Celebrating The Hispanic And Latinx Americans Who Helped Shape Weightlifting
by USA Weightlifting
National Hispanic American Heritage Month has been observed in the United States every Sept. 15-Oct. 15 for the past 33 years.
From local clubs to the executive level, Hispanic and Latinx Americans have played vital roles in shaping weightlifting in the United States for decades. In fact, USA Weightlifting was recently accepted into the Ibero-American Weightlifting Federation due to the large Spanish-speaking population across the country.
While the national governing body strives to create a welcoming, inclusive community and celebrate the diverse faces that make up this great sport on a daily basis, USA Weightlifting is especially proud this month to recognize the many men and women of Hispanic and Latinx origin - some of whom are below - that have helped the organization become what it is today.
Paula Aranda, USA Weightlifting Chair and IWF Commission Member
Paula Aranda developed a career as a national-level athlete before building a successful career in the technology industry at giants Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook. She has used both to lend her expertise to the USA Weightlifting Board of Directors. She was elected chair in 2020.
Now well-known internationally, Aranda became a member of the IWF Development Commission in 2017.
Danny Camargo, Senior International Coach
Florida-born-and-bred Camargo took up weightlifting at the young age of 12. He progressed through the FHSAA High School weightlifting system and was eventually invited to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to reside at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, where his training landed him on the junior world championships team.
At 21 years old, Camargo left the platform and that’s when he began building a stellar reputation as one of the leading coaches in the nation. Along the way, Camargo has served in head coaching roles at almost every international level including the IWF World Championships.
Victor Gallego, Senior International Coach
A USA Weightlifting senior international coach at Team Soul Miami, Victor Gallego is responsible for coaching athletes at the highest levels of the sport. Gallego has coached teams at international competitions (including the women's squad at the 2013 World Championships) and coached at USA Weightlifting camps for many years.
Gallego also contributes to the sport as a technical official. Holding the title of national referee, he has served the sport as a technical official at many USA Weightlifting national events.
Steve Galvan, Athlete, Coach and Photographer
A fixture at International Weightlifting Federation competitions, Steve Galvan has served the sport as an athlete, coach and photographer. Responsible for capturing iconic moments of the sport as the IWF's official photographer, one of Galvan's most recent international competitions, the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, saw him photograph Kate Nye and Sarah Robles' medal-winning performances and the snatch world record set by Georgia's Lasha Talakhadze.
Away from the camera, Galvan comes from a track and field background. After competing for Texas A&M, he transitioned to weightlifting once he found the sport through CrossFit in 2007. He started his own gym in his garage, before moving to a permanent facility where he has successfully coached dozens of athletes.
Galvan served as the IWF's official photographer at both the Rio and Tokyo Olympic Games.
Ursula Garza Papandrea, Past IWF Acting President
Five-time world championship team member Ursula Garza Papandrea began her career in Texas, where powerlifting was the major strength sport. She worked her way to weightlifting at a critical time in the sport, making her national debut in 1987.
Papandrea went on to win the national championship twice while playing a part in the storied Coffee’s Gym dynasty of 20 team championships. She set the American record clean and jerk and represented the U.S. at Worlds from 1992-1996. Retiring before the inclusion of women's weightlifting in the Olympic Games, it is perhaps as a coach where Papandrea really cemented her status.
The only female to achieve the rank of senior international coach, Papandrea has coached athletes to represent Team USA at nearly every level possible. She also coached a team of athletes to the national men’s team championship in 2014, the only female to do so in history.
Papandrea joined the USA Weightlifting Board of Directors in 2009, becoming the organization's first female chairperson in 2016. She resigned in 2020 to become acting president of the International Weightlifting Federation, a role she held from January through October. She was elected the first female VP of the IWF in 2016.
Cristina Gomez, Athlete and Technical Official
Introduced to weightlifting in 2013 through CrossFit, Cristina Gomez went on to compete in the sport and is now a renowned Category 2 technical official, certified coach and upcoming team leader.
Gomez is the 2018 masters national and world champion in women's 35 48kg. She is also a multi-time masters Pan American champion, and has qualified to and competed at national championships and the American Open Finals.
As a method to better understand and get involved in the sport, she was volunteering at local meets in various roles, one of which was a referee. Gomez has served as a Local Weightlifting Club referee since 2014, and in 2021 became an IWF Category 2 technical official.
She has served as a technical official at over 20 national events as well as several international events. In addition, she holds the USAW Level 1 and 2 Coaching certifications.
Leo Hernandez, World Team Member
Originally from Cuba, Hernandez later settled in the Miami area. Hernandez never competed for his native Cuba but instead gained U.S. citizenship as a naturalized citizen in 2015.
Hernandez would be part of a competitive 77kg category during the lead-up to the 2016 Olympic Games, vying for spots on Team USA with the likes of Travis Cooper, James Tatum and Angelo Bianco.
Hernandez successfully represented the U.S. at the 2015 IWF World Championships in Houston and the 2015 IWF Grand Prix in Fuzhou, China.
Mario Martinez, Three-Time Olympian and Olympic Silver Medalist
The late Mario Martinez is still the most recent U.S. Olympic men's medalist in the sport, 33 years after winning the super-heavyweight silver medal at the Olympic Games Los Angeles 1984.
Northern California born and raised, Martinez competed in weightlifting for over 20 years. During his decorated career, he held the American records between 1982 and 1992 and won the national championship nine times. He would go on to win the Pan American Games in 1987, once again on home soil, and medal at the 1991 and 1995 Pan American Games.
