“Be ready for anything”

That’s one of the many mantras I drill into my athletes because curveballs can be thrown at you are anytime, and I’m known to throw curveballs at my athletes. Some welcome the challenge and some don’t. But I don’t care, because I believe the best athletes are built in tough conditions.

I don’t want to go into the details of the numerous curve balls she faced this week, but Maya got sick before the day we flew out to an Olympic qualifier in Cuba.

Maya Laylor and Clance Laylor in Cuba Competition

This was one major curveball! Her taper was horrible… she didn’t look like the Maya I know.

I ran to the Cuban training hall to watch the last bit of her session and had to do a double-take! This couldn’t be Maya doing that clean and jerk, it must be an imposter. I hadn’t seen such a slow-moving, sloppy clean and jerk like that since she was 18 years old.

Internally I panicked. I tried to hide it from her because she can read me like a book. So I smiled and tried to joke but she wasn’t having it.

The tears of frustration washed over her and all I could do was wait while she let it all out.

Afterward, when I saw an opening, I told her that we never know what will happen on competition day. Just take it one day at a time, get up and do your best. That is all you can ask of yourself.

If you can look yourself in the mirror and say ‘I did the best I can muster today’, then I’m good and you should be too.

When competition day arrived, Maya looked to be in better spirits, but I knew something was still off. And it was.

She was retaining water, and she hadn’t had any breakfast in order to ensure that she made weight at weigh-in. On top of that, the food that was to have been delivered to the competition venue from the hotel had not arrived until an hour and a half after her weigh-in. So she was starving and only had a half-hour left before the competition!

Luckily, I had bought some donuts the night before, so those had to suffice until the cold leathery beef, rice and mashed potatoes arrived. When it did, she roughed down the meat and ate the mash.

Eventually, it was go-time and I had a gut feeling that it was going to be a battle. But our first objective was not to bomb out, so I set Maya’s openers to 92kg for snatch and 115kg for the clean and jerk.

As the warm-ups were moving along, I could see she was much better, but still not herself. The Cuban set her opener at 92, and she snatched it. Maya opened at 95 but looked slow and shaky.

In my head, I’m thinking “well, a fight for gold is out of reach today, but let’s see if we can battle for silver”.

After Maya got her first lift in, the plan was simple, stay one lift ahead of the Cuban. And that’s exactly what we did.

The Cuban snatched 96, Maya did 97.

The Cuban snatched 98, Maya CRUSHED 99!

I’m like damn, you finally woke up!!! That 99kg looked like she could have snatched 110!

Time for the clean and jerk and Maya was in silver medal position. I said “Maya, I’ve seen this Cuban lift before and she has a big clean and jerk, so the plan is open at 115kg to secure your spot. Then let’s see what happens from there.”

Well, she wasn’t having it! I think I annoyed her when I told her that the Cuban had a big clean and jerk because right after that, I saw Maya put up a thunderous 110kg jerk.

The whole warm-up room took notice! It was on! The Cuban opened at 120, Maya crushed 121.

The Cuban did 125, Maya crushed 126.

The Cuban went and did 128 with a 6 for 6 performance and the place was going crazy! It was electric. The tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife.

For her sixth and final lift, I moved Maya up to 129, then to 130.

Maya cleaned 130kg and smashed the jerk with absolute authority.

She then held it extra long to make sure there was no doubt! After being given the down signal, she drops the bar and screamed in elation!

Maya had secured all three silver medals, having smashed the various curve balls thrown her way this past week.

As Maya’s coach and father, that was a remarkable moment and unforgettable experience.

Maya’s resilience is refreshing and encouraging.

It showed me that as a coach, preparing my athletes for the unexpected is very important.

As a father, I’m relieved to see that my daughter can adapt to her surroundings and thrive in the midst of adversity.

Maya wins silver in Cuba