Hailey McDaniel, a rising senior at Wewahitchka High School, will be competing at the USA Weightlifting Championships Week in Las Vegas, Nevada, from June 25 to July 3.
“To my knowledge, Hailey is going to be the first ever student-athlete from Gulf County to compete on the national stage in weightlifting,” said Wewa weightlifting coach David Peavy.
Peavy and then-Athletic Director Loren Tillman started the girls weightlifting program at Wewa in 2017 because “I was looking for a way to get more girls involved in athletics, and this was a perfect opportunity because we had the equipment here (so) there was no overhead,” said Peavy.
“I thought it would be fun to join the program,” said McDaniel, who began lifting during her seventh-grade year.
Although she barely missed qualifying for the 2022 Florida High School Athletic Association finals, McDaniel has excelled in the Olympic types of lifts – snatch, and clean and jerk, which are the only types of lifts at USAW competitions.
“The bench press prevented her from qualifying, but two of my coaching friends associated with USAW said that she could lift at the national level (in the Olympic styles), because her form is fantastic,” said Peavy, “ I looked into it (USAW), and Hailey is one of my top lifters as far as her form, and she signed up for it.”
In her first USAW event in Panama City Beach in December, McDaniel qualified at the state level, and for nationals in only her third competition, held in Tallahassee in February.
Most recently, McDaniel finished in the top 10 in the state at the Orlando meet on Friday, May 20.
Ordinarily soft-spoken until she’s on the platform competing, “I tend to be very loud at meets,” said McDaniel.
“I told her six years ago when I met her, that I was going to make it my personal mission to make her cry every day,” said Peavy. “Whether out of frustration, anger, or tears of joy, I wanted to try to get that emotion out of her, because she’s really shy and really quiet.”
“The more emotion that you have in weightlifting, the better you’re going to perform,” said Peavy. “Unless you let it get in your head, (and) she does not do that. She’s very strong-willed and determined, one of the best lifters I’ve ever coached.”
Peavy credited his assistant coach Katie Bryant with helping McDaniel’s growth. “She’s been with the program since its inception, and has been a tremendous influence in Hailey’s mental and physical development.”
McDaniel plans to leave for Las Vegas on Wednesday, June 25, along with her parents, Eric and Alissa; her brother and sister, and best friend Kaitlyn Book. “My mom’s got a list of restaurants for us to try,” said McDaniel.
To prepare for Vegas, “I try to come (to the weight room) every day for at least an hour and a half to work on form and try to (get a) personal record once a week on my clean and jerk,” said McDaniel.
At the time of this printing, her P.R. in snatch is 50 kg (110 lbs), and clean and jerk is 67 kg (147 lbs). The USAW uses kilograms rather than pounds.
Her competition will take place Friday, June 27. “I expect to have a really good experience, because this is something I want to do past high school, so it will be good to see other really good lifters,” said McDaniel. “Going to a big competition like this will help me shake the nerves in the future at bigger meets. If I compete at nationals this year, then my senior year will be like a piece of cake.”
Besides the upgrade in competition, the young lifters will have an opportunity to watch members of the U.S. Olympic team in action.
“Hailey will get to network and make friends with people who can help her learn different techniques,” said Peavy, who also plans to be at the competition along with his wife. “It’s going to be a very cool experience for her, and for me as well, because I’m going to be getting my USAW certification (soon), and that’s going to light a fire for me to start a (USAW) program here.”
Another benefit is that college coaches from across the country will be in attendance in Las Vegas. McDaniel has already received interest from Brewton-Parker and Southeast Missouri State.
Hardly one-dimensional, McDaniel is a true student-athlete. Besides competing in several track and field events for the Gators, she is a talented artist who recently won the Wewahitchka High School Art Show “Best in Show,” and is a member of the National Art Honor Society.
For those who would like to help reduce the family’s travel expenses, donations may be made at any Gulf County Centennial Bank (Hailey McDaniel fund), or sent to Wewahitchka High School in care of David Peavy.