Martinez qualified for the Olympic Games in 1984, 1988 and 1992 but it was at his Olympic debut in his own backyard in Los Angeles that he would experience his greatest success of standing on the medal podium.
Martinez was inducted into the USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame in 2001. He died in 2018.
Pedro Meloni, USA Weightlifting Director of Events & Sponsorship
A native of Martinho Campos, Brazil, Pedro Meloni's connecting to weightlifting began in 2007 when he helped open the national weightlifting training center at Universidade Federal de Viçosawhen.
With his home country selected to host the Olympic Games Rio 2016, Meloni was hired by the Olympic and Paralympic organizing committee in 2011, and he served as the sport manager for Olympic weightlifting and Paralympic powerlifting for nearly five years. He established a widely-known reputation of hard work and efficiency in the weightlifting world through that role, proving he is capable of putting on successful events at the highest level.
Now a resident of Colorado Springs, Meloni relocated to the United States when he was hired as USA Weightlifting's senior manager of events in 2017 - later promoted the following year to director of events and sponsorship - and is the face behind the logistics of the national championships, North American Open Series and other events.
Meloni has also served as a university professor - teaching sports training and Olympic topics - and as events manager for the International Olympic Committee's Boxing Task Force.
Rizelyz Rivera, World Team Member and American Record Holder
Originally from Puerto Rico, Rivera represented her native country until 2008, appearing at the Pan American championships and junior world championships. Rivera is the niece of two-time Puerto Rican Olympian Julio Martinez.
After moving to New Jersey in 2009, Rivera began to represent the U.S. She went on to set an American record, and compete in both the world championships and Pan American championships.
Sarah Robles, World Champion and Two-Time Olympic Medalist
Sarah Robles started her sporting career as a thrower before being introduced to Olympic lifts by Rich McClure in Desert Hot Springs, California. Robles would go on to receive scholarships at the University of Alabama and University of Arizona for throwing.
However, Robles quickly realized that her supreme talent was in weightlifting. She has so far made three Olympic teams - tied for the most among American women - and is not done yet.
She started a historic stretch of success at the Rio 2016 Games, her second Olympic appearance, where she ended a 16-year medal drought by earning the bronze medal in the +75kg category.
In 2017 she became a world champion, the first for the U.S. in 23 years. In September of 2018, she finally surpassed the 13-year-old clean and jerk American record held by three-time Olympian Cheryl Haworth.
At the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 - held in 2021 - Robles once again took the Olympic bronze medal, this time at +87kg, and became the first U.S. woman to win two Olympic weightlifting medals. She tied Haworth's 2003 American record in the snatch.
Christian Rodriguez Ocasio, World Team Member
A native of Puerto Rico, Christian Rodriguez Ocasio - or "Chevy," as he is known in weightlifting circles - quickly rose the ranks when he began lifting full time with Team USA. He has represented the U.S. at the 2020 Rescheduled Pan American Championships, 2019 Lima Grand Prix CSLP Cup, 2019 World Championships, 2019 Pan American Games, 2019 Pan American Championships, 2019 Las Vegas International Open, 2018 FISU World University Championships and the 2017 Universiade.
Ocasio lifts with California Strength and holds a USA Weightlifting Level 2 Coaching Certification.
Suzy Sanchez, USA Weightlifting Director of Culture, Community & Outreach
Suzy Sanchez started her strength sport career as a high school powerlifter in Texas before being spotted by Louisiana State University Shreveport coach Dr. Kyle Pierce.
Spending time under both Dr. Pierce and coach Zygmunt Smalcerz at LSUS and the Olympic Training Center, Sanchez would go onto set American university records, medal at the national championships, World University Championships and represent the U.S. at the collegiate level on several occasions.
Sanchez’s successful career off the platform began with the Houston Harris County Sports Authority, where her duties included significant work on the 2015 IWF World Championships. She joined the USA Weightlifting staff full-time in 2017, in time to work on the 2017 IWF World Championships in Anaheim, California. Now serving as the director of culture, community and outreach, Sanchez is tasked with identifying new weightlifting talent across the nation, growing the sport at the university level, maintaining an inclusive community and heading the communications and marketing efforts.
Tony Urrutia, Two-Time U.S. Olympian
A native Cuban, Roberto "Tony" Urrutia competed initially for his home nation. He won three world titles and represented the small nation at the 1976 Olympic Games, becoming a national hero in Cuba.
Just before the 1980 Olympic Games, Urrutia tied bed sheets together to flee some four stories from his hotel window at the Cuban team camp, eventually finding his way to Miami and becoming a U.S. citizen in 1986.
Urrutia went on to set the American record in the 82.5kg division and represent the U.S. at the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games. He won the national championship five times between 1987 and 1992.
Emmy Vargas, Pan American Games Team Member
Emmy Vargas has experienced almost every facet of USA Weightlifting.
Vargas was a national and international competitor for for more than a decade, starting out under the watch of coach Bob Takano before training in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center for several years. Vargas became a Pan American champion and Pan Am Games silver medalist in a career that saw her compete at three U.S. Olympic Team Trials, the IWF World Championships, Pan American championships and win medals of all colors at the national championships before retiring in 2008.
Since retirement, Emmy spent the maximum of eight years as the weightlifting representative to the then-U.S. Olympic Committee’s Athlete Advisory Council and representing her fellow athletes on the USA Weightlifting Board of Directors, including a period as Interim Chair, while also becoming a national coach.
While she continues to coach athletes to their goals as head coach of Barbarian Barbell in Southern California, Vargas also gives back to the weightlifting community as a national referee. She also recently served on the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency Board of Directors, representing athletes.