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Saturday, August 12, 2017

What we can Learn from Icarus , the documentary on Doping

Some of you may be thinking, “why should I watch a documentary about a guy who got paid by Netflix to experiment with doping. Screw that guy”.   At least, I came across one article on the internet with that title.  Well, the documentary goes quite a bit far beyond that, and there is much we can learn from it.

I was actually pleasantly surprised by the level of suspense the documentary elicited from the real life events unfolding during its filming. 
Cyclist/director/doping guinea pig - Bryan Fogel of "Icarus". Photo from LA Times

What starts off as a documentary on “ prove this system of testing athletes is bullshit” , quickly takes a steep u-turn as a documentary on the Russian “State Sponsored” doping system.  Bryan Fogel, the director/subject of the movie and, also, a high level amateur cyclist, begins the documentary as using himself as a test subject.  He applies the same doping protocol as Lance Armstrong to himself with a team of experts.  Bryan Fogel also enlists the head of the Russian doping lab, Dr Grigory Rodchenko, to consult on his doping protocol such that Bryan will be able to pass all tests.  Again, this is all under the guise of doing a documentary to prove that competing as a doped athlete is possible and is happening, or as Don Catlin, founder of the UCLA Olympic Lab, said in regards to cyclists on the Tour De France “they were all doping, every single one of them.”

As the documentary progresses it occurs around the same time WADA launches an independent doping investigation into the Russian Anti-doping authorities.  Suddenly, Grigory finds himself in the midst of the scandal, whilst another Russian doping official winds-up mysteriously dead from a “heart attack”.  Bryan Vogel is, now, Gregory’s only contact outside of Russia who can help him.   Fogel brings Grirgory to the USA, where Grigory is at risk of being assassinated by Russian authorities and also at risk of being prosecuted by the US Government. Long story short, Grigory alleges that the Russian doping system goes all the way up to Putin with “99%” of athletes doping.
Interestingly, parallels are drawn between the book “1984” and Grigory’s situation of “doublethink”. Some parallels are also drawn between Grigory and Edward Snowden, with the USA and Russia in opposite roles.  Grigory talks about “doublethink”, an act of having two jobs that effectively cancel eachother out- creating sensitive tests to catch dopers and having the responsibility to protect top athletes from testing positive.

Ok, now for why weightlifters or any drug tested athlete might care about watching this movie:

 What did we learn from Bryan Fogel’s experience?
After doing several months of doping, Bryan enters a major amateur race in France.  In part due to a mechanical failure on his bike, he finishes lower than the year before when he competed 100% clean.

What this shows is doping is not a magic bullet. His experiment was to show whether doping would make him an overnight Lance Armstrong—and it didn’t.  There are still many factors that make someone a winner- training, length of doping, dumb luck, genetics.

Recent doping positives at national level weightlifting competitions proves that point. There have been multiple cases of athletes placing far outside the medals who are caught doping.  Many of these athletes started off competing in CrossFit competitions,  a sport which does not have the same resources as USAW to randomly test athletes.  In effect, they took a crack at weightlifting, used drugs, and still registered a less than mediocre performance. 

2.       Why none of us are really that surprised that Russia had state sponsored doping?
Doping has been around before it was doping. 

The use of substances to enhance performance was institutionalized long before there was a WADA. It is something that is engrained on a cultural and government level in certain parts of the world.
There are stories* that Soviets initially learned to dope from top American lifters back in the 1950’s!  Now, in the 1950’s steroids weren’t illegal in the US, and there was no WADA.  The first drug testing didn’t even occur until the 1968 Olympics, and it was highly primitive and non-systemized compared to today.

While steroids gradually became something that were looked upon with ire in mainstream America, it was the Soviets who took it to a state sponsored level and perfected it.   It can be argued that doping followed the ideological models of each country- capitalism and socialism. In America, it’s something that has become privatized with wealthy elitists having the resources and access to carry it out in a highly systematic level.  In Russia, its something the state had carried out and distributed to the greater part of its best athletes.

Further, Soviet state interest in the advancement of sport was tied to the Soviet-USA space race in the 1960’s.  The Soviets, particularly Vrobiev, studied weightlifters in order to find training and recovery systems to apply to Cosmonauts for surviving space flight.  And, in a Soviet philosophical context, if it works then it is good.

Really, drug testing was not as organized as it is today enabling cultural norms of doping to persist
As for Drug testing and the formalization of what is doping, drug testing didn’t really start to get more sophisticated until the 1990’s.   So, when you hear about a legacy of doping going back to 1968 in “Icarus”,  it wasn’t the same context we know today.  

For example, in the 1980’s, the IWF and the IOC actually had two different doping lists, and before major competitions, it was announced which list was going to be used for testing.  Some substances banned by the IOC were not banned by the IWF. Up until about 1983, Testosterone was not even a banned substance by the IWF.    Today, exogenous testosterone is a banned substance. Yet, female to male transgender athletes are allowed to take exogenous testosterone, while non-trans men over 40 are not allowed to take exogenous testosterone despite probably having legit medical reasons to take it.  So, here, even today, we have cognitive dissonance surrounding permitted doping.

