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Monday, September 5, 2016

Of Weightlifters Passed- the persistence of memory

Is it normal that a bunch of your weightlifting friends and acquaintances will die in their early 30s? And is it normal not to fully know why?

I just found out former weightlifter and dear friend of mine Amanda Wilson just passed away. 

To understand my disbelief, we have to talk about USAW’s Junior Squad. 

Back in the late 90’s, there was this thing called Junior Squad.  Every year, the best junior lifters in the country were sent all expenses paid to the United States Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs, Colorado for a 2 week training camp.  There was a boy’s camp and a girl’s camp held at separate times.  Under the guidance of the now famous Coach Burgener , or “Coach B”, the girls camp trained. This was also in the era when Lynn Jones, Dragomir Ciroslan, and Bob Morris coached at the OTC. Every other year, we were given a new USA warm-up suit with “National Junior Team” printed on the front of it and “USA” printed on the back of it.

I made every team from the first ever full team in 1997, until 2000. By 2001, I was at Georgia Tech studying my ass off and not bothering to compete at Junior nationals. 
 
Several of those junior squads, I met or even formed relationships with a number of lifters who would impact me forever.  Several of them would die before the age of 35, several of unclear causes. Lifters from this late 90s era with whom I crossed paths that befell this strange fate of an early death included: Corey Wilkes, Robert Murphy, Andrew Garcy, Anthony Martin, and, now , Amanda Wilson.

My dear friend Amanda Wilson is the latest to have passed on. Though we had communicated for years, even recently, the last time I had saw her was at the 2008 US Olympic Trials held at GA Tech in Atlanta. She was no longer competing and came to see her friends, including myself, compete.
Interestingly, also in 2008, was the last time I would see my friend Andy Garcy.  I competed at a final World University qualifier at the US OTC in late 2008.  At the time, he had coached a youth lifter female who was practically cleaning double bodyweight (almost 60kg weighing almost 30 something kg, if I recall??). Yes, I think he would have went one to be a great coach.

It is funny how memory works.  Recently, I made a new friend that bared only the very slightest resemblance to my friend Andy Garcy, maybe he conjured only the slightest of analogous feelings.  Days later, suddenly, I could remember in detail the face of Andy, strangely associated with my new friend.  A month ago, I wouldn’t’ have been able to do so.  And, now, just days later, my friend Amanda passes.

As memory seems to be more of a network , a web of slightly related topics linked together- something hardly linear-- I might as well discuss my two unrelated friends in a related way, in the way that I associate with them in my mind.

The first time I really got to know Amanda was at the 1998 Junior Squad. It was my second JR squad, so the OTC didn’t quite contain the same magic it first had.  We got along pretty well.  We liked opposing baseball teams. We eventually went to opposing colleges. We would make jokes about eachother’s states.  She liked preppy cloths; I ‘m more rock and roll, and, nowadays, I often enjoy wearing Ralph Lauren to be ironic and live out a New England fantasy.  But, you know what, she was always someone that I could go and talk to. Like if you’re in a crowd of people, and you’re not sure to hang out with, or who to talk to, Amanda was always a person I could hang with. Like that person that’s there for you and won’t leave you out there alone. A person that will always be your friend and not treat you like a passing fad.  She wasn’t one of those annoying fake nice people, or fake-caring people; she was authentic.  

She was a very talented lifter.  When I was at GA Tech, I went to watch her at a weightlifting competition that CJ Stockel had put on in college park Atlanta. She did something like 160kg or 165kg total that would have put her on the junior world team (I was sad to see that she didn’t do quite as a well a few weeks later at Junior nationals).  Amanda could really lift well when she was on, and she was pretty damn strong too.   She was lifting for Coffee’s Gym.  I always looked-up to the strong women of Coffee’s Gym; probably why, I would at one point compete for Coffee’s Gym (she actually encouraged it years before I did).  I would see her at multiple Junior Squads as well as multiple times in Georgia by virtue of going to GA Tech and here living a couple hours away. By the way, don’t get your hopes up my Ramblin’ wrecks—she was a UGA fan (her only flaw ?;).

Andy was also a good person. He was a talented weightlifter, and he just so happened to be gorgeous. Seriously, I can substantiate the gorgeous claim with fact: once Rolling Stone did an article on athletes that trained at the OTC, and, guess what, Andy happened to be one of the few athletes profiled. At the time, every month a Rolling Stone magazine came to my house, and , holy shit, one day, I opened-up Rolling Stone to see Andy staring back at me!  

He became my friend when I went to Junior Squad, as he was a resident athlete at the OTC. The first Junior squad I ever went to was the inaugural full girls team junior squad in 1997. Going to the OTC for the first time was like magic!  Wow, I got to lift where Wes Barnett and Pete Kelley and Tim McRae lifted. I got to hang out with some of the resident athletes- wow, could they be the next Olympians too?!

This was before I realized that not everyone who lives at the OTC ever becomes an Olympic athlete or even an Olympic medalist for that matter. That was before I realized that there were many much more mythical weightlifting places in the world. Either way, I really looked-up to every weightlifter who lived there. For a brief, moment in USAW history, they were like the weightlifting chosen ones in America…yeah, that didn’t last long. It seems this way when you are an adolescent, but as you become wise to world, you learn, once again, that they are just human and other mythical human creatures exist outside the walls of the OTC.  Even Peschalov once told me that he was “only human”, and he was one of the greatest Olympic champions of the 1990’s/2000’s.

Regardless, Andy was my friend.  He was always nice and respectful to me, and I don’t think he ever got enough credit for how much of a good person he was.  Again, much like Amanda, he was an authentic person.  I watched my first ever Adam Sandler movie with Andy and my friend Catherine at the OTC—this was when Adam Sandler movies were still a thing.  I will forever remember the feelings of watching “Happy Gilmore” for the first time with them; it was one of Adam Sandler’s masterpieces, even better than “Billy Madison”.  Ironically, Amanda and I did see and Adam Sandler movie together with the Jr squad kids: “Big Daddy”.    Andy was also the reason I had met Blaine Wilson, a quasi-famous American gymnast who recounted stories to Andy in the cafeteria as I listened on.  The following year I casually knodded to Blaine as Amanda introduced herself, noting that they shared a last name though they were unlikely related (she really wanted to meet him). Anyhow, like Amanda, I would also see Andy at another subsequent junior squad and national competitions. Then it would be several years till I would see him a few last times in 2008. 


As I reflect on my weightlifting friends, it is probably why I don’t write much about American weightlifters, because its too personal. I don’t like to write about my close friends, nor really the OTC. Perhaps, because, the mystique I once had for places like the OTC had long left my soul like a mist evaporating in the morning sunlight.  To me, the OTC had become just another place devoid of that magical realism type qualities you only find in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez book. Maybe the OTC was special for a tiny speck of time when just the right combination of people were there.

4 comments:

memoirs of an olympic style weightlifter said...

That's sad. I'm sorry for your loss.

Gwen Sisto said...

thanks man

Hawkpeter said...

Thank you for sharing that story.

fahiamalam said...


Continuing to lift weights after release could lead to use of illegal steroids and association with those who sell them and other illegal drugs.
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