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Raising another crown

Central junior Alaya Smiley has captured a state title every season since entering the sport on a whim.

By FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 24, 2002


Alaya Smiley wanted to play basketball as a freshman, but an illness kept her from attending tryouts.

So she went out for weightlifting instead.

In January, the Central junior celebrated her third state title.

"I wasn't always that serious," Smiley said. "I just thought it was for fun. Then we started competing."

Smiley lifted a combined weight of 330 pounds -- 170 on the bench press and 160 on the power clean -- to edge Lake Brantley's Rebecca Sable for the 139-pound championship at Belleview.

Smiley, who moved up a class from 129, called it the most difficult of her three titles.

"This year was very challenging because I went up a weight class," she said. "When you go up in weight classes, you have to lift more, and it was hard."

To give her team points, the 5-foot-51/2, 125-pound Smiley competed at 154 or 169 pounds during the regular season, lifting against girls 40 pounds heavier than her. Smiley surprised more than one opponent who knew her by reputation alone.

"A lot of people know me from track," she said. "They say, "Oh, you're Smiley. Oh, you're short.' "

Smiley first lifted weights in middle school, when her basketball coach made it a program requirement. One day, the coach kept Smiley in the weight room long after her teammates had left.

"He said, keep going until you can't go," Smiley said. "I did like 130 (pounds). He was like, "That's good.' "

Smiley said she has lifted as much as 190 in bench and 160-165 in clean in practice and 175-180 in bench and 155-160 in clean in competition.

She sings Survivor's Eye of the Tiger to herself before each lift.

"I just can't think about anything bad," Smiley said. "I'm in my own zone. I'm just thinking, "Get it up, get it up. Light weight, light weight,' and breathing."

Smiley's freshman season went so well, she stuck with weightlifting even though she calls basketball her favorite sport.

"In basketball, it's complicated because you're out of shape -- you're not used to running, you're not used to the physical part of it," she said. "I would have been better at weightlifting than basketball because I wasn't ready for basketball."

Track was another matter.

Smiley competed in the 100-meter run, long jump, shot put and 400 relay last year, qualifying for state in the 100 and 400 relay.

An illness sidelined her this season, but she plans to run in the Junior Olympics program in the summer. She would not disclose the nature of the illness.

A ROTC member and captain of the step team, Smiley keeps in shape by training nightly -- running sprints and distances and doing sit-ups and push-ups.

She hopes to earn a scholarship to college and study psychology. Few schools have girls weightlifting programs, so track could give her the best chance at an athletic scholarship.

She is optimistic. "You can only hope for the best," Smiley said.

-- Staff writer Frank Pastor can be reached at (800) 333-7505, Ext. 1430. Send e-mail to pastor@sptimes.com.

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