years later, the Lakewood alum is hoping to bring championship success to Braden River, where she is the Lady Pirates weightlifting coach.
The first-year coach is on her way to doing just that after five of her lifters qualified for the District 8 meet Jan. 25.
“I love seeing the girls’ reaction and their excitement when they improve,” Lacey says. “They are all amazing girls here, and it’s amazing to find young adults who are so positive and motivated.
Sophomore Sarah Weiss won the 169-pound weight class of the sub-District 8 qualifying meet Jan. 9, at Palmetto. Michelle Tran (101), Cayton Chrisman (110), Demi-Shay Watchorn (129) and Lyndsey Nguyen (154) also qualified.
“People underestimate us,” Watchorn says. “I’m a volleyball player, and we’ve got (a lot) of cheerleaders on our team, so people never think we can do that.”
The meet proved to be extra challenging for Nguyen, who injured her back the night before the sub-qualifier. As she lay on the bench fighting back tears, the Lady Pirates senior never thought of not competing. It simply wasn’t an option.
Nguyen’s hard work and determination paid off, and now she’s had two weeks to prepare for the District 8 meet.
“I just have to keep pushing myself to get better,” Nguyen says. “I can’t worry about what other people are doing. I just want to leave my senior year without any regrets and do the best I can.”
The top-three finishers at the District 8 meet will advance to the state championships Feb. 9, at the Kissimmee Civic Center.
“A couple have a chance, if they really push hard, to make it to states,” Lacey says. “I just want them all to get new personal bests and have fun.
“I really enjoy working with them,” Lacey says. “It’s motivated me to start working out again. I’m surprised I’m still kind of able to do it.”
Contact Jen Blanco at firstname.lastname@example.org.