TUPELO • Maddie Jasper’s athletic career has taken another turn, and her current path could lead all the way to the biggest stage in sports.
The 16-year-old from Tupelo will be in Anaheim, California, to compete in the USA Weightlifting National Youth Championships from June 27-30. A former gymnast and CrossFit athlete, she began putting all her focus and energy on weightlifting in October and is already among the nation’s elite.
Tyler Smith first saw Jasper last fall at a clinic he was giving in Saltillo.
“She started out basically at an elite level from Day 1,” Smith said. “She had no formal coaching and was still hitting really strong numbers in the lifts.
“She is a big-time freak of nature.”
Smith is with Mississippi Barbell, a USA Weightlifting-sanctioned club based in Brandon. He now works with Jasper, although he was not her first weightlifting coach.
When she decided to turn her focus to lifting, Jasper began a routine of rising at 5 a.m. and driving to Oxford five to six times a week. She worked out in the garage of her aunt, Tiffany Anderson, who is a personal trainer.
Anderson also coached Jasper in CrossFit Kids for a few years, so she’s had a close-up look at her niece’s progress.
“When she hit about 14, that’s when we started seeing it,” Anderson said. “We were like, OK, it’s time to start putting on some weight. Then when she got to be 15, she just started jumping leaps and bounds. It really was insane.”
Weightlifting is hardly a foreign endeavor to Jasper; it’s one of the elements of CrossFit. But there’s more to it than mere strength, which is where her experience as a gymnast has come in handy. Anderson said Jasper has “really good body awareness.”
And once she learned the proper technique, Jasper said, “I realized I could actually be pretty good at it.”
The snatch and the clean-and-jerk are the two lifts Jasper must master to win in California. Her max lifts are 195 pounds on the snatch and 210 on the clean-and-jerk.
“Since she started with me, everything has just slowly trended up,” Smith said. “She’s gotten stronger, her movements have gotten more consistent and more refined. That’s what we’re doing is teaching her to harness her strength and use it at the right time.”
Jasper has been in two competitions, most recently the Mississippi Weightlifting State Championship on June 1. She won her weight division.
Smith believes she has a chance to win at nationals, too. Jasper will compete in the 65-kilogram weight class of the 16-17-year-old age division.
“That makes me extremely nervous to think about, the fact that I have an opportunity to win at nationals,” Jasper said. “But I can’t stress enough that this strength is not my own, it’s the Lord’s strength. As far as I’ve gotten, it’s only because of the Lord, and He deserves all the glory and all the credit.”
Anderson and Smith both see big things in Jasper’s future if she stays on track – as in, the Olympics. Smith has done a comparison of her progress to that of athletes who are expected to compete in the 2020 Olympics, “and she’s stronger than all of them (were) at the same point in time.”
Anderson said Jasper doesn’t realize how good she is, and that her humility and hunger could take her a long way.
“If she keeps her head on straight and she keeps pursuing it,” Anderson said, “I think the sky’s the limit for her. I think the Olympics is not far-fetched at all.”