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WEIGHT IS OVER: Weightlifting finally reaches Florida School for the Deaf and Blind

The buzz about the new girls’ weightlifting program at Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind has become so loud that head coach Veronica Martinson and assistant coach Anna Tutak have to close the door to the weight room to shut it out.

Students who are walking down the hallways, or practicing in the gym nearby, can’t help but peek into the weight room afternoons when the girls practice.

“It’s kind of cool because they’re like 'What’s going on there?'” Tutak said.

Recently retired athletic director Donna Johnson decided to add girls weightlifting at Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind this year, replacing girls soccer, which didn’t produce much student interest. At times, the soccer team didn’t have enough girls to play.

Athlete performing a front squat with a barbell.
FSDB lifters have seen rapid progress in the three weeks that they've been lifting. Photo by Myer Lee

Once former competitive bodybuilder Martinson saw the opportunity to coach a girls weightlifting team, she quickly jumped on the opportunity. Martinson, who is also one of the school’s nurses, saw the benefits that would come with the new program.

“It’s important for them to establish lifelong physical activity habits,” Martinson said. “This is what you do after you get home from school or work. You got to the gym and exercise or you go home and take a walk or you do something.”

Team manager Ariana Delgado also noted how weightlifting can help improve perceptions of poor body image, improving an athlete's overall mindset. Athletes will also learn how to work together as a team.

The team has six lifters. The program has netted a lot of interest but Martinson and Tutak are thankful for their small group because they can individualize instruction and focus on building young leaders for next year’s program.

This year, though, it's about introducing the sport. Three weeks ago, the girls had never touched a bar, athletic trainer Joshua Wolcott said.

Girl pressing the barbell over her head.
FSDB added a girls' weightlifting program for the first time ever this year. Photo by Myer Lee.

They’ve learned about warmups, cooldowns and proper eating habits. They started “behind ground zero,” Wolcott said.

Not only is it the first girls’ weightlifting program at Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, it’s the first weightlifting program in the school's history. The boys have never had a weightlifting program.

“It was introducing the girls to a weight room in general,” Wolcott said. “There was no concept of what’s a squat or what’s a bench press. There was this blank slate.”

The boys are interested in a weightlifting program — and there is hope for that one day. For now, the powers that be have to make sure the same amount of funding and resources is allocated to girls programs as to boys programs. Adding a boys weightlifting program, in addition to the sports that already exist, would throw that equality out of balance.

Thus, it will be the girls who kick off weightlifting at Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind and go down in the school's history.

Freshman Mareesa Minoj was nervous about becoming a part of that and competing in general. But now, after three weeks of working with her team and coaches, the jitters are gone.

“I’ve really noticed how I’ve been able to make a lot of progress already and that’s been really motivating and self-rewarding.”


About FSDB

The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind is a tuition-free state public school and outreach center available to eligible pre-K and K-12 students who are deaf/hard of hearing, blind/visually impaired or deafblind. At FSDB, students learn how to do more, be more, and achieve more, fulfilling our vision of preparing them for a lifetime of success. FSDB gratefully accepts private donations to support vital programs that directly benefit students and are not paid by state general revenue funds. To inquire about enrollment eligibility or schedule a campus tour, contact Parent Services at 904-827-2212 voice or 904-201-4527 videophone. For more information about FSDB, visit


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