Teen weightlifter sets some lofty goals for herself

Originally on Thestar.com

Maya Laylor is a shy, soft-spoken teenager with a rather dainty handshake.

But once the weightlifter wraps her pink fingernails around a bar she can throw more weight above her head than NHL hockey players who would loom like giants beside her. 

Laylor, all of five-foot-four and 19 years old, can lift 88 kilograms over her head in the fluid, single-motion snatch and 108 kg in the two-phase clean and jerk.

Those Olympic-style lifts were enough to set four junior and senior provincial records last weekend at the Ontario WinterLift meet and move Laylor one step closer to her goal of representing Canada at the Pan Am Games in Toronto this summer and eventually the Olympics.

Those are bigger numbers than some professional hockey players can put up, including Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban, who trains at her father’s gym in the off-season.

And while it’s the pro athletes and business executives who pay the bills at his LPS gym in downtown Toronto, Clance Laylor is clearly thrilled it’s his daughter’s name that tops the gym’s record board.

Her 88-kg snatch comes ahead of Subban’s 81, and her 111-kg clean tops his 100.

“He’s got her on the jerk, though,” Clance Laylor said pointing out Subban’s four kilogram advantage on that one.

He’s not likely to keep that for long the way she’s going.

It was only three years ago that Clance Laylor promised he’d buy his daughter a pair of weightlifting shoes if she could snatch 35 kg and figured he wouldn’t have to shell out for at least a month. But she did it right then and there.

Laylor always had athletic ability but little interest in sports.

Her father had been a sprinter and he encouraged her in track but “it didn’t catch” and her mother pushed for swimming but when the competitive team came calling she declined.

“I didn’t want to mess up my hair,” she said, laughing.

But the self-described “girly girl” liked to work out and, at 16, she finally agreed to try lifting at her dad’s gym.

“That was it — it was a wrap,” he recalled. “I didn’t have to push her, she just wanted to come train more and more.”

She was strong but, more importantly, she had a knack for picking up the technique that allows a lifter to get their body under the weight quickly and in the proper alignment so they can, essentially, stack it on their bones, which are stronger than muscles.

Proper technique, which she spends four to six hours a day, six days a week honing, is what lets her out-lift men far larger and, in many ways, stronger.

But even that is just part of the package required for this Olympic sport and the mental side was, in the beginning, harder for Laylor.

She was shy to the point of being terrified by the prospect of speaking in front of her high school classmates

But there’s no hiding in weightlifting; a lifter literally walks on centre stage to perform before the crowd of spectators who stare while they try to lift a weight, that in many cases, they’ve never done before.

“I was so scared,” she said, recalling her very first competition in North Bay, Ont.

Still, she won best novice lifter at that meet and hasn’t looked back.

“She’s always won gold or silver,” said her mom, Nadine Jeffrey-Laylor.

“One bronze,” offered up Laylor, unwilling to take any extra credit

“I’m still shy, I don’t think that will ever go away,” she said. “But now I’m not worried about the crowd or people watching me, I’m just anxious to get my weight.”

To get to the 2015 Pan Am Games in July she needs to qualify through the senior Ontario championships in March and senior nationals in May.

She’ll face some stiff competition in her 69-kg weight class from national team members including Marie-Josée Arès-Pilion, who has a decade of experience on her and won a bronze medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and Kristel Ngarlem, who is also 19 but from Quebec where weightlifting is much more common and has been competing since elementary school.

As a strength and conditioning coach, Clance Laylor sees two very different sides of sport in Canada: professional hockey, which gets the most attention and has some of the highest-paid athletes, and Olympic sport that falls well below the daily radar.

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “When it comes to Olympic summer sports we, as Canadians, get behind them when they win but for the day-to-day grind, the support is just not there.”

That’s why Laylor has launched a crowd funding campaign to be able to afford to get to the competitions that will help her progress.

“I have daughters so it’s a special thing for me to get girls strong,” Clance Laylor said. But he admits Laylor and her older sister Kia, who also weightlifts, are pretty handy to have around the gym when he’s training his other elite athletes.

“I use them to raise the level in the whole gym,” he said. “No man likes to see a little teenage girl throw up all that weight.”

When the men see what Laylor can lift, they have no choice but to work harder.

So far, she’s having no trouble staying a couple weights ahead.