Grayslake 11-year-old Adelyn Jones becomes national champion
Like many kids do when they're stuck waiting somewhere for their parents, 11-year-old Adelyn Jones started making her own fun.
"I was at the gym where my parents work out and I started messing around with my siblings," Jones said. "One of the coaches noticed me, and asked me if I wanted to try. And I was like, 'Sure.' "
And from that very moment, Jones was hooked. On weightlifting. Olympic weightlifting, no less.
"I loved it," said Jones, who lives in Grayslake and is part of the FORZA weightlifting club that works out at Fit to Perform in Grayslake. "I surprised myself. I didn't think I'd be able to do it, but I'm very determined and if I want something, I do it until I get it right.
"I really liked how you use your power in weightlifting and if you put a little effort into it, you can really do a lot. I really like the feeling of doing (a tough lift) and hitting it."
Jones certainly was a big hit earlier this month as she competed in the USA Weightlifting Youth Nationals, normally held in Atlanta but a virtual event this year due to COVID-19.
With her parents filming her and judges evaluating her and her competitors live but remotely, Jones finished in first place and earned a gold medal, as well as the title of national champion.
She competed in the 13-and-under age group in snatch and the clean-and-jerk, with winning lifts of 81.5 pounds and 103.6 pounds respectively.
Her surge to national prominence came about one year after discovering that the sport of weightlifting for youth was actually a thing.
She has competed in just four events: a local meet and her first national competition in October of 2019, the Arnold (as in Arnold Schwarzenegger) in March and the virtual national championship on Dec. 3.
"My husband (Matthew) had gotten us a gym membership (at Fit to Perform) for Christmas last year just because we wanted to get healthier," said Emily Jones, Adelyn's mother. "I started out doing boot camp, then when Adelyn started lifting, the coach asked if I wanted to powerlift and so I did, and Adelyn and I have kind of progressed together, and we push each other, which has been fun.
"But when we started, we had never even heard of (competitive weightlifting) before. We had no idea it was a sport. But when the coaches saw Adelyn's form and her mechanics, they saw a lot of potential in her. They told us that it could be a thing for her. We just let it progress and as she got more and more into it, she just loved it and we followed her lead. I remember carrying her barbell for her to the warm-up area at the Arnold and I was like, 'This is heavy. She's lifting this thing, with weights?' That was impressive. The coaches feel she is a natural."
Jones, who is coached by Casey Knuth and works out five days a week, two-to-three hours a pop, has always been athletic, and different sports have come easily to her, particularly tumbling.
She used to be in cheerleading. Her background in tumbling, with all the jumping and quick movements, has given Jones an explosiveness in weightlifting that not every beginner has.
Weightlifting has also given Jones a confidence that she never had.
"I used to have a lot of anxiety," Adelyn said. "When I would get nervous, it was hard for me to do what I was nervous about, especially in tumbling. Seeing how strong I am, I'm more confident now. I am able to push past my fears, with tumbling or anything. I'm able to do things that I wasn't able to do before."
A year ago, Jones certainly never thought she'd be competing at weightlifting, let alone at such an elite level.
But now, there's no stopping her. She wants more national titles, a college scholarship, and possibly a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, an idea her coaches tell her is totally realistic given her sharp learning curve and early successes.
"When I started, I didn't know what I wanted to do with this," Jones said. "But now, I just love it so much. I want to go to the Olympics someday. That's my goal and I want to keep this going."
Emily Jones, who has done her fair share of research to make sure that weightlifting is safe for someone of Adelyn's age, and has worked with the coaches on strategies that must be used (conservative increases in weight) to help Adelyn progress effectively, is all for seeing her daughter run with weightlifting.
In fact, she'd love for other kids and parents to read Adelyn's story and give weightlifting a try.
"I really think a lot of kids would benefit from this," Emily Jones said. "And they are certainly welcome to join us. A lot of people might be intimidated or worried about kids lifting at this age. But you start small and you go about it in a safe way, and you will find a lot of little successes along the way."