This article was orignally published by CBC

Maya Laylor won gold at 2019, 2021 Commonwealth Weightlifting Championships.

After winning gold at the 2019 and 2021 Commonwealth Weightlifting Championships, Maya Laylor is preparing for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. (CBC/Paul Borkwood)

Maya Laylor’s dad knew she had something special from the very start.

“I remember when she was a baby,” said Clance Laylor, who is also his daughter’s full-time coach.

“You know how kids hit you in the face? She had a heavy hand, strong grip.”

Now 26, the Toronto weightlifter is showing everyone the power her father saw — and felt — all those years ago. After winning the gold medal in the 2019 and 2021 Commonwealth Weightlifting Championships, she’s getting a $10,000 grant as part of the annual Petro-Canada Fuelling Athlete and Coaching Excellence awards.

“It helps take off the pressure and the stress,” said Maya. “It’ll just help me focus more on my training and not have to worry about the cost of travel, food and treatment. It’s very expensive.”

She’s one of 55 Canadian athletes getting the financial boost to help them prepare for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Paris. The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) is announcing their names Wednesday.

‘We just feed off each other’s vibes’

Maya’s father, whose career as a sprinter was ended by an injury, introduced her to weightlifting when she was 16. She hopes to live out the Olympic dream for the both of them. And she says her connection with her dad can help her get there.

“He knows me very well,” she said.

“He knows how to make me tick, to make me go and to pull me back in the right time, especially during competition. We just feed off each other’s vibes.”

Growing up, she says, she used to watch strong women athletes compete. She remembers feeling inspired.

“I’m like one with the bar, and I imagine my lift before I do it,” she said. “I don’t really think about anything else. I don’t focus on the people, the noise. I just focus.”

Clance Laylor, a former sprinter who suffered a career-ending injury, trains athletes at the LPS Athletic Centre in Toronto. (CBC/Paul Borkwood)

Her determination, and her results, are getting attention. According to the COC, which helps choose recipients from a pool of candidates across the country, the Petro-Canada grants go to athletes who don’t qualify for government funding but who are standouts in their sports.

The committee says in addition to the two gold medals, she has been the only woman in Ontario to lift 286 pounds.

Clance says he’s loved watching his daughter grow from a quiet kid into to a strong, confident Black woman.

“Weightlifting brought that out of her.”

In preparation for the Commonwealth Games in July, and as a stepping stone to the Olympics, Clance says she can expect long, consistent training sessions to build the right foundation for success.

“My goal is Paris,” said Maya.

“I’m going to Paris. I’m going to win a gold medal. And I just can’t wait.”