LAKELAND — While thousands of people soared into January with new diet resolutions, Jessica Piedra heads into the county weightlifting meet keeping her pledge for the past three seasons — she still qualifies to compete in the 101-pound division.
The Lakeland junior and reigning 101-pound county champion will seek her second county crown when the Polk County girls weightlifting meet begins at 10 a.m. Saturday at Auburndale. She has met the first-half of the challenge, which is not moving up to a higher weight class as many lifters do through the course of their prep careers.
“I like challenges. I have been challenging myself since I was a kid. Can I do this? Can I not? That is why I chose to stay at 101,” Piedra said. “Each year, I pretty much weigh about the same. I don’t really grow that much, but I do gain muscle mass. So I cut out junk food while I’m gaining muscle mass, and it balances out.
“Sometimes it can be a struggle because junk food is always great like candy. Holidays come and there is Hispanic food, but there is a lot of self-discipline because this is what I want. I want to go to county and peak, so I have to put my mind to it.”
Piedra finished ninth at the FHSAA Class 2A state finals last year, hitting 115 on both the bench and clean-and-jerk segments of the meet. She was just 10 pounds shy of winning a state medal.
“Last year was very, very hard (keeping my weight down). This year has been a bit easier,” Piedra said. “I have been exercising so much that I literally cannot do sugar because it is disgusting to me and I feel sick.
“From being healthy, it has made my diet a lot easier. I see a box of Skittles and I can only eat like a quarter of it before I don’t want anymore. Sometimes it sucks that I can’t have bread whenever I want to, but it’s a struggle worth fighting.”
Lakeland girls weightlifting coach Jeremy Bennett said he was surprised Piedra was able to remain in the lowest-weight division, but he’s not complaining.
“I am surprised because she just stayed so small. I thought for sure she was going to grow,” Bennett said. “But I am actually happy she stayed a munchkin. It works for us. I want to see her on the platform. I want to see her come home with some jewelry from state.”
She also set the county-record 101-division lift at last year’s meet, hitting 115 on both segments for a 230-pound total lift. Fort Meade’s Emma Respress finished second at county with a 220 total (100, 120), and she finished seventh at the 1A state finals with a 215 total. Both lifters are expected to have a solid battle again for this year’s county title.
“When I saw her lift, I thought she did a beautiful lift. It will be fun competing with her. At our last meet, I was cheering her on to make 115. I try to motivate her,” Piedra said.
Piedra wouldn’t reveal any numbers she’s been lifting lately.
“I want to leave it as a surprise,” she said. “My personal goal, by the end of my senior year in 2020, is to lift 200. That is a pretty high goal, but by having high goals it makes me reach big accomplishments.”
Frostproof won the team county championship last year and Ridge Community took the honors two years ago. Bennett said he thinks the meet is a toss-up between Frostproof, Lake Wales, Bartow and Lakeland this year. And he isn’t counting any other schools out.
“I don’t think anyone is clear-cut,” he said. “Granted, we have beat all the teams we have faced so far and that includes Bartow and Lake Wales, but we have not seen Frostproof. I want the girls to have great competition. Lake Wales is awesome. They are an amazing team. They have good coaching. Bartow has lost a few girls, but they are still strong. Right now, it is anybody’s game.”
These are top totals by class for the Polk County girls weightlifting meet.
101: Jessica Piedra, LHS, 230 total (2017-18)
110: Jessica Walters, AHS, 255 total (2017-18)
119: Karla Leon, WHHS, 290 total (2016-17)
129: Ashlyn Smeal, Alisa Mendes, FHS, 230 total (2017-18)
139: E’Laurie Smith, BHS, 270 total, (2017-18)
154: Mariah Wiggs, LGHS, 260 total (2017-18)
169: Diazzarray Velasquez, LRHS, 335 total (2017-18)
183: Tyra Armstrong, BHS, 285 total (2017-18)
199: Skakira McCoy, LHS, 335 total (2017-18)
ULTD: Rebbecca Lawrence, LHS, 380 total (2017-18)
Bill Kemp can be reached at Bill.Kemp@theledger.com; follow him on Twitter @BillKempSports.