Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the Dec. 13 edition of Park Cities People.
Those who view Alexandra Thornton as a common 12-year-old girl haven’t seen her in a singlet.
Despite her slender frame and unassuming demeanor, the seventh grader at Highland Park Middle School is the top weightlifter in the country in her age group.
She proved that again on Dec. 6 at the prestigious American Open meet at the Westin Dallas Park Central hotel, where 12-year-old Alexandra competed against a group of women with an average age of 28 and a top age of 40. She was the youngest competitor at the meet, and among the youngest in its history.
It was the first time competing against adults for Alexandra, who has won numerous titles among her pre-teen peers.
“It’s fun to be at competitions,” she said. “It’s nice to do something different.”
Alexandra’s start in Olympic-style weightlifting came after she began attending training sessions at CrossFit Big D with her father, Jim, at age 9. A year later, fellow CrossFit athlete Bobby Sirkis saw Alexandra and felt she would be a good fit for weightlifting.
“Most kids are pretty athletic and pretty flexible when they’re young, but she’s got just the right combination that makes her a perfect fit for this,” Sirkis said.
So Sirkis agreed to start training Alexandra through the Spoon Barbell Club, a gym based out of a garage in Richardson that has produced four Olympians since it was founded in the mid-1970s.
“She is very focused and very determined. She has a will to win and a desire to make herself better with every rep,” Sirkis said. “You don’t see that with that many people, not just kids but adults. She has the right attitude.”
Since winning her first meet, that work ethic has allowed Alexandra to improve quickly during her three years of competition. She finished third nationally when she was 10, competing mostly against a field of older children.
Alexandra has since traveled to Georgia and Missouri for national meets. In January, she combined for 66 kilograms in the snatch and clean and jerk at the Texas State Meet. On Friday, her total weight was 96 kilograms, or about 211 pounds. Overall, Alexandra has set American records 10 times in two different weight classes.
“It’s a pretty impressive jump in less than a year,” Sirkis said. “A lot of it is due to her mentality.”
The American Open is the largest weightlifting meet in the country, with more than 400 participants including a handful of Olympic hopefuls in the top classes. She knew she had little chance of winning her weight class, but was happy just to qualify and set a new personal best.
Competing in the 48-kilogram class against women with considerably more experience, she lifted 43 kilograms in the snatch and 53 kilograms in the clean and jerk for a total of 96. All three results eclipsed previous American records in the under-13 age group at that weight.
“It’s good to be here. You can learn a lot,” Alexandra said. “I tried not to stress about it. It’s the same platform and the same weights. You have to make sure you set up the same way. You try to make it as normal as you can.”
Alexandra trains with weights about two or three times each week, but less often the week before an important competition.
Although traditional Olympic-style weightlifting has decreased in popularity among teenagers and young athletes in recent years, Sirkis said it has plenty of physical and mental benefits not reserved for muscle aficionados or bodybuilders.
“It’s a very explosive muscle sport,” he said.
For Alexandra, the unusual nature of the sport is part of its allure, and one reason why she prefers it over other activities she has tried, such as gymnastics and lacrosse.
“I think it’s good to start at a young age,” Alexandra said. “I’ve always been pretty flexible.”
Her short-term goals include qualifying for the American team at the 13-and-under Pan American Games next August in Mexico City, with an outside chance of making the 17-and-under team that will compete in Peru.
As for her long-term future in weightlifting? Sirkis is aiming for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo — the ultimate attempt to raise the bar.