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Driven to succeed

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Citrus’ Cook excels in many areas, including weightlifting

By Adam Fenster

Winter break is over, classes are back and girls weightlifting picks up right where it left off. For Citrus County, it left off with Citrus High School reclaiming the county championship at home ahead of Lecanto and Crystal River.

Now, the three teams will be thrown into a much bigger pool of lifters, with strict judges of form and — for some — it will be an entirely new experience. It all goes down at 3:30 p.m. today at Weeki Wachee High School for the Class 1A, District 10 Championship.

Last season had Lecanto taking the county crown, along with a second-place finish in the district meet ahead of Citrus in third. All in all, 27 Citrus County lifters ended up advancing to regionals.

After the Panthers and Hurricanes lost a bevy of seniors from those teams though, whether or not they’d fill those spots again was the big question — at least for Citrus coach Dana Rise.

“What kind of year is it going to be?” Rise asked herself going into this season. “Is it going to be accepting the fact that it’s a rebuilding year or is it going to be a year with newcomers who take the place of the girls you lost?” 

Well, Citrus senior Alexus Cook answered that question.

Though weighing in at the 139 weight class all season long, newcomer Cook has been lifting at 154 in all but one of the meets. Something else she’s also done at all but one of the meets? Take first place — even on Dec. 1 against Crystal River where she went down a class.

“Luckily, the girls who’ve joined the team this year filled those spots and kept us in a positive spot,” Rise said. “We’ve won every meet except the one against Nature Coast, we got our county championship back, the season has been greater than I thought it would be and I’m very thankful.”

And while she may be among the lightest at 154 each meet, the weight Cook has been stacking on the bar has only gone up. Even Rise, who is always one for crunching the numbers, can’t pinpoint Cook’s success to something tangible. 

“I think just her drive,” Rise said. “That’s something that you can’t coach. That motivation and drive — she’s always had it. And it’s not ‘I’m going to be good,’ it’s ‘I’m going to be the best I can possibly be.’ If you look at her numbers, she has gone up every single meet this season. That’s almost impossible to do. There are maybe two or three girls on the team who have done that.”

And that drive is something Rise knows very well about Cook. She should. After all, when Cook was cheerleading back in middle school, her coach was none other than Rise herself. 

When Cook began high school, it was coincidentally Rise’s first year as the weightlifting coach. So what took so long for Cook to join the team? 

Try pretty much everything one can think of. Apparently, being a varsity cheerleader for four years, a ROTC corps commander and wrestling team manager takes up quite a bit of time. And that’s just part of it. 

“I had weightlifting as a class my freshman year and loved it, but unfortunately I didn’t know enough about the team and I’m an All-AP Honors student so I just didn’t have time in my schedule to take the class again,” Cook said. “This year, I knew it was my last chance so I made sure I had the time to get myself into it. I wish I would have done it sooner.”

Still, Cook’s list of extracurriculars isn’t done yet. This will also be her third year of flag football, which starts fairly soon. And if that’s not enough, as any senior does, planning life beyond high school is a priority.  

Luckily for Cook, she’s known her plan from age 12. From then, she says, she’s always been service-minded and is currently in the process of joining the Air Force Academy. Toward the end of her sophomore year, that goal became crystal clear and she’s currently a Phase 1 candidate. Around July of 2016, after applying, she was notified of her Phase 1 status which is when the pool of candidates shrinks from approximately 12,000 to 6,000. Around March, she’ll find out if she enters Phase 2 — a pool of 2,000.

By then, she could be a state placer. It wouldn’t be the first time a newcomer from Citrus with a cheerleading background made a splash like that. Last season, Timmeya Eatman placed fourth at districts and third at regionals before scratching out in the state meet. As of now, Cook is in a good position to follow that trend.

“I admit, I do keep track of who I’m up against,” Cook said. “With our current information, I’m standing at third in the district. So we’ll see what happens at the meet whether I can move on to regionals. 

“I can’t say the opposing numbers/athletes affect me. At the heart of it, this is a sport where you go out there and lift the best for you and you support one another because you all love the same sport, but what does affect me leading up to meets, is you never do as good at practice as you do in the meets. So all you can do is give everything you got.” 

Which is what Cook has been doing all season long. Those don’t seem like the words of someone new to the sport, but for someone who has been a base in cheerleading for 12 years, both Cook and Rise saw this type of success coming — resulting in Cook becoming a county champion with a 220-pound total at 154. 

Her mentality and drive, Rise says, is something anyone can notice and is something she noticed years ago when Cook was in middle school. Some things never seem to change — in the best of ways.

“Alexus is Alexus,” Rise said. “She’s the same girl she was in middle school. That girl was raised with confidence. She truly has always been one of those girls who puts in 110 percent in what she does from school to athletics. I’ve know her for a long time and she’s just a dependable girl. 

“If you were her teacher, you can depend on her to get her work done, if you were her coach, you can depend on her to do her best, if you’re her friend, you can depend on her to laugh, cry or whatever you need. She’s always been that way.”

And though she wishes she had joined Rise’s program earlier, not even graduation will keep her out of the weight room.

“I’ve fallen in love with this sport completely,” Cook said. “If it’s up to me, I’ll keep it in my life until the day I die.”