Bowsher s Alisha Jones bench presses in the weight room with some help from teammate MeShawn Graham as Tasha Banks waits for her turn under the guidance of strength and training coach Mark Graham, MeShawn s father. Graham started a program for his daughter in seventh grade and the freshman is already one of the top performers in the City League. Her eighth-grade best time in the 400 last year would have placed second in the high school league meet. This season, she has already defeated the winner of last year s CL meet in the 200 and 400 and has set Bowsher records in both events.
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It s not a coincidence Bowsher s girls track team is stronger than it s ever been during Mark Coe s time as the coach.
Part of the reason is the arrival of freshman sprinter MeShawn Graham.
The solidly built power-pack of fast-twitch muscles is not only the fastest Rebel during Coe s eight-year stint, she s also one of the strongest. Graham is able to bench press as much as 135 pounds. She only weighs 120.
Her exceptional strength is credited to a steady regimen of weight lifting she started in seventh grade.
Bowsher track coach Mark Coe puts his runners through a workout including, from left, Chanelle Caldwell, MeShawn Graham, Alisha Jones and Tasha Banks. The Rebels are increasing their speeds by working hard on the track and in the weight room.
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That s about 50 percent of my performance, Graham said. Half of it is running and half of it is weight training.
Graham s father, Mark Graham, a self-taught fitness trainer, designed and supervised a weight training routine for MeShawn after she expressed interest in becoming a sprinter.
He believed weight training and a sound diet would produce additional muscle and overall strength that would contribute to improving MeShawn s speed as a runner. Her body responded well and her times in running events ranging from 100 meters to 3200 meters improved significantly.
By the time she completed eighth-grade she owned practically every DeVeaux Junior High School record.
In fact, her best time in the 400 last spring of 59.1 seconds would have been good enough for second place in the CL high school meet behind Libbey s Danyelle McGary, who went on to finish second at the state meet.
Graham has defeated McGary in the 200 and 400 this season and already owns the Bowsher records in both at 25.38 and 56.6, respectively.
She can run anything from the 100 to the two-mile, said Coe. who has 30-plus years of experience as a track coach. The Grahams had considered several other schools before deciding Bowsher would provide the best overall experience.
We wanted her to go to a school that would meet her demands just as well as she would meet their demands, Mark Graham said.
Recognizing the benefits of MeShawn s weight training workouts under her father s guidance, Coe welcomed the idea of the elder Graham serving as the team s first-ever strength and training coach.
The entire girls track team has been meeting three times a week in the weight room to lift weights since November.
The strength training changed MeShawn s whole body structure and I said once she reached high school we would get the other kids involved in lifting weights, Mark Graham said.
The Rebels have responded positively to the idea of pumping iron in the pursuit of gold.
Alisha Jones, a 135-pound hurdler/sprinter, has noticed the benefits. She can bench press a team-best 155 pounds. More importantly, she has watched her times in the hurdle and sprint events drop this season.
She has already registered a time of 15.4 in the 100 hurdles after producing a best of 15.7 last season. She has erased two-plus seconds off her best 300 hurdles time last year after producing a time of 46.8 this year.
Our weight workouts add up to being like a double workout for us, said Jones, who was a member of the 400 and 1600 relay teams which qualified for the state championships last season. It s making me stronger. Most of us can now bench press at least 90 pounds.
Tasha Banks, like Graham and Jones, has become strong enough to bench press her weight. The junior sprinter is able to lift 110 pounds and has shed significant time off her top events.
She s gone from running the 200 in 27.1 seconds last year to 26.03. She s lowered her best time in the 100 a year ago from 12.9 to 12.4.
Sophomore Chanelle Caldwell, a state qualifier in the 800 last year, is considered the fourth member of the team s Big Four. She has also shown signs of benefiting from the weight training.
Graham has also preached the importance of good nutrition. Soft drinks are discouraged and are not allowed in the weight room during workouts. Furthermore, MeShawn s mother, Mesha, has organized a regular pre-meet spread of healthy foods and drinks.
Chicken, turkey, fruits, vegetables, water and sports drinks are provided by participating parents before every meet.
We want to make sure our girls get a good meal before every track meet, Mark Graham said.
With several returning letter winners back from a team that finished second in the CL last season, the Rebels are expected to do well this spring. Winning a league title was on the list of team goals.
Early signs show the Rebels appear strong enough to meet the challenge.
Contact Donald Emmons at:email@example.com 419-724-6302.