A CLEAR SHOT AT SUCCESS: LOOK OUT FOR LEEANN
This incredible high school athlete is smart, savvy and willing to do what it takes to be the best at everything she tackles. LeeAnn is an Eleven!
By Laura Dayton
Published: Spring 2000
Welcome to Malta, Montana. Population: about 1800, if the Smiths don't move out of town next week. Beautiful and rustic as the town is in the northern part of the state, it's easy to imagine pioneers Lewis and Clark crossing the wide-open plains as they trekked toward the rough and imposing Rocky Mountains on their quest west. Open a door in the mornings and you enjoy clean mountain air and the sounds of migrating birds as they pass through the huge natural refuge a few miles out of Malta. It's a far cry from the beeper/cell phone stressed-out life in big cities. On some days it's so peaceful that you might think Lewis and Clark couldn't have discovered anything greater or grander about the state.
Ahh, but their timing was a bit off. They missed LeeAnn Pekovitch, the current reigning athletic and academic champ at Malta High School. Oh, and if you think it's a snap being the champ at a high school with only 235 students, I might add this is a reigning athletic and academic champ in the state of Montana as well.
Destined for Glory
LeeAnn was just a little mop-headed five-year-old when she first caught the attention of her future strength coach, Patrick Sargent. It was on the summer swim team at her first competition. LeeAnn recalls mastering the butterfly as one of her toughest challenges. “Since then, it's all come surprisingly easy” she says with a shy laugh. That summer, Coach Sargent saw nothing that seemed to present a challenge to little LeeAnn. Over the years he continued to observe her various athletic accomplishments and met often with her parents. By the time LeeAnn made it to Malta High four years ago, both coach and student were up for the challenge.
With the shot put as her athletic forte, it comes as no surprise that LeeAnn is no slouch in the weight room. Coach Sargent calls her a “cleaning machine” with a power clean of 185 lbs. She also has a 180 Bench, 315 Squat and 350 deadlift, and all these records were set before the start of her senior year. To put her records in perspective, LeeAnn is five-foot-six and currently weighs 155 pounds. She is a senior who just recently turned 18.
“She's been extremely dedicated,” says Sargent, who has been teaching physical education and coaching at Malta High for seven years. “LeeAnn has been open to whatever recommendations we make. She's expected to give 100 percent and she's given everything she has. I can honestly say that with each day I see an improvement in her performance.
“When she's on the court she is all over. She'll go to the floor with anyone for the ball. And she's not afraid to tell you you've been goofing off in practice. She's a serious athlete. She also has a 4.0 grade point average. She's smart. It makes for a tough situation when someone excels to this degree. Some kids love her to death, while others have different feelings.”
LeeAnn speaks directly and succinctly with no hint of the vacuous Valley Girl TV-teen talk. She agrees that her athletic and academic fame on such a small campus acts as a double-edged sword. But she doesn't hesitate to point out that she has many, many friends from very diverse groups including her drama class. She attends dances and on the weekends goes cruising with friends. She's well adjusted, but her activities add up to a life that few other teens or their parents would consider the teenage norm.
“I've got a tremendous amount of energy and never get tired,” she admits in a phone interview at 7 pm, on a school night just minutes after she has returned home from a practice. “I get to school about 8:15 am and hardly ever get home before 5:30 or 6 pm. During swimming season the hours are longer, but I never leave school at 3.
“I'm usually the first one there and the last to leave,” she says. It's an ethic that has led millions to success in academic, athletic and career pursuits.
While strength and coordination have always been in her favor, LeeAnn's choice of sports is based more on passion than genetic gifts.
“She makes her own choices regarding what sports to participate in,” says Coach Sargent. “If she is clearly inclined to any single activity I'd have to say that it's exercise. She wants to be good at everything she does and she works hard at it.”
Although she was exposed to weight training before high school, it wasn't until high school that she really got involved. “I needed it to work on speed and strength for basketball and track, although right now I'm not doing as much.”
The first thing she noticed was better tone. She also gained some weight and muscle mass, but keeps the latter to a minimum in order to excel nearly simultaneously at swimming, track, agility and strength sports. Too much muscle has its downside, and as far as women bodybuilders go, LeeAnn gives the group a thumbs down. “They've just taken it a little too far,” she says. Coach agrees.
“I believe the fitness championships, not bodybuilding, set a better example of what weight training can do for a woman,” says Sargent. “Our female athletes have a better understanding now of weight training, although there are still lingering stereotypes. Right now we have more girls involved than ever. Some are non-athletes, like our cheerleaders, who use our program for conditioning. It's great.”
For LeeAnn, strength training was not only the catalyst for her championships in shot, javelin, basketball and volleyball, but also for her confident, positive attitude. “A lot of people don't recognize that weight training makes you feel better. It's like reaching for a personal best every day. It's a real good thing for anyone to do for their body and their attitude. It makes you feel good.”
Malta's program relies on the BFS core lifts, and BFS training materials have been on Coach Sargent's desk since he began coaching. “We start out on quarter parallel squats, then bench squats, but with each kid we may work out a little differently. We all enjoy the one-rep-max contests we have three times a year. That's one of the great things about the BFS program. It brings out team camaraderie in weight training, which for many is only self-oriented.”
Malta High was recently treated to a new $12.6 million building, after a fire destroyed the former facility. The weight room is an adequate 940 square feet with a full gamut of serious strength training equipment including power racks. LeeAnn wishes the strength training area could be larger, but she's proud of her school.
“I wish we had more sports to participate in. But we still have great support for all our athletes and a really great academic school,” she says. “When we were out of town at the state tournament we took a look at the other school's grading standard. For them, 90 to 100 was an A. For Malta it's 94 to 100. They had people passing at 60; at my school we'd flunk out!”
A Day in the Life
LeeAnn works out four days a week. On the fifth day she does cardio, which may be in the form of plyometrics, football, jumping rope or anything else she can find to get herself running around. Her weight training is basic: working her upper body two days out of the week and her lower body two days.
In addition to her hour of weights, she attends practices and some days watches the games at home to hone her competition and performance. She still manages to participate in the Church Parish Youth Program.
“We work mostly on fund-raisers. For instance, we just bought a man a computer. He had his leg amputated and was trying to write his diary, but didn't have a computer. We do a lot of that type of work.
“We also send two representatives to the parish council to give them input about how the kids feel about our church. It's good that we're able to express our opinions, and the council appreciates being able to stay in touch with the youth. It's important.”
LeeAnn looks up to many sports celebrities, including soccer's Mia Hamm, but she admires