Sha’la McMillan, Palmetto’s world-class lifter, begins quest for smaller-scale championship

Palmetto’s Sha’la McMillan shouts as she wins the unlimited weight class bench press event at the Manatee County’ Girls Weightlifting Championship in December.
Palmetto’s Sha’la McMillan shouts as she wins the unlimited weight class bench press event at the Manatee County’ Girls Weightlifting Championship in December.

It’s early Saturday morning and Sha’la McMillan is back in the gym. The day after Palmetto competed in its final meet of the regular season, McMillan is away from Palmetto High School and at Full Circle Performance, where she spends her time working with a private coach for national and international competition.

It’s here in Bradenton where she has trained to set national American records at the youth level and reach the heights of world championships. For all her accomplishments, though, there’s still a conspicuous hole in her resume: a state championship.

“That’s actually a big deal for me for some reason,” McMillan said. “People are like, ‘Sha’la, you’ve been to worlds.’ But states is just something I’ve never checked off.”

The quest for her first state title begins Tuesday when Palmetto will compete with three other teams from Manatee County at the Class 2A-District 15 meet in Bradenton. Lifters from Braden River, Lakewood Ranch and Manatee, which is hosting the meet in the south gymnasium at Manatee High School, will also take part in the nine-team meet at 2 p.m.

The only other district meet including county schools is the Class 1A-District 14 championship Friday in Port Charlotte. Southeast and Bayshore will take part in the seven-team competition. The top six lifters in each event will advance to their respective region meet.

McMillan’s cracks at winning a state championship have been limited despite her being a senior. As a freshman, McMillan was a first-time weightlifter and an inauspicious season ended at the district meet. As a sophomore, she made it all the way to the state championship only to fall short and tie for seventh. Her junior year was a wash as she rehabbed an elbow injury in order to be healthy for the World Youth Championships.

She also wanted to return for a senior season. The first goal McMillan set when she began lifting during her junior season was at the state level rather than national. She wrote the Florida high school clean and jerk record of 250 pounds on her wall and her competitions during the coming weeks will let her best that. She’s topped out at 275 pounds, and if she hits the total again during the postseason, she’ll possess the record and have a chance to hoist a 2A championship trophy.

The hurdle is the bench press. Bench press isn’t included in the Olympic-style weightlifting McMillan shines in, and she rarely finishes at the top of the field during high school competitions.

“I couldn’t honestly care less about bench press,” McMillan said. “When it’s time for bench press, I’m just like, Ugh, why?”

Her max on the bench this year is 185, nearly 100 pounds lighter than the state record set last year by Orlando Timber Creek’s Amara Wiggan.

To eventually win a state title, she’ll need her record-level clean and jerk to outweigh her pedestrian totals on the bench. Her combined total with both maxes of 460 would have only placed fourth in the unlimited weight class at last year’s 2A meet, 25 pounds behind Wellington’s LeeAnn Hewitt.

With Hewitt back, McMillan is far from a lock to win an elusive state title. She’ll need to deliver on her world-championship quality promise.

“I bench press enough so when I clean and jerk I win,” McMillan said. “I bench press over what they clean and jerk.”

David Wilson: 941-745-7057, @DBWilson2

District schedule


When: Tuesday, 2 p.m.

Where: Manatee High

Local schools: Braden River, Lakewood Ranch, Manatee, Palmetto


When: Friday, 10 a.m.

Where: Port Charlotte High

Local schools: Bayshore, Southeast