Anyhow, WADA wasn’t formed until the late 1990’s. And, it wasn’t until around the early 2000’s, after the BALCO scandal, where WADA declared that an athlete could be sanctioned for new unknown-substances even if they weren’t explicitly called out on the banned substance list.
In summary, there are long standing cultural dynamics and general gray areas around this subject that may explain the persistence of doping at an institutional level.
  
Does this documentary change our attitude towards Lance Armstrong ?
It is a complex situation.   According to public interviews Lance Armstrong made, he doped for years in a highly organized fashion. He doped using private resources. At the end of the day, he even beat athletes from Russia who were likely under a state sponsored program at some point in their career.  And, according to Don Catlin, everybody was on drugs.    

We don’t really know how far down the cycling ranking list we have to go to find a cyclist that wasn’t on drugs.  Note, Lance's stripped wins were never re-allocated to other cyclists on the Tour de France...

Does it change our attitude towards the recent re-tests of 2008 & 2012 Weightlifting Olympic medalists who got popped?
The interesting thing with weightlifting, is that there is far less money to be made in weightlifting than cycling. Athletes who are state sponsored are more likely to be doped because the state will pay out large sums of money for Olympic medals.  On the other hand, athletes from countries where there is little state compensation for medals are less likely to dope. 

So, popping like half of the men’s 94kg class then giving the gold medal to someone in the B session, might still be putting medals into the hands of someone who equally doped or maybe doped slightly less.  It’s underwhelming.  At the same time, there probably are actual weightlifters at the Olympic level who did not dope.

Sadly, the IOC has punished weighlifting for these slew of positives by taking away Olympic slots at the 2020 games. Its almost unfair for the IOC to single out weightlifting and reduce spots when other sports may be just as dirty, especially any sport that brings in money like cycling.

Should you still bother using Soviet Training methods as a clean athlete?
Of course!  Because doping or not, their system still works. Every weightlifting system out there is just derivative of the Soviet system. Its unavoidable.  I've had scores of clean athletes use it and improve.  You can read the "Fundamentals of the Soviet System: the Soviet Weightlifting System" here to learn why.

As Bryan Fogel shows us, doping is a factor and not a magic bullet.  There is no substitute for a solid training system.

What does this say about American weightlifters’ views on doping?

Thanks to USADA and USAW, we actually have an anti-doping system in America.  

American weightlifters don’t like the idea that someone in the session they are lifting against could be doping. 

Still, its complicated. It is a lot like the documentary , also on Netflix, “(Dis) Honesty: the Truth About Lies”.  A low level of dishonesty is almost acceptable, because there are always grey areas.  Big cheaters are not acceptable.

For example, there seems to be sympathy towards a low level of doping, especially when it blurs lines.  Our last Olympic bronze medallist  had once served a 2 year doping sanction for high levels of testosterone/pregnenolone/dhea allegedly from taking DHEA. This doesn’t phase most American lifters because , well, the attitude is that whatever may have caused her high levels of testosterone/etc is no comparison to whatever the Russians must have been on-- DHEA isn’t stanazolol.   It also helped that she actually had a chance at an Olympic medal, and we’ve waited 16 years for one.  (it’s complicated, more info here). 

On the other hand, look at the case of Charis Chan. She showed-up out of nowhere to break the American snatch record in the 53kg class, previously held by Olympic Champion Tara Nott. Public documents show she was suspended for metabolites of trenbolone.  People seemed almost happy when she tested positive for trenbolone.  The level of mocking on social media was probably due to the fact that she was sanctioned for a substance that Americans view as a “real steroid”.  And, She came from the fitness competition circles, having competed at crossfit regionals before lifting at USAW competitions.  Note, that the Crossfit Games has also suspended her for the same amount of time as USADA. 

Then, look at the case of Pat Mendes. He was the first athlete ever to be banned for Human Growth Hormone** in 2012.   
Pat Mendes - photo from USA Today.
 The sinlget he is wearing was made for the 2011 USA Pan AM Games Team by, then USAW sponsor,  Risto Sports 
There seeemed to be no outrage when this occurred, probably because he came from weightlifting.  And, weightlifting people don’t view HGH the same way as stanazolol.  A few years later, he tested positive, again, while competing for Brazil**; it was met with a big sigh from the US weightlifting community.

 So, here we have a very complex model of Americans' views towards doping.

Where do we go from here?
Superficially, it would be simple if no one took drugs ever.

Yet, it's not so simple because there are grey areas and banned substance lists can change. 

It seems unrealistic for state sponsored doping to stop overnight, especially, when success at the olympic level can correspond to presidential approval ratings****.

Really, to see substantial change,  there would have to be both short term incentives for competing clean and short term financial disincentives for doping for all athletes of every country. 

