A decade ago, a Men’s Health article caught the eyes of retired federal agent Mario Dispenza, who was, at the time, looking for something new in training. Having been active with cardio and weights all his life, he was drawn to the claim “the greatest workout known to man,” so he picked up their piece about Olympic Weightlifting. Mario found the sport to be quite captivating, and the article spurred him to find a local USAW coach. Soon he was hooked.
Olympic Weightlifting is about sport: the bar is lifted overhead in a fast, explosive movement. Body mechanics are key. Olympic Weightlifters train to become more efficient with the bar, to better harness their strength and grow their personal records (PR’s). In the sport of Olympic weightlifting, there are two lifts: the snatch and the clean and jerk. The snatch is performed with a wide grip. The bar is lifted overhead in one single motion.
The clean and jerk is performed with a narrower grip by first lifting the bar from the ground and catching it on the shoulders. From the shoulders, the bar is then driven forcefully into an overhead position.
At a time when Olympic Weightlifting was a subculture with fewer than 3,000 members, Mario enjoyed competing in the master class category. “That’s a polite way of saying old,” Mario laughs. His long-term retirement vision was coming to fruition. The plan was to practice tax law after leaving the feds. But he couldn’t help sharing Olympic Weightlifting with the people in his practice. The women were especially interested in learning.
“I find women bring the attitude of ‘I’m willing to learn. I’m a blank slate’” he said as he explained why to this day his club is 85% women, and went on to say he tends to see women being more open to taking advice than men. I believe his exact words were: “As men, we’re stupid and we know everything.” Nevertheless, the rise of Crossfit has brought awareness to Olympic Weightlifting, as Crossfitters were seeking to improve their technique in the snatch and clean and jerk.
Mario began training people for free in his garage. This grew to the point where the neighbors complained, so Mario found commercial space where his group continued to grow and grow. People started forcing him to take money. And Kelly Dorsey Law took note of Mario’s newfound passion. They supported him in decreasing his workload as he grew his business, willing to transition him out when he was ready.
The OSS Weightlifting Club formed by the end of 2014 and later became a USAW sanctioned club. In his past roles at the ATF and special council’s, there was always a component of mentorship and teaching involved. Mario had always found it very uplifting to mentor and bring in people, training them with his positive attitude and helping them achieve. And as a lawyer and CPA, he gained experience and expertise in running a business and creating legal documents of all forms, including documentation for nonprofits. This boded well for the OSS Weightlifting Club (now a 501c3) and My Olympic Fit (Mario’s LLC), as well as for local USAW clubs that need some legal help. Mario’s happy to help draw up bylaws and other documents for local weightlifting clubs that are starting up.
The OSS Weightlifting Club’s sole purpose is to help athletes. They get a mix of clients - walk-ins, people with no interest whatsoever in completing, older people who wish to compete, and talented young athletes like Candace Brown.
In college, Candace was a dual sport competitor, shining in both competitive cheerleading and track. Weight Training was part of the regimen for both. She always enjoyed competing and performing in sports events. When she graduated in 2015 she fell out of eligibility for competing in the college sports that she loved.
At her gym, her trainer introduced her to Olympic Weightlifting and Candace took to it. She liked learning to lift and wanted to try competing. It’s worth it to note that Olympic Weightlifting is not something that should be learned over the internet. It is too easy to misinterpret what someone is doing. You need to seek out an experienced Olympic Weightlifting and USAW certified coach. The best place to look is the official Olympic Weightlifting site, usaweightlifting.org.
In seeking a more experienced coach, Candace found Mario’s site. Three sessions into her five session training package with Mario she knew “This is the place I need to be. I love it here. It’s like a second family.”
Recently, at a local meet hosted by OSS, Candace set a new PR of 65 kilos (that’s 143 pounds) for the snatch and 80 kilos (176 pounds) for the clean and jerk, which is up 10 kilos (22 pounds) from when she started training with Mario back in May.
These days USAW has about 20,000 members. USAW events have been raising the qualify totals because more and more athletes are competing. “The American Open in 2015 was the largest weightlifting event anywhere, ever,” Mario comments. “We get more and more talent into the sport, the more people know about it. We took the bronze in the Olympics for the first time in 16 years. We need to get kids involved -- we want them to enjoy the sport, enjoy the activity, and if they fall in love, great.” Mario clarified that they follow the American Development Model, so as young as 6-8, kids can be taught general form with a broomstick or PVC.
Candace and Mario shared their thoughts regarding the future of Olympic Weightlifting. “I think we will see more women being involved. We are seeing people like American Mattie Rogers who is the top 69 kg women’s weight lifter in the country. Then there’s Jenny Author and Morgan King who competed in the Rio Olympics. My track girls didn’t even know I lifted. ‘You’re not huge Coach Brown,” they said. Then they said they would want to try and lift too. They like the idea of looking fit, not brolic, and I think that is a common appeal to the sport. Crossfit helped with this too. Women are pretty and fit -- not huge and brolic.”
Speaking of Crossfit, the trend that Mario sees is that there will be a separation of Crossfit and weightlifting. “But in a good way,” he explains. “There is somewhat of a rivalry between the two, and I see that stopping… and acknowledgement that these are two different things altogether, like baseball and football. So, I see a separation happening, while both continue to grow in a healthy way.”
For further information, below are important links and upcoming events: