Two years ago, Chris Di Pietrantonio took the road less travelled and went from recreational weightlifter to Ontario junior weightlifting champion.
It was a quick progression, one that involved training 17 hours a week in the RAWC’s high performance centre with trainers Steve Sandor, Darren Turner, and former Canadian weightlifting champion George Kobaladze.
Before his transition into Olympic weightlifting, Di Pietrantonio was training as a power lifter, a popular lifting style involving lifts like the squat, bench press, and dead lift.
“It all started when Darren approached me about starting because he saw my potential from powerlifting,” says the second-year biology and chemistry major. Turner convinced Di Pietrantonio to try out Olympic weightlifting in his first year at UTM. “It was frustrating at first, but I had a drive to finish what I started and it became my new passion,” he says.
The transition from powerlifting to Olympic weightlifting is not always a smooth one. Often, according to Di Pietrantonio, those accustomed to powerlifting will be too stiff and less flexible. Luckily for him, there were no issues with his mobility and since making the transition he has been competing in Olympic-style weightlifting for the past year.
Turner and Kobaladze greatly helped Di Pietrantonio increase his confidence to get started in Olympic weightlifting, but he attributes his rapid rise in the sport to Sandor.
Sandor was UTM’s former weightlifting coach for 20 years before leaving last August. He runs the Sabaria School of Weightlifting in Mississauga, which has become the hub for Di Pietrantonio’s training, along with the RAWC.
For someone as determined as Di Pietrantonio, training has become such a big part of his life that school can no longer offer him a chance to shift his focus. He is constantly striving to outdo himself, to achieve that next goal, that school can sometimes hinder his progress.
“School is a huge stress for my recovery,” he says. “It affects my training a lot. I can’t sleep as much as I want to, eat at optimal times—it drains my energy.” But he realizes that this struggle is only temporary and is grateful for the opportunity to train in the RAWC.
One of the many things Di Pietrantonio loves about Olympic weightlifting is its dynamism. The two main lifting techniques in Olympic style are the snatch and the clean and jerk lifts, and they involve tremendous skill and a penchant for timing. The lifts are coordinated in explosive, sudden movements and held for only a few seconds before the lifter gets the down signal from judges.
But for those few seconds while the bar is suspended in the air, a thousand little things are running through the lifters’ minds to ensure that their technique and stance is correct. Did you dip your knees? Is your torso as straight as possible? Did you split your legs after diving under the bar so that they landed equidistant from each other?
These things are what Di Pietrantonio is ruminating on while he completes a lift like the split jerk, a type of clean and jerk lift. His goal is to catch and suspend the bar above his head in a matter of seconds while keeping a perfectly straight torso. There is a high margin for error and always a possibility of completing an invalid lift—a failed lift that occurs when your arms are not locked while catching the weight above your head, also known as a press-out.
The journey has not been easy for Di Pietrantonio, but if there is one thing that this experience has taught him, it is that achieving goals is not an impossible feat. “The great thing about weightlifting or powerlifting is that you can quantify your goals,” he says. “I can set a number that I would like to hit in snatch and clean and jerk by a certain date, which makes it a lot easier than setting a goal for a sport like basketball.”
He believes that weightlifting has changed his goal-setting mentality and given him a new outlook on life. His ultimate goal is to compete in the 2020 Olympics, but before he can do that, one of his short-term goals is to total 320kg by December and eventually work towards 340.
His biggest hope at the moment is to go to the world junior championships in Poland this June. He will also have the chance to qualify for a spot on the Canadian weightlifting team for the Pan Am Games in Toronto this July, based on how he performs at the Canadian Senior Weightlifting Championship, which will be held at UTM in May.
Di Pietrantonio’s unplanned journey has allowed him to leave a mark in a sport he was not initially inclined to pursue. In the short amount of time he’s been competing, his life has changed drastically. It’s given him reason to better himself and to achieve goals that two years ago were impossible.
And the journey continues. Wherever Di Pietrantonio ends up it’ll be worth it, because he took the road less travelled and it seems to be the right choice.