Until then, we might as well be engaging in doublethink.


* rumors that Coach Ivan was told while studying weightlifting and training in the USSR during the 1980’s

****Grigory suggests that Putin wanted a good showing in Sochi , as it would go on to increase his approval rating, giving him the political capital to invade Crimea.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Thrivalist Pocast: Mental Flow and Getting to the Zone

Most people will never work hard enough to know their true mental and physical work capacity.
If there is one thing weightlifting has taught me, is that you can always train harder. If theres one thing going to engineering school has taught me, is that you can always study harder.  Both have there rewards.  you will never know how strong and explosive you are if you don't put in the work. And, you will never know how smart and intelligent you can become by putting in the brain work.

I've found, probably like many people, is that training hard and getting in the zone elicits the same mental states as working intensely with your mind.

I can remember when I first started lifting as a kid, how much I hated squatting. It had nothing to do with the movement or my strength, I hated doing sets of 5. Somehow, even after feeling like I was going to die after the first set,  I would manage to do 5 sets of 5.  Recently, I took several weeks off while working in Europe this summer.  My coach programmed me 5 sets of 10! Day 1 my body was so wobbly, I felt like I lost all function of my nervous system.  Day 3, I could do this work out all day long. It was like I had never taken time off.  We adapt.

Of course, just being able to physically and pyschologically push yourself through workouts is just one stepping stone of developing your mental toughness. It's not getting to the Zone.

Seemingly, after putting in thousands of hours of training, getting into deep mental focus comes like a snap of the finger. I reach this state without even consciously conjuring it. Time slows down. A set can feel like an hour even if it only lasted less than a minute.

And then , there's the big pay-off. When you are able to get to the untouchable, invincible state.  That state that is topped off by reaching the "white moment", during PR lifts, as Yuri Vlasov called it.  I can say many times I have hit that invincible state perfectly and alwam or the left the gym or the competition feeling like I could have lifted 20 kilos more.  Being able to turn it on every single competition or every single workout is something, without fail, is something I aspire to.

Similarly, I have hit the same states in engineering and in work, even in writing.  It seems like, one night as an GA Tech undergrade, magic happened somewhere around 2AM.  I was studying for my Jet Pro (Jet propulsion) test, and something happened. Suddenly, I could just write out equations with out even thinking. I could solve problems without consciously thinking. It just flowed out of me. It was something I had never felt before.  In some ways it was similar to some of the best national meets I had had, that feeling of being able to do anything in that moment, complete focus. Though the feeling of not having to consciously think about work flowing from my hands was more like playing a musical instrument, than executing a lift. Though it was close.

I've found over the years, probably like many people who both lift and work in fields that require a lot of analysis and "thinking work", that weightlifting would make putting in the workload to study or simply work easy. And studying and working on papers, presentations, analyses would make weightlifting training easy.  Its like this beautiful synergistic cycle.

Heavy mental stimulation makes it easier for you to train and to focus. And heavy, physical training loads make it easy to study and work hard in mentally taxxing fields.   Both, seem to make you able to reach new levels of workload you never thought possible. It will pay-off in 2 ways:  1. you will be able to accomplish far more in less time than you ever imagined, and 2. you will hit those white moments from time to time.

So, don't be afraid to work hard. Don't fear that you aren't smart enough or athletic enough. All you need to know is that all talents must be developed. And, putting in the work over sustained periods of time will yield you almost magical results.

Because .... There's nothing better than feeling like you are invicible and have wings (Vlasov).

You can hear more on this topic by dowloading the August 2017 episode of the Thrivalist podcast on itunes.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Is your fitness Guru a Master of Sociology or a Master of Science?

I probably shouldn't have posted. I probably should have ignored it.  

But, there it was staring back at me on Facebook. It was clearly a sensationalistic post. Something that a social media expert posts just to get a reaction.

It was just a step too far for me to ignore.  Someone said weightlifting is unsafe for the "general population of adults", and he was unqualified to say it.

Counter sensationalistic statement: Non-Olympic lifting expert says weightlifting is too dangerous for you, the general population. And, he just called you "old".


Many people walk into to my gym, thousands really. I don't always remember everyone, especially if they are just in for the day.   I do remember when people quit inexplicably.

I remember the first couple times I met Ben Bruno.  He was quiet, mild mannered.  He just graduated Columbia University with a degree in sociology. He apparently was in the area to visit family. He seemed intent on learning Olympic lifting. I was hung-up on the thought that someone who just got a degree from an Ivy League school in Sociology wouldn't be out applying it. It was also around the time I was having deep discussion on sociology with a non-weightlifting friend of mine. And, then one of my lab mates at MIT was starting long discussions on Milgrams experiments and somehow tied that back to us aero-astro students.  So, it was oddly synchronistic, and it oddly stuck-out.

Anyhow, we had a good rapport going; at least, I thought.  Then, a few days later, like that, he disappeared.  Trying to be an honorable person, I sent him a message or two checking if he still wanted to lift. I don't recall hearing anything back, and we were facebook friends.

A few months later, I saw an article on Bulgarian split squats by some guy working with Mike Boyle.  And, it was authored by a Ben Bruno-- the same guy that was just in my gym.   Well, good for him; Mike Boyle was probably one of the biggest names in New England for fitness at the time.

The only problem with the article was that, well, I've trained in Bulgaria. I have literally trained with Olympic Gold medalists, World Champions, and European champions, and guess what, none of them did split squats.  This must have been 2010-2011, which was still the height of "Bulgarian system hysteria",  where any clown with a computer wrote fake or exaggerated internet lore of what the Bulgarian system was.  Yes, it is not my job to be the internet police, but sometimes for the greater good of mankind (ie the truth on Bulgarian training) , you need to speak up. As it struck a cord, I had to comment with a link to actual Bulgarian training we filmed.

When it comes to facebook, being a "friend" does not necessarily mean anything other than you may have some tiny shared interests in common with so-called facebook friends.  I have more facebook friends than I can count.  Periodically, people I haven't seen in years pop-up.  I'm sure in the last 7 years a handful of Ben Bruno statuses popped-up showing his latest training conquest.  So, with maybe 3 data points, it looked like Ben had climbed some social fitness ladder-- from Mike Boyle to Chelsea Handler. And his image looked like every other "fitness guru": a thick looking guy in a red shirt with his arms crossed with some facial hair. It's a masculine pose saying, "hey, I know what I'm doing, follow me".  Anyhow, good for him.  I'm happy anytime someone succeeds, why not.

So, here comes data point number 4-- a twitter snapshot, not even a post, talking, implying Olympic weightlifting is not fit for the general population.  If we look at this from a data perspective, Mr Bruno's twitter post is factually incorrect. There's insufficient data to support his comment.

There's far more data to say most adults will get sports injuries from playing recreational sports like soccer, basketball, tennis, or softball.   You don't even need to google it-- just walk into any physical therapy office-- most adults are being treated a bad knee from playing a pick-up game of basketball, or hurt their shoulder playing softball in their office league, or tore their ACL during ski season.  So, with the logic in Ben's tweet, most adults should never play basketball.

So, why would someone make a, perhaps, exaggerated statement?  Maybe because they are a sociologist, and their expertise lies in building a social media following.  Maybe because it is a sensationalistic statement. Its like saying the "Yankees suck"-- 50% of people will agree , 50% of people will want to kill you  -- either way, you get a huge reaction.

Yes, normally, I would ignore sensationalism, but, today, I couldn't. Because, effectively blacklisting a sport- that has done so much for so many-- just to get a twitter reaction is wrong.  I mean are strong women like Chelsea Handler being denied the opportunity to reap the benefits of snatching and clean and jerking because they are not "young" or not "men".  I've trained people from 65 year olds to 8 years old in lifting; everyone can learn to Olympic lift if taught by a real coach. 

And for those of you thinking, "well, why Olympic lift when you can just do other weight training" , my dear friends, you are missing the point. Olympic weightlifting does what no other barbell or machine training can do - it improves your reflexes.  It uses your sympathetic nervous system*, which means you will be faster and more explosive, and more able to react quickly without thinking in stressful situations.   It makes you better at every other sport. It makes you better at normal everyday things like avoiding a car accident, saving your child or dog from falling, catching a ball...even cooking.  Aside from that, it's more efficient at building bone density and muscle than using cute little dumbells to "Bulgarian split squats".

But hey, what do I know, I'm just a rocket scientist.  Maybe Ben can give me some advice on how to be more sensationalistic. 

Peace & Love


*Reference: Fundamentals of the Soviet System: The Soviet Weightlifting System                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Closing Time-Every new beginning comes from some other beginings End

"Closing Time.  Every new beginning comes from some other beginings End"
- Semisonic, "Closing Time"

Today marks the end of an era, the day Risto Sports shuts its Maine training center and goes on the great American voyage to Florida.   Yes, we are trading one Vacationland for another vacation land of sorts.  We are reverse snowbirding this summer.

In just  few days, Risto Sports will be relocated in Merritt Island, Florida , just a stones throw from NASA's historic launch site, the very stretch of land graced by the likes of Buzz Aldren and John Glenn.

We leave riding a synchronistic wind of change.  We did a lot right here in Maine, and now its time to go and spread the good word of weightlifting elsewhere.

When we came to Maine, there was no lifting in Maine. Ok, there was a powerlifting gym in Westbrook, Gilly's Gym in Waterville,   but nothing you would call a dedicated - heart and soul- weightlifting gym.  We were here long before crossfit dotted the land with boxes.

When we first came, it must have been over 25 year since a weightlifting meet had ever been held in Maine.  So little lifting was going on, that around 2010, Maine LWC was absorbed into the New England LWC, probably where it really belonged.

I first came here lifting for Coffee's Gym. I lifted again for East Coast Gold. Then, finally, we created Risto Sports, which only made sense after we built our weightlifting oasis in Eliot, ME. Interestingly, Coffee's Gym also closed this weekend, sadly , for good.

In 2011, we held the first weightlifting meet in about 30+ years in Maine.  The legacy we left for Maine doesn't end there, there's a lot more:

1-We had the only National medalists from Maine whilst here
-- Me, Gwendolyn Sisto, too many damn gold, silver, and bronze medals at national level meets to count.  Yes, I am dead serious, I lost count
-- Gwendolyn Rojas- two National Youth Championships Golds (she only collects gold medals apparently)
-- Emily McNally - youth national championships bronze
--Amylynne Frankel- National Masters Silver

2- We trained olympic medalists right in Eliot, Maine
- Maryam Usman, trained for several months with us in Maine, Olympic Bronze Medalist
- Luz Mercedes Acosta, also trained a few months with us in Maine, Olympic Bronze Medalist
- Diego Salazar, trained multiple, multiple times with us in Maine, Olympic Silver Medalist
-Honorary mention- Dmitry Klokov, Olympic Silver Medalist, did his photo shoot for his klokovequipment.com launch right in our gym. He commented, "this IS a weightlifting gym" , probably the biggest honor we could get from him.
Klokov Russian-izing my start position at Risto Sports in Maine. Me, I'm like, "dude, I learned my starting position from Cuban National Coach Alfredo Gonzalez"  Who did it better Cubans or Russians? lol

3- We gave Maine the only people from Maine on National teams of any kind
- Gwendolyn Rojas competed at the Youth International invitational, and, ofcourse, brought home gold to Maine.
- Gwendolyn Sisto, World University Team whilst being a Maine resident.
-- funny story, at the time, I was going to MIT- Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  The friggin' intern at USAW actually changed the as entered national meet results to read "Maine Institute of Technology" , because she couldn't believe that a person from Maine would go to the real MIT.  Not sure if that was a Freudian slip on her behalf or says something about what she thinks of Maine-iacs.
- Gwendolyn Sisto , World Masters Games medalist
- Rob Morrison, World Masters Cup Champion

4- We gave Maine possibly the Only Maine person to ever hold an IWF world record
- Gwendolyn Sisto 2017 World Record Holder for 35-39, 63kg

5- One of only 3 2008 Olympic Trials athletes across every Olympic sport from Maine
- Gwendolyn Sisto, 53kg, 2008 Olympic Trials

6- Regional impact
We trained tons of people from across the globe right here in Maine. We, especially, had one of the best teams in New England.  Honestly, most people came up from the Boston and Rhode Island area to train with us.  There are many people who trained with us, only to start their own teams or keep lifting at a team closer to them.

In other words, there are several teams in New England that wouldn't have existed without us, because their coaches or key athletes- whether they like to admit or not-were trained by us.

Here's some of our contribution to the New England lifter National/International medals:
Melissa Siegel- Masters National Champion
Jessica Weisman - World Masters Champion, World Masters Games Medalist
Honorable Mention-  Kaiti Bennet, National Collegiates Medalist
Other people I am probably forgetting and will be pissed at me because I did
People we distanced trained in secret, and I can't disclose ;)
A bunch of people that will probably be added to this list soon (Russy, Giorgio Armani ;)


7. Local Eliot/ South Berwick impact
We trained an entire cohort of Marshwood high school wrestlers in Olympic Lifting.  These kids went on to win the state champions, multiple kids were all-Americans.

When I asked them why they didn't tell other kids from adjacent school districts about us, one  kid notes , "we don't want our secret to get out" .  Good for our local school district, not so good for business lol.

8. We increased the diversity in our locale by probably 200% everytime we had a training camp
I am so serious when I say Maine is probably the whitest place I have ever lived.  I remember dropping my daughter off to her first day of Kindergarten thinking, "I see blonde people".   Everyone is either some kind of white- like Northern European white- or Native American. Oh, and almost all the white people claim to be part Native American.  I am not making this shit up. Good thing the "racial appropriation" police haven't taken up shop in Portland, Maine as the have in Portland, Oregon.  Ok, there are "black people" in Maine, just almost all of them were born in Somalia.  Maine is home to many Somalian Muslim refugees.  And, we all get along =)

Maine people seem to have been exposed to so little diversity that they tend not to be racist at all and find new cultures as a novelty.  This is also a sentiment that a "real Maine" person relayed to me.  (Apparently, if 3 generations of your family weren't born here, then you can never really be "from Maine", thus I must seek out a "real Maine" person's opinion for legitimacy.)

Getting back on topic....
Just look at our Risto Sports photos. Completely unintentionally, we are probably one of the most diverse teams in the USAW if your consider our diversity make-up versus diversity make-up of our location.
On top of that, we also tend to train a lot of athletes from across South America - Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, Panama , Cuba, etc. We brought Dr Herrera here. And of course , we've hosted the entire coaching staff from Kazakhstan(central Asia).

Outside of Olympic Medalists, we've had Youth and Junior World Champion Neisi Dajomes lift in our center, her coach Mayra Hoyos,   Pam AM champions Johnny Andica, Elio Guerra, and Carlos Andica lift with us. And, Rocio Navarro of Panama.

So, everytime we have a big training session, you will probably find the highest concentration in York county, Maine of Asians, Latinos, Black, Jews, LGBTQ, and other so-called minorities right in our gym.  Again, I don't know how it all worked out this way, it just did, and I think its cool.

In a nutshell, we did a ton for the state of Maine when it comes to establishing a weightlifting legacy. I'm not sure anyone in Maine actually recognizes this.  Although people in the area seemed to appreciate us, most never took substantial time to hang out with us. Ok, they came to a seminar or two, and, yes, I do appreciate this.  But, dude, we were RIGHT HERE. WE were right in the same state. For the first time, there were actual weightlifting people driving distance to you, and you only stopped by a handful of times. I mean WTF people?  You know, when I was a kid,  I would have died to have lived so close to a gym that was regularly pumping olympians in and out of its doors.   Do you know how many people have approached me with the same comment, " Ohh you're leaving. I'm so sad. I should have came by sooner."

On the positive, we leave Maine with a few of our lifters holding the torch in their crossfit boxes and garage gyms.  I hope, for Maine's sake, USAW-elite-level lifting will carry-on, carry-on.

As for Florida, I know you guys already have a few good gyms, and you actually have weightlifting as a high school sport. I'm sure there's room for one more.   I think the space coast can use a pure Olympic lifting beacon. It's a big state.  Glad to be here.

My non-lifting thoughts on Maine:
Maine is an awesome place.  It is gorgeous , in all 3 of its seasons- Fall, Winter, and Summer (we don't have a spring...its either snowing or hot during "spring").  The coast is incredible. Its so majestic; it has character with every jagged, rocky-edged cliff.   We have lots of pine trees and moose. Though I still haven't seen a moose. I never lived anywhere before where access to nature and free-nature based activities were so readily available.  In winter, you can ice skate on a pond or ski down a little hill.  The summer and fall the ocean is rife with activity. You can go to some revolutionary war fort or 17th century house or park-like forest and just enjoy walking around in nature, peaking at the ocean or the river with your dog.  You can really have unfettered, free adventures.  If your backyard is big enough, you could go shooting right outside.  And, the place abounds with organic and locally grown food. Traffic is nil, or at least incredibly predictable. The tourists will never learn that there is zero traffic before noon and after 5:30 on a summer Sunday afternoon.  Maine is utopia----almost.

So, I will miss Maine.

I need to leave though.  We were just kind of stagnating in Maine. Like, we were at a good level, and if we wanted to see a revolutionary change in our progress then we needed to change. Secondly, there is a metaphysical force sweeping me to Florida , or , maybe, France. And, that is something for me to write about another time, perhaps, when you are more ready to hear it.

Maine, It's been good. See ya around bae.




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Oscar Figueroa,Olympic Silver Medalist, World medalist, approves of Risto's

Oscar Figueroa,Olympic Silver  Medalist, World medalist, approves of Risto's
Pictured at Salitre with Oscar Figueroa in center. We will be proudly be sponsoring Oscar with a pair of Risto shoes.

Carlos Andica training with Coach Ivan at Risto Sports

Carlos Andica training with Coach Ivan at Risto Sports

Built for the Platform - Risto Sports weightlifting shoes

Built for the Platform - Risto Sports weightlifting shoes
Russian boots, classic weightlifting shoes with modern shoe technology. Exquisite full leather upper, wood heel, rawhide forefoot, natural rubber outsole. One of a kind.

Risto Sports: Official Sponsor of USA Weightlifting

Risto Sports: Official Sponsor of USA Weightlifting
USAW national team member in Risto Singlet

Ivan in the Warm-up room with the Andica Brothers

Ivan in the Warm-up room with the Andica Brothers

Arnold, Carlos & Joni Andica in Front of Risto Sports banner

Arnold, Carlos & Joni Andica in Front of Risto Sports banner

Risto sport's Leidy Solis- PAN AM Champion 2009

Risto sport's Leidy Solis- PAN AM Champion 2009
Leidy in winning form, wearing her Risto weightlifting shoes. Congratulations Leidy!

Exceeding expectations - www.ristosports.com

Exceeding expectations - www.ristosports.com
Classic weightliftng shoe design with modern accents

In the Risto shoes

In the Risto shoes

Coach Jonny Pan AM champ

Coach Jonny Pan AM champ
Afternoon coach, doing pwr cleans while his lifters finish up

More wild custom shoes

More wild custom shoes
note pawprints

Abs

Abs
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Custom Weightlifting shoe

Custom Weightlifting shoe
Made to customer specifications, detailed embroidery

Custom Youth Sizes available!

