Lifted by teamwork

By Ana Patejdl Staff Writer
Gilroy
– Earlier this month, all that training, grunting and yelling
paid off for a group of local weightlifters.
Several weightlifters who train at Gilroy’s Planet Fitness, 7560
Monterey Road, and Hollister’s Gold’s Gym,1525 Cushman Street, took
home trophies from the West Coast Open weightlifting competition in
Monterey on March 5.
By Ana Patejdl Staff Writer

Gilroy – Earlier this month, all that training, grunting and yelling paid off for a group of local weightlifters.

Several weightlifters who train at Gilroy’s Planet Fitness, 7560 Monterey Road, and Hollister’s Gold’s Gym,1525 Cushman Street, took home trophies from the West Coast Open weightlifting competition in Monterey on March 5.

It was the first competition for many of the participants, and a few Gilroy residents had strong showings.

Danny Russo, a former body builder and 1992 Mr. South County, took first in the 180-pound bench press division by benching 320. Apolonio “Polo” Jauregui took second, benching 325 in the 220-pound division. In the dead lift, 25-year-old Gavilan College student Andre Pulizzi, whom the rest of the guys call “the baby” of the group, took first place and set a state record of 462.7 in his very first meet.

The group has grown to about 20 members over the last few months, thanks to the recruitment efforts of local teacher Sam Kaanapu, from Gilroy, and Planet Fitness trainer and Hollister resident Al Totorelli.

“You can’t do it alone,” said Gary Stevens, who competed in the dead lift, lifting 507 pounds. “There’s a lot of camaraderie. You have to have other people’s help.”

Stevens said many gyms aren’t very welcoming to powerlifters because of all the equipment the sport requires, but that Planet Fitness owner Ricardo Espinoza has embraced the club and even set up a special section for them to work out and display their trophies. What has resulted is an encouraging and embracing community within the gym.

Planet Fitness powerlifters use weights which are heavier than those most fitness centers supply. They use boards, chains and rubberbands in their workouts. They need chalk for their hands, heavy-duty support belts for their backs and special shirts, similar to wetsuits, that supply extra upper body muscle support so they can lift the maximum weight.

Then there’s the grunting and yelling, which is at its loudest on Saturday mornings, the group’s “heavy” training day. “There’s usually like three guys around (each lifter), yelling and motivating,” said Pulizzi.

The ages and backgrounds of the lifters run the gamut.

Jaregui, a sanitation worker, played football at Gilroy High school in the early 1990’s, which is where he met Kaanapu, who was helping the team with its training.

“I got the bug,” Jaregui said. “And after the first meet, I got hungry. I did well and it was a great atmosphere.”

Russo said he became interested in powerlifting after he grew tired of the politics and the cut-throat nature of body building.

“I was always dieting, which was hard on my family life,” Russo said. “The kids want to eat and you can’t go out to eat.”

Russo said Kaanapu approached him at the gym about powerlifting.

“Before 1992, I’d never even touched a bench press (while doing body building training) and Sam said to me, ‘Why don’t you try a real sport,'” Russo laughed.

The powerlifters call Kaanapu and his wife Juana the “mom and dad” of the whole group. During workouts, Sam Kaanapu makes sure everyone is using the proper technique. During meets, Russo said Sam and Juana and are running around getting the equipment ready and the lifters ready for their turns.

A few months ago, the group welcomed its first female powerlifter, Gilroy resident Tina Riley, a masseuse who runs her own business in the same building as Planet Fitness.

She’ll be competing in her first meet next weekend.

“Three months ago, I could only bench 80 pounds,” Riley said.

Now, she maxes out at the 180 to 200 range.

The powerlifters’ next competition will be June 11 at the Capitol City Classic Bench Press and Dead Lift Championships in Sacramento, a qualifying event for the World Championships in Reno, Nevada.

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