Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month

by USA Weightlifting

Tommy Kono (Photo by USA Weightlifting)

Tommy Kono was a 3 time Olympic medalist at the 1952, 1956, and 1960 Olympic Games. Kono was born in Sacramento, CA and was later relocated with his family to a Japanese internment camp where he was introduced to the Olympic lifts and strength training. This introduction resulted in a storied weightlifting career with 2 Olympic gold medals and 1 Olympic silver medal to highlight his numerous world and Pan-American titles. In addition to his weight lifting career Kono competed in numerous bodybuilding events and was named “Mr. Universe” in 1955, 1957, and 1961. His contributions to the sport of weight lifting include consulting with Adidas on the low cut weightlifting shoe and creating bands to protect and support knee and elbow joints. 

Vernon Patao (Photo by USA Weightlifting)
Vernon Patao represented Team USA at the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games. Additionally Patoa was a 3 time national champion, junior national champion and multiple time national team member. Patoa retired from weightlifting for 18 years and returned to coach the largest weightlifting club in Hawaii. 

Harrison Maurus (Photo by USA Weightlifting)
Harrison Maurus began lifting at age 12 after transitioning from gymnastics to weightlifting. Maurus became the first US Male lifter to secure a world championship medal in 20 years after securing the bronze medal at the 2017 world championships in Anaheim, CA. Since his historic performance Harrison became the 2019 pan american bronze medalist and has secured his spot on the 2020 Olympic team in the 81kg weight class. 

Jenny Hwa (Photo by USA Weightlifting)

Jenny Hwa (Lam) - San Francisco, CA
My journey in weightlifting began when I was 14, playing school sports (track and field, volleyball, and wrestling) and incorporating weightlifting for strength purposes. After trying Olympic Weightlifting for the first time, I immediately fell in love with the sport. When you know, you know… I knew it was for me! Since then, I have had the incredible honor of competing for Team USA in Youth Worlds, Youth Pan Ams, and Junior Worlds. These humbling experiences pushed me to reach new heights, challenging me physically, emotionally, and mentally both inside and outside of the gym.
Fast forward to today with 12 years under my belt, I am still competing at Nationals every year and coaching youth and master's athletes on our team. I have been very fortunate to be a part of a diverse team, with people who come from different backgrounds. Although weightlifting is often seen as an individual sport, I fully believe in the saying- “it takes a village to raise a child” (or athlete in this case). My goal is to continue building this community, welcoming people to our gym, and exposing weightlifting to anyone and everyone. As an athlete, I always ask myself “Why.” Why am I still in this sport? It’s simple, it is the pure passion and authentic love for it. I can’t wait for the next 12 years!
I also want to highlight my experiences in the lens of an Asian American woman in a male-dominated sport. Being raised in a traditional Chinese household, I was taught to conform to the social norms of who and what Asian women should be. Weightlifting has taught me to be resilient and strong in more than just what I do in the gym; it has allowed me to use my platform to inspire and empower others, especially young girls to know that it's ok be strong and lift heavy weights. I strive to lead by example and demonstrate that anyone can participate in weightlifting, regardless of their background.
Ben Hwa (Photo by USA Weightlifting)
Funny enough, my athletic background did not start in Olympic Weightlifting or any strength sport for that matter. My early athletic career was focused on ultramarathons and triathlons. I incorporated the Lifts to improve my resilience for those endurance events, but ended up really loving it. I'm assuming it was because it was so different from what I was doing. I never really had a weightlifting career as an athlete. I quickly realized that I was a way better coach than athlete. Luckily, I was coaching at a school that had a lot of kids who were already weightlifting. I decided to help out at one of the local meets and the rest really is history. Since then, I've coached at almost every level except for the Olympics. I'm hoping that changes in a few months. I've been getting more and more involved in international weightlifting and taking advantage of all the opportunities that come my way. Most recently, I've been able to set up a coaching relationship with the Kingdom of Tonga. It's been an incredible experience so far being the delegate for the island nation. It's been a great way for me to engage with the local AAPI community and expose more people to our program. 
Bob Takano (Photo by USA Weightlifting)

Bob Takano is one of the most recognizable names in weightlifting producing multiple national champions and american record holders. Takano was the personal coach to 1984 Olympian Albert Hoods as well as a multiple time national team coach and team leader. Outside of coaching Takano contributes to strength training research with 6 published works and 2 training manuals. 

Mira Kwon Gracia (Photo by USA Weightlifting)

Mira Kwon Gracia is the current co-owner of club director for Industrial Strength WLC in Portland, Oregon. As Oregan LWC president Mira has enacted policy changes that promote inclusive training and competition environments for its members. 

Michael Choi (Photo by USA Weightlifting)

Mike Choi is a current category 1 international referee, USA Weightlifting board member, and National team coach. In addition to his volunteer roles Choi has served as a part of the production team at the 2017 and 2019 World Championships. Mike competes in the 96kg weight class and has competed at the 2017 World Masters Games as an 85kg masters lifter. 

Vinh Huynh (Photo by USA Weightlifting)

Vinh Huynh is an international level coach and current Minnesota LWC representative. Huynh is part of Mash Elite Performance as a coach and blogger. Ninh served as the personal coach to Brian Reisenauer who competed in both the pan american and world championships. Vinh currently owns Union Weightlifting Minneapolis, CA. 

D'Angel Osorio (Photo by USA Weightlifting)

D’Angelo Osorio is a former Olympic training center resident and 102kg weightlifter. Osorio represented the US team at the  2013 Junior World championships, the 2017 and 2019 Pan American championships, and the 2018 Qatar cup. Osorio is a level 1 coach and is based in Vajello, CA. 

Alex Lee (Photo by USA Weightlifting)

Alex Lee is a former Olympic Training center resident, World team member, Pan American team member, and club owner in Chandler, AZ. Lee began competing when he was 16 years old where he was introduced to the sport through his high school football coach. Alex currently coaches and owns ALee Weightlifting, a remote and in person team. His accolades include: 9x American Record Holder, 3x World Team Member, 5x Pan Am Team Member, 2x National Champion, 2010 World University Champion and 2008 Junior World Team Member.

Ali Ludwig (Photo by USA Weightlifting)

Ali is a 90kg weightlifter who represented team USA in 2017 at the World Championships in Anaheim, CA where she helped the 2017 women’s team secure the first place title. Ludwig became the first ever 90kg national champion following the changing of the weight classes in 2017. Before transitioning into the sport of weightlifting Ludwig competed in high school volleyball and crossfit before finding success in weightlifting.  

Taylor Wilkins (Photo by USA Weightlifting)

Taylor Wilkins (Turner) is the current 59kg National record holder in the snatch, clean and jerk, and total. A former softball player, Wilkins found the sport of weightlifting in 2015 where she began working with coach Vance Newguard at Northern Michigan University. Taylor represented team USA at the 2017 Junior Pan American championships, 2017 Summer Universiade, 2018 University World Championships, and the 2020 Pan American Championships. 

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