Custom Youth Sizes available!
Little Gwen wears these for technique work in the gym. She also likes to match mommy and daddy in the gym. Lifting time is family time!

Bucharest Training Center

Bucharest Training Center
Ramanian Coach Doru, Ivan, Romanian Lifter Eiza

Nikolai Stoichkov- JR Bulgarian Lifter, son of Zdravco Stoichkov

Nikolai Stoichkov- JR Bulgarian Lifter, son of Zdravco Stoichkov
Training with a pair of Botev shoes. These shoes take a beating of 18000 to 20000 reps per year and heavy loads 90-100% - Also known as the Bulgarian system.

Custom Singlets too- Made to Order

Custom Singlets too- Made to Order

Future Champion- Tough lifters wear pink!

Future Champion- Tough lifters wear pink!
Gwendolyn Rojas getting ready to snatch 60kgs at 20kg bodyweight and 4 years old.

Stoichkov in Action

Stoichkov in Action
Coach Stoichkov adjusting my starting position.

Ivan giving training advice in Frankfurt Oder

Ivan giving training advice in Frankfurt Oder
Here Ivan, as a coach, is giving lifting advice to German Junior lifters at the Olympic Training Center in Frankfurt Oder, Germany. Yes, Ivan is fluent in German and is speaking German to the lifters.

Coach Ivan Rojas

Ivan Rojas is my coach and husband. Since training with Ivan, I have went down 3 weight classes while exceeding my prior best total (acheived while training by myself as a junior vs with proper training under Ivan).

During the 80's, Ivan trained extensively as a coach and lifter in former Eastern block countries as well as Cuba.


Working out with the Champs

Working out with the Champs
Gwen squatting wth Georgiev, Peschalov, and new lifter in background

Training in Bulgaria - Gwen and Coach Zdravco Stoichov

Training in Bulgaria - Gwen and Coach Zdravco Stoichov
Stoichov is coach of Peschalov, Georgiev, etc. Also of key interest: Similar to USA lifters missing out on their chance to medal at the 1980 Olympics , at the time of the boycotted '84 Olympic Games, Stoichkov outlifted the LA Games Gold Medalist at the Friendship Games/ Druzhba Games. The Druzhba Games were held in 1984 by Eastern bloc countries not participating in LA.

Ivan with Nikolai Gergov, Bulgarian Wrestling Champion

Ivan with Nikolai Gergov, Bulgarian Wrestling Champion
Ivan with the Greco wrestling world champ, Nikolai Gergov, after their workout. I still think its uncanny how elite athletes from multiple sports would just show up at Slavia for a workout (....and atleast one ask for lifting advice). Again, overall, Bulgarian athletes were humble or, rather, didn't "have an attitude" in the gym.

Gewichtheben - training at the German Olympic training center in Frankfurt am der Oder

Gewichtheben - training at the German Olympic training center in Frankfurt am der Oder
Me with the German Junior Team and Coach/German Olympian Lars Betker

Coach Burgener Shoe

Coach Burgener Shoe
Portion of all sales got to Charity. A perfect shoe for our CrossFit friends! A wonderfully patriotic, Americana themed shoe and T-shirt. GO USA!!!

Gwen posing with Peschalov

Gwen posing with Peschalov

Stoichkov during competitive years

Stoichkov during competitive years
Vintage photo of Stoichkov winning international Championship

Rumy, Bulgarian lifter

Rumy, Bulgarian lifter
Rumy,75kg lifter, stops by for a light workout in Slavia, Bulgaria

Botev stops by Slavia

Botev stops by Slavia
Gwen, Stefan Botev (multi-time Olympic Medalist and world champion), and Ivan

Gwen with Power Clean/slpit jerk with 80kg

Gwen with Power Clean/slpit jerk with 80kg
First workout in Slavia.

Size perspective for youtube video

Size perspective for youtube video
In Beijing, junior lifter

Ivan and Eric, the speedskater

Ivan and Eric, the speedskater
After a hard work out, Ivan and Eric go summertime cycling in Maine. Eric is a competitive Speedskater and a proud owner of weightlifting shoes. Ahhh ...nothing like summers in Maine!!

Stefan Georgiev

Stefan Georgiev
World and European Champion, 62kg. Rooting for him to medal in the 2008 Olympic Games!

Hanging out with Weighlifting heroes

Hanging out with Weighlifting heroes
Peschalov, Stoichov, self, and husband

Old Stuff - early Risto Weight lifting Shoes

Old Stuff - early Risto Weight lifting Shoes

Peschalov and Coach

Peschalov and Coach
Peschalov trained with Stoichkov leading up to his Gold medal win in 2000 Olympic Games

Training in Kennedy, Bogota

Training in Kennedy, Bogota

Euvgeni Popov, Stoichov, and Gwen

Euvgeni Popov, Stoichov, and Gwen
Popov - 1980's Bulgarian weightlifting team, also accomplished power lifter and strongman competitor.

