Gold medals and so much more

Published 10:50 pm Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Suffolk Special Olympics powerlifting team of T.J. Woolfork, Kavelle Martin and Daryl Taylor returned to Zuni Tuesday afternoon with gold medals across the board from Las Vegas and the 2011 AAU Powerlifting Nationals.

Head coach Rob Kelly said each of the three team members won first-place trophies during the national meet, a meet that was an open event, rather than a Special Olympics competition.

I don’t think there are any superstar athletes in the sport of powerlifting. As far as I’ve ever heard, there aren’t any pro powerlifters, at least in this country, and if so, they certainly aren’t making big bucks and in commercials.

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Just considering the nature of the sport and the discipline it demands, Woolfork, Martin and Taylor probably joined a few other powerlifters in Vegas last weekend as examples of humility and perspective.

I imagine the only fancy or showy part of a powerlifting competition is if it happens to be held in a hotel on the Vegas strip, where this one happened to be, or in Orlando, where Kelly and his team are likely going for the AAU World Championships in the fall.

Here’s something that sets the Suffolk team apart completely. It’s doubtful that any another neighborhood the size of Zuni Presbyterian Homes can boast three gold medalists from the AAU Nationals.

“They will rise to the occasion at the meet,” Kelly said during a practice the weekend before they headed out for Nationals. “They always do. Each of them will lift 30 or 40 more pounds than they did in the last practice on the day of the meet. It’s great seeing them when they get psyched up.”

Two remarkable traits during practice were even more impressive than the amount of iron being lifted.

First, the honesty — really all the way around, but especially between coach and players — was striking.

Not that 99 percent youth or high school athletes are jaded celeb-pros or anything close to it, but even there, when a coach grills a player, there’s usually a hint of attitude or excuse before following the order.

When Kelly questioned Martin, intensely yet calmly, about where her mind was before a lift, her answer was so honest it seemed out of place.

“No, I’m not (concentrating).” Martin said.

But what motivated these athletes was clearly not the competition they were headed to in Las Vegas, and that was the second remarkable thing that became clear while visiting that recent practice.

For these athletes, at least, the real motivation, whether in Las Vegas, in Suffolk or anywhere else, comes from a simple desire to do their best.

Still, bringing home the gold is an excellent prize, too.