The state title favorite weightlifter originally joined to gain mental toughness.
Christian McKay has always been strong, physically.
Her parents, Frank McKay and Leslie Burch, have told her stories about her strength. They would hold one of their arms out for her to grab, and a 2-year-old McKay would use it as a pull-up bar. It's a story that would work as the opening chapter of a Greek myth. McKay vaguely remembers doing it once. So her story, unlike that of Heracles or Achilles, has some merit.
McKay's literal strong start didn't lead to much for a while. She never played sports, and though she liked running, she never ran an actual race. She didn't take regular visits to the gym or weight room. She didn't see a reason to.
Then, she got to Booker High. Things were harder now. Life was more stressful. McKay didn't know if she'd be able to handle it for four years, so as a sophomore, McKay decided to try weightlifting. She knew it would be a challenge, and that was the point -- she wanted to get stronger mentally.
It worked, McKay said, and she became one of the best weightlifters in Florida. She finished second at the Class 1A state meet's 199-pound division last season as a junior, lifting a total of 410 pounds. Now a senior, McKay’s sole focus is taking home gold.
To do so, McKay has made changes to her diet, now following a "ketogenic" plan that she researched and put into practice by herself.
“That basically means no carbs,” McKay said. “Well, 50 grams a day. Plus 200 grams of fat a day, and 10% of everything you eat has to be protein. No sugar, either. Glucose is a carbohydrate -- remember that.”
McKay is full of nutrition facts now (“Sugar is three times more addicting than cocaine,” she said, though this is a source of tension in the science community), but the diet change was less a voluntary experiment and more a necessity. McKay said she arrived for the year’s first workout, in October, weighing 206 pounds. Her coach, Bob Smithers, wouldn’t be happy with that, so she told him she weighed 196 — and then did everything in her power to drop the weight before he found out her secret.
The diet worked. Since then, McKay has dropped 26 pounds and two weight classes while maintaining her strength. At the 1A-7 regional meet Jan. 18, McKay benched 240 pounds and 195 in the clean and jerk for a 435 total and a first-place finish.
Smithers said he’s not surprised by McKay’s success or work ethic. She’s always had the talent, he said, and this year she’s managed to put everything together. Her dedication to her diet and training matches her goal of gold. It’s been impressive to watch, he said.
McKay’s road hasn’t always been smooth. During a preseason meet at Port Charlotte High, McKay attempted to lift 185 pounds but fell onto her heels. Afraid the bar would land on her chest, she pushed it away from her upper body. It connected flush with her airborne right leg, creating a still-visible dent. McKay said it looked worse at the time, but she still can’t feel the tacticle corpusles of her shin (which she learned about in anatomy class).
McKay took a day of rest before resuming her training.
“We didn’t go to the hospital,” McKay said. “We’re weightlifters. We just put some ice on it.”
Whatever mental toughness McKay was looking for when she started weightlifting, she found it. With one goal down, there’s only one left. She’ll compete for the state title Feb. 2 at Panama City Beach.