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Girl Power

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Strong inside and out, this Altamonte Springs weightlifter is – quite literally – raising the bar

If Alexis Graham were a typical 13-year-old girl, her social media accounts would be full of selfie photos and maybe some shots of her posing with friends. But this is not your typical teen. Instead, Alexis’s unlikely social media posts feature mostly videos of the Teague Middle School eighth grader lifting massive amounts of weights over her head at a local gym in Altamonte Springs. As a competitive Olympic weightlifter for the past three years, Alexis – just 5-feet tall and 93 pounds – has found her passion in a sport that is quite unusual for a young lady of her age and size.

“I like being different,” says Alexis, who lives in Altamonte with mom Amy, dad Nate, older brother Josh, and younger sister Chloe. “I like not being a typical child, playing softball or soccer or something like that. I think weightlifting is really cool. I love everything about it.”

Alexis began Olympic weightlifting – which involves two competition lifts: the snatch and the clean-and-jerk – when she was just 10 years old and has already competed in three national championship meets. This past June, at the USA Weightlifting National Youth Championships in Austin, Texas, Alexis placed second in the 39-kilogram (86 pound) weight class for 13-and-under girls.

At that meet, Alexis briefly set a national youth record with a snatch of 39K, breaking the record of 36K. But the next competitor had one final lift, and she ended up breaking Alexis’s record and taking first place.

“She did a wonderful job,” says one of Alexis’s coaches, Danny Carmargo, a Lake Mary High graduate and former Team USA weightlifter who is a Senior International USA Weightlifting coach. “I think that Alexis has the ability to be a Team USA athlete somewhere down the line, if she sticks with it. And, of course, her goal is to make it to the Olympics. That would be the ultimate.”

No one is more surprised about Alexis’s success in Olympic lifting than her mother, Amy. A former client of Danny’s who now works for him as a CrossFit coach, Amy began taking Alexis and her siblings to the gym with her about three years ago, and Alexis loved watching the weightlifters. But Amy never saw a competitive streak in Alexis, who first took dance classes as a toddler and then took gymnastics classes for a few years.

“She hated getting on stage with dance, and she didn’t want to compete in gymnastics meets at all,” Amy says. “She didn’t like being in the spotlight.”

Alexis just hadn’t found her passion yet.

“My mom started doing CrossFit, and I always liked to watch it, especially the weightlifting,” Alexis says. “Then I found out that my gymnastics coach did weightlifting, and I thought it would be fun.”

That gymnastics coach just happened to be Apopka’s national champion Olympic weightlifter Mattie Rogers, who now coaches Alexis in weightlifting, along with Danny and Jennifer Lester.

“Alexis really looked up to Mattie,” Amy says, “so when she started lifting weights, Alexis wanted to do it too.”

Shortly after Danny started working with then-10-year-old Alexis, he put her in her first local meet. Alexis did well enough to qualify for nationals, and she ended up winning a gold medal in the 31K (68 pound) weight class.

“What sets Alexis apart is her coordination and her mental approach,” Danny says. “She’s very calm and composed in situations that can be very stressful. She could panic and freak out, but she doesn’t.”

Alexis has made a lot of sacrifices in her quest to be a champion weightlifter. Instead of hanging out with friends after school, she spends a couple hours working out in the gym four days a week and occasionally on Saturdays. But Alexis loves every minute of it, and she has bonded with her fellow Olympic lifters, who range in age from 13 to 35.

“Sometimes my [school] friends don’t understand why I can’t hang out with them,” Alexis says. “But I have friends here [at the gym], and my team is like my second family.”

Alexis was scheduled to compete in the prestigious American Open in Orlando this past December, and she hopes to continue to get stronger and earn more medals in the years to come.

“I’m very proud of her,” Amy says. “She’s found her niche. She’s found something she can really put her heart and soul in, and she’s embraced it 100 percent.”

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