Olympic Weightlifting Boom Brings Back Maui’s Patao

June 5, 2014, 2:07 PM HST · Updated June 6, 2:56 PM
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Former two-time Olympian Vernon Patao is back in the gym as a coach. Photo by Rodney S. Yap.

Former two-time Olympian Vernon Patao is back in the gym as a coach. Photo by Rodney S. Yap.

By Rodney S. Yap

The sport of Olympic Weightlifting is making a comeback, thanks in part to CrossFit, and the new college opportunities athletes here are enjoying.

“I give the credit to CrossFit. Because of CrossFit there’s been a big boom in Olympic lifting,” said Maui’s two-time Olympian Vernon Patao. “So I’ve seen a lot of these weekend coaches and certified people teaching Olympic lifting and I’ve seen a lot of people get hurt.”

For Patao, a veteran fireman of 20 years and scratch golfer, returning to the sport that took him to Barcelona in 1992 and Atlanta in 1996, was a matter of timing.

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“People were asking me to comeback and coach, and the timing is perfect for me now that all my kids are out of school and out of the house, so this is a perfect time for me to do this.”

St. Anthony High School graduate Joseph Kauhaahaa will be attending LSU in Shreveport on a weightlifting scholarship in the fall. Photo by Rodney S. Yap.

St. Anthony High School graduate (2014) Joseph Kauhaahaa will be attending LSU in Shreveport on a weightlifting scholarship in the fall. Photo by Rodney S. Yap.

Four months ago Patao Strength & Conditioning officially opened inside CrossFit Maui Kahului and Vernon was back snatching the bar, doing clean and jerks, for the first time in almost 18 years.

“This is something that has been around a long time and now there’s a resurgence in the sport.

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“I don’t know,” he laughed, when asked about his muscle memory. “I cleaned 300 pounds about a month ago. But I’ve stayed in shape the whole time I wasn’t lifting, doing tennis, surfing, golfing and what not. I learned good fundamentals early on that has kept me injury free. If you learn the proper mechanics early on and you do it right you can stay healthy for a long time.”

Joseph Kauhaahaa rubs chalk on his hands for grip before attempting a power clean. Photo by Rodney S. Yap.

Joseph Kauhaahaa rubs chalk on his hands for grip before attempting a power clean. Photo by Rodney S. Yap.

Patao was introduced to Olympic lifting as a youth in Dr. Nelson Yogi’s Kahului garage. It was there that many of Maui’s most acclaimed weightlifters — like five-time national champion Brian Okada and heavyweight Keku Akana — trained for hours on end.

Twenty-five lifters, including seven females, competed in the recent Doc Yogi Memorial meet, April 26. CrossFit Maui (Danny Crowell), Raw Fitness Maui (Bumper Kikuchi), Upcountry Barbell (Frank Tam) and Queen Emma Athletic Club (Okada and Lawrence Kauhaahaa) partnered in the sanctioned USAW Weightlifting Meet.

Among the competitors were Joseph Kauhaahaa, who graduated from St. Anthony High School last week, and Maui Interscholastic League Defensive Player of the Year Connor Mowat of Lahainaluna.

“I want to share Olympic lifting because it’s a big part of sports programs all across the nation. Even just the power clean, they use it in every single sport now. So if I can teach that to high school kids, that’s my priority, they don’t have to become Olympic competitors.

“My goal is to promote fitness and good health, that’s the priority with this weightlifting club. And if there are one or two national qualifiers and contenders, that’s a bonus. There are a lot of local athletes who are talented, they just need direction and support.”

Not to mention the benefits of a coach with Patao’s stellar resume, including his resources and contacts from having participated in 59 official USA sanctioned competitions over a 10-year span (1987-1997).

“Fortunately I’ve made a lot of good friends here and there,” Patao said. “Joey (Joseph Kauhaahaa) and Brandon Jones of Kihei have earned full-ride scholarships for weightlifting. This is a new thing and now kids are getting the opportunity to enjoy a free education doing something they do all the time — just train.

Lahainaluna's Connor Mowat at the Doc Yogi Memorial Meet in April. Photo by Vernon Patao.

Lahainaluna’s Connor Mowat at the Doc Yogi Memorial Meet in April. Photo by Vernon Patao.

“So if you are not playing any sports, but you’re working out, this is now another avenue to pay for an education. And you don’t have to be the best person in America to get a scholarship, you can be that up-and-coming beginner that shows potential and you can get a full ride.

Kauhaahaa, who is close to qualifying for nationals and has been competing for four years, received three scholarship offers before choosing LSU in Shreveport. Jones attends LSU as well.

“I know weightlifting and I know strength and conditioning … weightlifting is just a small part of what CrossFit is trying to promote. They use a lot of the elements and evolutions in their training. CrossFit has brought so many people to the gym it is unreal, and it’s a positive thing. There are more people working out now and way more people fit. So my job now is to continue to promote general fitness, making sure people are doing it safe and proper. You can achieve a lot doing just those two lifts — the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk.”

Hailee Namauu competes at the Doc Yogi Memorial Meet in April. She was now of seven female lifters competing. Photo by Vernon Patao.

Hailey Namauu competes at the Doc Yogi Memorial Meet in April. She was now of seven female lifters competing. Photo by Vernon Patao.

Lindenwood, East Tennessee State, and Northern Michigan are just some of the schools offering scholarship monies for male and female athletes with potential or skills to compete in the sport.

“There are a lot of kids who I’ve seen who can be really good at this,” Patao noted.

In addition, Patao said there “are more certified coaches now, on paper, than ever before. There is a record number of certified coaches and there has been a minimal amount of national qualifiers and a minimal amount of American records.

“We should be focusing on the basic fundamentals and teaching what is right, because there are too many coaches now who I’ve seen try to preach what they’ve learned from a class instead of gaining experience because they are too caught up in trying to promote what they do.

CrossFit Maui owner Danny Crowell is pleased that Patao decided to return to the gym as a coach.

“We wanted to start a weightlifting club and we wanted Vernon to be our guy,” Crowell said. “CrossFit is about non-specializing, but to be really good at everything you need to specialize in all the things you’re non-specializing in.

“I think CrossFit has revived the sport. I think there are a lot of CrossFit people who are finding that they are good at Olympic lifting and so they are gravitating towards that. For us it is good because we learn better technique and they are using it in CrossFit and getting fitter.”

 Glassman

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