Like most successful athletes, Gia’nah Sparks doesn’t back down from competition. She looks her opponents in the face and, more often than not, proceeds to defeat them.
But what if the opponent can’t be seen?
She and many other athletes across the world have met an opponent they simply cannot defeat, at least not at this moment in time. And, like so many others, though she has not contracted the deadly novel coronavirus COVID-19, it has nonetheless brought sadness on her, teammates and high school powerlifters across Texas.
Sparks is one of nine Cedar Hill lifters who qualified for their respective state meet, which would have been held this past month, had they not been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. They would have been joined by several athletes from Mansfield and Midlothian.
Like Sparks, several of those who would have been competing are regional champions, such as Mansfield Legacy’s Kylria Beasley among the girls. Boys regional champions from the area include Cedar Hill’s Leon Young, along with the Midlothian trio of Genbard Lumino, Jordan McKenzie and Marshall Hodges.
But though she didn’t compete at state, it doesn’t diminish the success of Sparks and the others. In fact, Sparks is the epitome of what the sport is about, being barely bigger than the bar that holds the weights she lifts.
Sparks uses technique instead of brute strength
But she can certainly lift that bar, along with a lot of weights, as she has proven time and again, using technique as opposed to brute strength to be arguably the state’s best among the girls 105-pound division.
Powerlifting is more than muscle. Success requires understanding and employing a technique to get the absolute most out of what strength an individual has. These athletes who would have competed – and perhaps won – at state understand that.
“At a recent meet there were girls coming up to me and saying, ‘You’re so strong and so little,'” Sparks said with a chuckle. “It makes me feel like I can do anything.”
And, to hear her coach, Damon Page, talk, she can.
“Gia’nah Sparks is like that one jumping jack firecracker that shockingly explodes into sparkly crackles on a cold and gloomy Tuesday at 7:26 p.m. GiGi (her nickname) is unexpected every day,” Page said. “She is the life and heartbeat of our team.
“Gia’nah has the sweetest and most charismatic personality off the platform, but is an assassin during training and competition. There has not been a challenge she has not met head-on. Finishing fifth at last year’s state tournament didn’t sit well with her at all.”
Sparks participates in ROTC and track, plus maintains her grades
Sparks has also maintained a 3.0 GPA throughout high school, being a member of the Cedar Hill Air Force ROTC program, the Red Army as a flag runner, and competing in both track and powerlifting.
She followed in the footsteps of her older sister, Amari, who also qualified for state in the 105 division. It was after watching Amari that Gia’nah decided to try her hand.
“She enjoyed it and I liked watching her, so I decided to give it a chance, and I was really good at it,” she said.
Now, Gia’nah’s younger sister, Ginasia, is also lifting. She qualified for regionals and finished eighth in the 97-pound division.
“It’s really fun teaching her the things I’ve learned,” Gia’nah said. “I think she has the potential to make it to state.”
When state competition returns.
Area state powerlifting qualifiers
(Lifters qualified by finishing first or second in their division or by lifting a designated amount of pounds in their division)
Region VI, Division I
Gia’nah Sparks, Cedar Hill, regional champion, 745 total pounds lifted (310 squat, 130 bench press, 305 deadlift).
Taija Barnes, Cedar Hill, fourth at regionals, 780 pounds (335 squat, 135 bench, 310 deadlift).
Eryan George, Cedar Hill, second at regionals, 835 pounds (330 squat, 170 bench, 335 deadlift).
Jamari Nathan-Woods, Cedar Hill, second at regionals, 995 pounds (435 squat, 200 bench, 360 deadlift).
Kylria Beasley, Mansfield Legacy, regional champion, 1,100 pounds (505 squat, 180 bench, 415 deadlift).
Cayla Harris, Cedar Hill, second at regionals, 995 pounds (445 squat, 195 bench, 355 deadlift).
Region III, Division I
Gabi Cantu, Midlothian, third at regionals, 900 (350 squat, 215 bench, 335 deadlift).
Nicole Due, Midlothian, second at regionals, 845 (320 squat, 190 bench, 335 deadlift).
Region VI, Division I
Kevin Young, Cedar Hill, second at regionals, 1,275 (510 squat, 270 bench, 495 deadlift).
Xavier Tolliver, Mansfield Summit, third at regionals, 1,415 (575 squat, 295 bench, 545 deadlift).
Zach Essik, Mansfield Timberview, third at regionals, 1,400 (565 squat, 270 bench, 565 deadlift).
Adam Sawalah, Mansfield Lake Ridge, second at regionals, 1,490 (590 squat, 325 bench, 575 deadlift).
Leon Young, Cedar Hill, regional champion, 1,625 (680 squat, 380 bench, 565 deadlift).
Demondre Green, Mansfield Timberview, fifth at regionals, 1,500 (600 squat, 350 bench, 550 deadlift).
Josh Gilliam, Mansfield Timberview, second at regionals, 1,710 (710 squat, 420 bench, 580 deadlift).
Region III, Division I
Genbard Lumino, Midlothian, regional champion, 1,000 (385 squat, 205 bench, 410 deadlift).
Jordan McKenzie, Midlothian, regional champion, 1,360 (550 squat, 320 bench, 490 deadlift).
Marshall Hodges, Midlothian, regional champion, 1,550 (605 squat, 365 bench, 580 deadlift).