By Brandon Penny | March 11, 2019, 2:02 p.m. (ET)

Kaiya Bryant competes at 2019 IWF Youth World Championships on March 10, 2019 in Las Vegas.

 

LAS VEGAS -- A sign in the crowd read “Go Kaiya, You’re On Faiya.”

And weightlifter Kaiya Bryant, who turned 14 last month, lived up to that hype by winning two medals at the 2019 IWF Youth World Championships, which were the first for Team USA at this competition.

Bryant also broke all three youth American records – in snatch, clean & jerk and total – in the women’s 49 kg. weight category.

“It feels great, I feel like I represented my country very well,” Bryant said of her performance, which marked her first time representing her country.

Bryant was fifth in the snatch with a lift of 67 kg., earned silver in clean & jerk by clearing 87 kg., and her 154 kg. total took bronze behind Uzbekistan’s Nigora Abdullaeva (165) and Romania’s Mihaela Cambei (159).

But she wasn’t the only American to medal on Sunday in the Entertainment Capital of the World. Bryant was joined by Ryan Grimsland, who earned clean & jerk bronze at 67 kg. a couple hours later.

Bryant and Grimsland are the third U.S. woman and third U.S. man to medal in youth worlds history, which began in 2009 and is being hosted in the U.S. for the first time this year. All six Team USA medalists to date have come from the 2016, 2017 and 2019 youth world championships, and this is the first time more than one American has medaled in a single day.

Bryant has been lifting for nearly five years. She trains – and learns – at Performance Initiatives, Inc., which is described on its website as “where education meets fitness.”

The nonprofit serves a lower-income area in Savannah, Georgia, and uses weightlifting as an avenue to help children and young adults improve in the classroom and in life. It was founded in 2005 by former weightlifting competitor Kerri Hanebrink Goodrich, who is now Bryant’s coach.

“They call it underprivileged when you apply for grants and I hate that term. I cringe,” Hanebrink Goodrich explained. “Kids are amazing and when you open the pathway and give them opportunity, they’re incredible and they can do anything. Just not every kid has the same opportunity because of the socioeconomical area they live in. They didn’t say, ‘Hey, I want to be born poor – please put me in low-income housing.’”

In addition to the gym, Performance Initiatives has five classrooms, a library and computer lab. They do after-school pickups using donated vans, and through a partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank they provide snacks during the school year and breakfast, lunch and dinner in the summertime.

“The educational component is the main part of it to inspire them, to find ways to make them want to study and stay in school,” Hanebrink Goodrich said. “They don’t just pass, they excel and move on to college and scholarship opportunities. They are required to have a certain GPA to travel for competitions, so the weightlifting is our incentive.”

The organization’s four current high school seniors are all off to college in the fall with scholarships secured.

For Bryant, now a youth world medalist who has already said she plans to compete at the Olympic Games someday, Performance Initiatives has made a world of a difference.

“It helps build my confidence a lot,” she said of weightlifting. “It helps me be a better person.”

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Grimsland Goes For Broke
Grimsland entered the meet with the highest total and knowing he was capable of earning gold, but his performance in the snatch didn’t go as planned. The Lewisville, North Carolina, native missed his first two attempts at 120.

“‘I better make this,’” Grimsland told himself before his final attempt. “After missing two snatches, it’s game time. You know you better straighten up… So I went out there, (USA Weightlifting technical director Pyrros Dimas) told me to finish my pull. I finished it the best I could and I got under it.”

The celebration from Grimsland and the crowd spoke volumes when he made his 121 kg. lift, which placed him fourth in the snatch. Taking that confidence into the clean & jerk, Grimsland made his first and second attempts at 143 and 147 to secure bronze and fourth overall. Saikan Taisuyev of Kazakhstan won total (288) and clean & jerk (161) gold, followed by Georgian Gurami Giorbelidze (270 total, 150 clean & jerk).

“I’m honored because not a lot of people have this opportunity, and for me to have it – I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” said Grimsland, who will turn 17 next month.

Grimsland began training in CrossFit at 11 years old, following in the footsteps of his mother, which led him to weightlifting coach Travis Mash and the Mash Elite Performance Gym in 2017 in an effort to increase his strength for CrossFit. Last fall, Grimsland committed full time to the sport of weightlifting and calls it a “life changer.”

He had competed at the 2018 Youth Pan American Championships but learned a lot from facing athletes from across the world in Vegas.

“At Pan Ams you get a certain group of guys and here you get all the guys around the world and you see that a lot of the guys are stronger than the guys you’ve seen before,” Grimsland noted. “It kind of freaks you out a little bit but I still love it. I love competing with everyone.”