Fifteen-year-old Allie Lazarus, of Shreveport, Louisiana, and seventeen-year-old Evan Pittman, of Phoenix, Arizona, have been selected as Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Strength Sports National Athletes of the Year.
The two teenagers, both members of the Jets Barbell National Competition Team, based in Shreveport, received the awards as 2015’s top female and male athlete during the AAU Strength Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Las Vegas. Both athletes were present, as they had competed earlier in the day in international events at the AAU World Strength Sports Championships at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas; Lazarus won her class in the first-ever AAU World Weightlifting Championships, and Pittman won his class and the best youth/teen athlete award at the AAU World Indoor Feats of Strength Championships.
“We had a number of qualified nominees for Athlete of the Year,” said Martin Drake, AAU Strength Sports Chairman. “But Allie and Evan stood out above all the rest as the best strength sports athletes in America. They are both amazing, strong, fast, explosive multi-sport athletes, and because of their relatively young ages, I suspect both of them will be setting records for a long, long time.”
Allie Lazarus, Shreveport, Louisiana Female Athlete of the Year
Lazarus, who received the female athlete of the year award, competes in weightlifting, powerlifting and Feats of Strength. She is a two-time Junior Olympic Games champion in powerlifting and weightlifting, and a varsity cheerleader at Calvary Baptist Academy in Shreveport. In 2014, she won the AAU world powerlifting title, earning a best lifter trophy.
“Allie is not just a weightlifter or powerlifter,” says her strength coach, John Crofton, head of the Jets team. “She is a versatile athlete who applies functional strength to many activities. She is a varsity cheerleader, and a person who works with special needs kids and horses. Her strength is important. As an athlete, she is coachable and goal oriented, and we plan short and long-term goals with a process to achieve them with her training.”
Lazarus’ cheer coach, Shelly Fielder, was effusive in her support of the freshman cheerleader. “She is one of the most polite girls I know...always smiling and hardworking,” Fielder says. “I have seen a huge improvement in Allie's strength since she started weightlifting. It has helped her as a cheerleader and a flyer; she is easier to base, and her form is so much better in our cheer stunts. It's hard NOT to watch her in a stunt when she is smiling and shining with confidence!”
Lazarus’ parents, Misty and Jason, were ecstatic about their daughter’s recognition. “Allie does not accept the words no or can't,” Misty says. “I have never seen anyone rise to any challenge the way she does.
“If it is a training day, she will be at the gym, even if I can't take her due to commitments with the other children, she finds a way to get there. On the days she's not at the gym, she's running stadiums or suicides or doing a core workout with her cheer squad.”
Lazarus was fortunate to even make it to Las Vegas to receive her award. She was torn between competing at this year’s AAU World Weightlifting Championship in Vegas, and cheering for her high school football team, the Cavalry Baptist Cavaliers, who were playing in one of the ESPN High School Games of the Week on national television. But with her can-do spirit, Lazarus made plans to do both -- cheering at home in Louisiana on Friday night, then flying to Las Vegas at 6:00 AM on Saturday to compete with her Jets Barbell teammates in weightlifting that same day.
Regarding Lazarus’ Athlete of the Year nomination, Jets’ coach Crofton and Lazarus’ parents didn’t tell her about it. “I was aware she was a finalist,” Crofton said, “but she didn’t have any idea she had been nominated for the award.
“She had planned to compete in World Weightlifting in Vegas, but then the football game on national television the night before made getting to worlds more complicated. She flew in with very little sleep, and won her class, helping our team win the team championship. When our team attended the Hall of Fame ceremony that night, and her name was called as Athlete of the Year, she was very, VERY surprised.”
Crofton added, “Allie has made many sacrifices to pursue one competition after another; she takes no time off from the gym, she focuses on her personal PRs, and she has sacrificed a lot of the typical teenage lifestyle in order to train and compete at the highest levels. She always exceeds what is expected of her. She is also a great friend, a great teammate, and a great big sister to her younger siblings. This is a fine young athlete who really deserves this honor.”
Evan Pittman, Phoenix, Arizona Male Athlete of the Year
Evan Pittman, who lives in Arizona but also competes for the Jets National team, received the male athlete of the year award. Pittman has had unparalleled success on the powerlifting platform as a youth and teen competitor, compiling more than 90 world records in the squat, bench press, deadlift and three-lift total in powerlifting competition since the age of 10, and he is training to make history as the only high school or college student to set 100 world powerlifting records – a feat the high school junior hopes to achieve in 2016.
Pittman also has dozens of national and world records in AAU Feats of Strength, and is the only athlete to win the JO Games All-sports combine three years in a row. In 2014, he received the Joel Ferrell Award, the AAU’s top recognition for sports performance and sportsmanship, at the Junior Olympic Games. As a varsity springboard diver at Phoenix Country Day School, he won the Arizona Small Schools Championship and finished fifth in the state in 2014 as a sophomore. Prior to taking up springboard diving in middle school, he was a successful taekwondo competitor, winning 10 state titles and medaling five times at the national level. His many successes are profiled on his website, http://worldsstrongestviolinist.com .
Coach Crofton of Jets Barbell asked Pittman to join the Jets as Team Captain in 2015, based on past performance, and he was the first member of the team to join from outside Louisiana.
“We know Evan and his training ethics,” Crofton says. “He is an inspiring, elite athlete, and he understands what it takes to win at the highest levels. He is also calm, focused, leads by example, and is incredibly humble – the epitome of a role model and team leader.
“Sometimes it takes a different voice to get the right message across to our kids,” Crofton continues. “Jets Barbell team members look up to Evan as someone they want to be like, and in turn, it gives him a forum to pass along his knowledge to our younger athletes.”
Over the next month, Pittman will be training for both the Arizona high school diving championships and the WPF world powerlifting championships in Minnesota, where he will attempt to break six more world records.
He also recently established a campaign called “Lift for Heroes – Powerlifting for a Purpose” to solicit donations for the Bob Woodruff Foundation, which raises money for charities supporting combat injured vets; his fundraising page is http://www.classy.org/LiftForHeroes .
“Our family is military,” Pittman says, “my mother and father, older brothers, aunt, uncle and grandfather all served in uniform. I wanted to find a way I could break powerlifting records and raise money for a military charity at the same time, and the Bob Woodruff Foundation is enabling me to do that through my Lift for Heroes campaign… It puts powerlifting to work for the good of our society on behalf of wounded vets.”
Pittman’s “Lift for Heroes – Powerlifting for a Purpose” page enables individuals to pledge money to support wounded veterans in his name as he works to reach the historical 100 world record milestone, or they can set up their own page to fundraise and break personal records. “Our campaign raising money for injured veterans and their families is easy to participate in,” Pittman says. “People can set up their own page as part of this team to have their friends support them in their personal goals in the gym or on the lifting platform.”
Pittman’s next major meet will be the world powerlifting championships in November, and Lazarus’ next competition will be the Texas State Games weightlifting championships in January. Both athletes are expected to compete in powerlifting and combine events in the spring.
“The strength sports have changed my life,” Lazarus says. “The gym is now one of my favorite places to be. I’m grateful to have been chosen for this award, and I thank God for being able to compete, and for the great friends I have made across the country.”
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