Weightlifting club at St. Pius High is uplifting for athletes

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org
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The expression "pulling one's weight" applies at St. Pius X High School in Festus where students excel in the classroom, in athletics and in the community.

But it has a different meaning in the weight room where a weightlifting club is thriving, enhanced by participation in two competitions each year.

Sophomore Luke Comparato is among those pulling more than his weight. At a competition this winter in Perryville, he "maxed out" at 550 pounds in the back squat.

He started lifting in the eighth grade and found it's something he loves and wants to do every day. "It's all-year training," he said of getting ready for the competitions. He lifts at school, home and a Club Fitness gym. St. Pius coach Tilden Watson has helped perfect his form and provided motivation.

Safety is stressed as well, with spotters and weightlifting arm wraps, knee wraps, wrist wraps and belts.

Comparato also plays football and does shot put on the track and field team. He brings his faith into how he pushes himself in weightlifting because "when I think of the pain I go through, I think of the pain Jesus went through during the crucifixion."

Education is about mind, body and spirit, said Watson, athletic director and a coach at St. Pius. With weightlifting, he said, "we want them when they walk out of here to have the knowledge to train themselves. It helps out with sports, yes, but also gives them self-awareness and self-respect. They can do this, they have more confidence."

Nutrition also is stressed. Weightlifters learn the harm of taking performance-enhancing drugs such as steroids. "If they respect their body, they won't do anything stupid to it," Watson said. "That goes with other drugs and alcohol, too. The body is a temple. Take care of it."

Spotters are a key to weightlifting. "The most important person in that room is the spotter, not the weightlifter," Watson said, noting that he formerly competed internationally in weightlifting. "I'm hard core about spotting because it's about safety."

Watson easily weaves in faith with the other lessons he teaches. "I tell them God gives you the ability to do many things," he said. "What you do with it is your gift back to God."

When he was younger, he didn't always do the right things, he said, but eventually at age 39, God led him to go back to school and get a teaching degree — to help young people — just as He asked his disciples to drop everything and follow Him. So he tells the students to listen to what God has to tell them.

Jerry Woods, baseball and football coach as well as strength coach at St. Pius, also helped start the weightlifting club. Members usually aren't in another sport during the winter season and enjoy seeing that what they're doing in the weight room is paying off by comparing themselves with other athletes from other schools. "The ones who are behind a little bit get an eye-opener to get more serious about maybe nutrition or workouts," Woods said of the competitions. "We also win medals, with scoring done like a track meet."

St. Pius is the only Catholic school at meets in which it participates against various schools south of the St. Louis area.

Jon Studyvin, a junior, enjoys seeing himself and the other weightlifters improve. "We couldn't get near as much done as we do without helping each other," he said.

Dalton Costa, also a junior, said he enjoys being a spotter and the responsibility it entails. When he's lifting, he said, "your friends and teammates are there to help pump you up."

James Lehn also has been lifting for three years. "I like how we're always together," he said. "It creates one big family. The most important thing is it builds your confidence. You look at the weight and you don't want to do it. Deep down inside, you know you can. It's just getting yourself to do it."

Junior Elliot Fischer said he came in to the weight room weighing 105 and now weighs 185. "It helps me get bigger, faster, stronger," he said. 

>> Extra strength

Comments about the weightlifting club at St. Pius:

• Sam Whitely, a junior at St. Pius, was getting frustrated because he couldn't "get the hang of" a lift he was doing in the weight room. He walked out, but came back after his colleagues helped motivate him to finish the lift. "It's something I wouldn't have been able to do on my own, I would have just given up," he said.

• Matthew Lober, a junior, said there's a lot of jokes and laughing in the weight room. "We're always yelling, having a good time," he said.

Conner Krodinger, a sophomore, said "we never know how much better we're getting until we see the people we're competing against. We found out we're ahead of most schools and are doing really good. It shows what our school can do, how hard we work."

• Dustin Burch, a sophomore, the only baseball player in the weightlifting club, said it helps in hitting and throwing, using his hips and legs. In competitions, he said, "I get to see how I'm doing, how I stack up against other people."

• Patrick Argana, a freshman, cites the sense of brotherhood among the weightlifters. "It's loud, energetic, very lively. A lot of the juniors crack jokes all the time. You get stronger, you get more athletic and a sense of accomplishment," he said. 

Weightlifting

According to the International Olympic Committee, weightlifting has ancient origins. It was featured at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896.

As a means to measure strength and power, weightlifting was practiced both by ancient Egyptian and Greek societies. It developed as an international sport primarily in the 19th century.

At the beginning of the next century, Austria, Germany and France were the most successful nations. However in the 1950s, the Soviet Union's weightlifters rose to prominence and stayed there until the 1990s when China, Turkey, Greece and Iran catapulted to the lead. In the women's field, China has been dominant since the very beginning.

Although men's weightlifting has always been on the program of the Olympic Games — except for at the 1900, 1908 and 1912 editions — women started to participate only at the 2000 Games in Sydney.

The Olympic weightlifting program has evolved greatly over time. Today, weightlifters compete in snatch and clean and jerk, and are placed according to their total combined result. From the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, men have competed in eight weight categories and women in seven. This total of 15 events remains unchanged.

Weightlifting has been present at 23 editions of the Games, and has placed on the podium champions from 32 different National Olympic Committees.

Source: International Olympic Committee

For a brochure on weightlifting or to view instructional videos, visit www.stlouisreview.com/bwL and click on media. 

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