Beijing - Gongti Area

Beijing - Gongti Area
Gwen lifting at second training location in Beijing near Workers Stadium, Gongti

Sylvia, Bulgarian Junior lifter, wearing Botev shoes

Sylvia, Bulgarian Junior lifter, wearing Botev shoes
Schoolage Champ, one of Stoichov's newer lifters. Sylvia also trains in Botev shoes. Her pair is also several years old and has lasted over 18K reps per year!

Romania - Training Center in Bucharest

Romania - Training Center in Bucharest
Me trining with Romanian lifters in Bucharest. Former USAW National Coach, Dragomir Ciroslan, had once lifted in this gym.

Wrestling World Champion (Greco) Nikolay Gergov working out in Slavia (BG), me in background

Wrestling World Champion (Greco) Nikolay Gergov working out in Slavia (BG), me in background
Nikolay Gergov is a Bulgarian Wrestling World Champion - Greco Roman 66kg category. Nikolai is already naemd to the 2008 Bulgarian Olympic Team. He is also competing at a meet at the Colorado Springs US OTC later this month (FEB 08). Anyhow, Nikolai just stops by for a workout in Slavia. He saw Ivan and I working out and asked Ivan for some technique coaching.

Gwen with Chinese coach of junior team at Chaoyang Ti Yu Chang (Beijing)

Gwen with Chinese coach of junior team at Chaoyang Ti Yu Chang (Beijing)
The coach pictured with me had won a gold medal in the snatch lifting against Karolina Lundhal (world champion) at the 1998 Worlds in Finland in 75Kg class.

Lifters in Bucharest

Lifters in Bucharest

Ivan with Coach Chiu, gongti area Beijing

Ivan with Coach Chiu, gongti area Beijing
After discussion of Chinese pull technique. Chiu is a former Junior World Champion.

Good Leather Smells good

Good Leather Smells good
Really, this was a Candid photo..."wow, this smells good", says Little Gwen

Ivan Lifting in China - 2006

Ivan Lifting in China - 2006
Chinese training center, Chao Yang Ti Yu Chang in Beijing, a JR team pictured in background

Choayang Ti Yu Chang - Ivan with chinese junior lifters

Choayang Ti Yu Chang - Ivan with chinese junior lifters

Abigail Guererro, Almerimar, Spain 2004

Abigail Guererro, Almerimar, Spain 2004
In forefront, Abigail , who has been on the Spanish National Team, with teammates in background.

Me with Blessed Udoh, in Spain (DEC 2004)

Me with Blessed Udoh, in Spain (DEC 2004)
Blessed won the silver medal in 48kg at the 2001 World Championships representing Nigeria. She also trained in Bulgaria for the 2004 Olympics. Sadly to report that she died in Nigeria, last year.

Gwen lifting at Chaoyang Ti Yu Chang - Beijing,

Gwen lifting at  Chaoyang Ti Yu Chang - Beijing,
In Beijing, Chinese Juniors in background. Great kids, good sense of humor, listened to their formal coaches

Spain- Ivan and Miguel Borrazas

Spain- Ivan and Miguel Borrazas
Our good friend Miguel has coached Spain's national team.

Training Bogota

Training Bogota

Ivan with Coach Ediberto Barbosa, fmr Col natl team

Ivan with Coach Ediberto Barbosa, fmr  Col natl team

Mock Competition in Bogota

Mock Competition in Bogota
Gwen out snatches the challenger

Rick Bucinell, breaking master world record in Risto's!

Rick Bucinell, breaking master world record in Risto's!

Ivan arm wrestling Peschalov

Ivan arm wrestling Peschalov
My husband "attempting" to arm wrestle Peschalov with his good arm. Ivan remarked "Wow, he's strong..he was really trying to arm wrestle me" ..no kidding ....ha ha ha

Belts, singlets, knee and wrist wraps. Custom styles available

Little Gwen doing workout with new lifters

Little Gwen doing workout with new lifters

Team USA with Risto donated gear at 2010 University World Championships

Team USA with Risto donated gear at 2010 University World Championships
Me lifting for Team USA. We won 15 medals, Ivan was Assistant Coach to Team USA. Risto Sports donated gear such as USA polos and t-shirts. Got to represent our country well!

Risto Sports,Order at:

http://www.ristosports.com/
info@ristosports.com

(207) 319-7607

Training, shoes, singlets, knee wraps, belts, straps
Eliot, ME

Tanya Morillas - 2004 in Spain

Tanya Morillas - 2004 in Spain
Training session at Almerimar. Subsequently, Tanya has been on Spanish national teams.

Dare Alabi , 77kg lifter (Nigeria)

Dare Alabi , 77kg lifter (Nigeria)
Nigerian lifter, Dare, lifting in Spain

warming up power cleans

warming up power cleans