Athletes of the Week: Savannah natives Nia Walker and Tayon Vereen lift on national stage

Sports

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – As sports go, lifting is pretty straightforward: secure the weight, grip the weight and lift the weight.

Doing it every day is the hard part.

“This was not like a natural thing for me,” said Nia Walker. “I had to come into the gym on days when I did not want to come in and put the work in.”

That’s what separates average lifters from people like Tayon Vereen and Nia Walker.

“You have to go in on a daily basis and exercise and do stuff that you may not necessarily want to do, but you do because you have a goal in mind that you want to accomplish,” Vereen said.

Walker and Vereen are both competitive weightlifters at Brewton-Parker College as well as Johnson High School graduates, but their real start came at Performance Initiatives, where Kerri Goodrich helps give Savannah kids a place of their own outside of the classroom.

“They could have a safe place after school, they could get support, we could offer services for families who needed support throughout that time,” Goodrich said.

Performance Initiatives offered something else too: an Olympic weightlifting program.

“I didn’t even want to do it to be honest,” Walker said. “My coach and my mom were just like ‘try this out’ and at the end of the day, I’m going to try to do the best I can at anything I do.”

The best that the two lifters could do turned out to be good enough for Brewton-Parker, which offered both of them weightlifting scholarships.

“I didn’t really think of it much after high school because I didn’t know how many colleges have [scholarships] for weightlifting, but they do and I’m here now,” Vereen said. 

The two of them set personal records at the North American Open Finals in Denver.

“Going into the competition, I just knew that I was like ‘I got this weight.’ And when I stood up with it, it was like a shock,” Walker said.

These days, Vereen and Walker come back to Performance Initiatives in pursuit of bigger goals.

“I got a PR, it was alright, but I feel like I’ve got more in the tank,” Vereen said.

When they train, they still keep the attitude from their after-school days.

“You just have to think of somebody out there going hard, you know what I’m saying?” Walker said. “Your competition is just going hard, just as hard as you so they’re finishing that workout. Even if it’s not the case, you have to think about it that way.”

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