By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
PUNTA GORDA — Don’t mistake small size for a lack of strength.
Madison Hankison is proof of that. She can lift some weight, more than most who are even heavier than she is.
The senior at Charlotte High School made a name for herself last month at the USA Weightlifting National Youth Championships in Atlanta by winning three gold medals in the 44-kilogram (approx. 97 pounds) weight class. Hankison posted a 41-kilogram snatch (approx. 90) and a 54-kilogram clean and jerk (approx. 119) for a 95 total (approx. 209), which were tops in all three categories in her first-ever trip to the event.
The 17-year-old qualified for the championships thanks to her performance at the Olympics Festival Sunshine State Games, where she also won a gold medal.
“It was really big for me. It wasn’t like anything I’ve ever competed in or experienced before,” Hankison said last week. “The whole thing was all fun and exciting for me. It was great.”
Hankison didn’t start weightlifting until her freshman year, but she immediately fell in love with the sport, much to her surprise. Horse riding was her first love, and she competed in horse jumping while in middle school, another sport where she took home multiple gold medals.
The strength Hankison built in her legs brings her story to weightlifting. As she was heading into high school, one of her middle school teachers recommended she try weightlifting because she had strong legs for working out, but her reservations stopped her from signing up.
So when Hankison received her freshman schedule and noticed weightlifting at the bottom, she was shocked, to say the least.
“My first year in high school I had seventh period weightlifting and I was like, ‘how did I get into this? I didn’t sign up for this.’ I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it because I thought it was like a masculine sport, I guess you’d say,” Hankison said. “But I just loved it and started doing it. My parents used to be huge gym rats and I guess I just get that from them.”
Love at first sight quickly turned into a life dream for Hankison, who wants to continue doing Olympic weightlifting in addition to high school competition.
“Madison has definitely fallen in love with the sport of weightlifting,” said Angie Nolan, who was Hankison’s coach at Charlotte for the past three seasons. “As far as her work ethic goes, the girl is a worker, which is great and fantastic. Any time you have somebody who’s willing to work and put in the extra (time), that’s always going to end up benefiting the lifter in the long run.”
As Hankison will tell you, a lot of her recent success is credited to her Olympic trainer Rich Lansky. She drives to Bradenton to work out with him as many as four days a week and has spent the majority of her summer lifting weights to prepare for her senior season at Charlotte.
Hankison has been a state qualifier for all three seasons with the Tarpons and hopes to finish her senior year with a state championship. She says she’s improved a lot form-wise, experience-wise and weight-wise.
“I’ve been working with (Lansky) for a little over a year now and he’s a great trainer and he pushes me to do my best,” Hankison said. “My family does too. My parents come to every meet. They’ve never missed one of my meets so they’re a pretty big part of my successful journey.”
Hankison has plenty of motivation heading into her senior season with the Tarpons following a roller coaster junior year.
She was a frontrunner to medal at the Class 2A state meet in the 101-pound weight class, but suffered an appendicitis in December and was forced to have emergency surgery. That was a huge setback for Hankison, who wasn’t allowed to lift for weeks.
Hankison managed to make it back in time for districts and still found a way to qualify for the state meet despite missing so much time. But Nolan says Hankison never managed to get back to the strength she was at prior to the surgery, leading to a disappointing 14th-place finish.
Don’t expect that kind of result in 2018.
“There are no doubts in my mind that this girl is going to go all out in her senior year,” Nolan said.
Her dedication and competitive nature have already taught Hankison to excel on one the biggest stages at her age. Her 2017 setback will only push her to work harder towards the biggest stage in Florida.
“Some people would probably say weightlifting is not as hard as it looks but that really isn’t the case,” Hankison said. “It takes dedication and a lot of time to put into it. You basically have to set everything else aside if you want to be successful in it. There’s not time for really other things.”
Only time for her one true love.