KENNEWICK -- Paige Thompson, 16, said the first couple of weeks in the weight room are the toughest.
"You're sore all the time, and you just think the world is ending," the Southridge High School junior said, adding she eventually gets a sense of accomplishment from how strong she feels.
"Then you get in the heavy weights and you die all over again," chimed in fellow junior Kimberly Brinkworth, 16.
Dozens of female student-athletes from throughout the Tri-Cities crowd into Southridge's weight room four times a week each summer for Focus on the Female Athlete, or FOFA, a strength, speed and quickness training program. Sometimes they overflow into the hallway, hefting weights above their heads.
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After they're done, a few dozen elementary and middle school girl athletes file in, getting their first taste of exercises, such as bungee pulls and assisted pullups.
It's a female-only program, operated by Southridge track coach Sheila Smith. Smith and others said they have no issue working out with men and do so regularly, but it can be easier for teenage girls to focus on form and execution when they don't have to think about what the boy next to them is thinking.
"We're strong; we're beasts, but we're still females," Smith said.
Smith was a track athlete at Columbia High School in Burbank and went on to compete in the Pacific-10 Conference as a long jumper and triple jumper. She said after joining the Southridge staff in 1995 as a Spanish teacher and coach, she had a number of student-athletes who didn't want to sit around all summer.
So she developed some strength and speed training for them.
The program began with boys and girls participating side-by-side, but it became a girls-only program as the summer went along because many of the boys went off to football or basketball camps.
"I didn't want to step on their toes," Smith said of other coaches' training schedules.
Between 50 to 60 girls arrive in the morning to train in the weight room, Monday through Thursday run sprints or work with a medicine ball. The program is intended to supplement an athlete's sport-specific training schedule.
Nicole Hatcher, a 2002 Southridge grad and now a math teacher at the school, assists Smith with the program during the summer. She still holds two Southridge sprinting records and serves as the sprint coach.
Hatcher said she trained with Smith as a student and swears by the training and its benefits.
"Decent athletes are becoming great athletes through this program," Hatcher said.
Corrie and Kasey McNeill, sisters who played soccer and ran track at Southridge, also credit the program with furthering their careers. Corrie, 23, played soccer at Walla Walla Community College, while Kasey, 20, still plays soccer for Eastern Washington University.
"We both came in skin and bones," Corrie said.
No one said they had problems working out with boys, nor did they think boys and girls should always work out separately. Smith, her coaches, and some of the athletes at the camp said they regularly work out with male students, particularly after classes when school is in session.
However, they listed benefits of female-only workout sessions. They include the freedom to blast their choice of music in the weight room and dancing to it, in addition to the fact that women lift and handle weights differently than guys.
"You don't get discouraged seeing a boy lift way more than you," Paige said.
Meanwhile, Smith and her proteges continue to recruit.
Each morning, once the teens are done, girls as young as 7 show up to receive training and guidance -- without weights. There's plenty of laughing, but its joined by encouragement amid sprints, jumping exercises and other workouts.
"We need this little sisterhood, I think," Smith said.