Bringing strength to Vegas

Published 9:33 am Friday, July 8, 2011

Kavelle Martin trains during a Suffolk Special Olympics powerlifting practice Saturday at the Zuni Presbyterian Homes. It was the last practice before Martin, T.J. Woolfork and Daryl Taylor go to Las Vegas to compete in the AAU Powerlifting Nationals Friday-Sunday. The AAU Nationals is an open meet, not a Special Olympics meet. -- ANDREW GIERMAK | SUFFOLK NEWS-HERALD


ZUNI—The Suffolk Special Olympics powerlifting team is going to Las Vegas this weekend and the team’s lifters Daryl Taylor, Kavelle Martin and T.J. Woolfork, will prove they can compete against any athlete.

The trio, all three of whom live and practice on Saturday mornings at the Zuni Presbyterian Homes, are going to the 2011 AAU Powerlifting Nationals at the Tropicana Hotel on the Vegas strip.

Saturday morning was the last tune-up before the meet. Head coach Rob Kelly was equally optimistic and frustrated with his charges.

“Is this the last practice before Vegas?” asked Martin between sets of dead lifts.

“Yes,” Kelly said, “and you need to concentrate. You’re not concentrating, are you?”

“No. I’m not,” Martin said.

“Well, come on then. You need to,” Kelly said.

Shortly after practice, Kelly was done being tough but not done being competitive.

“They will rise to the occasion at the meet. They always do. Each of them will lift 30 or 40 more pounds than they did in the last practice on the day of the meet. It’s great seeing them when they get psyched up,” Kelly said.

The AAU Nationals are an open meet. There are different divisions and a disabled division, so Kelly will decide where each lifter best fits once they get to Las Vegas, but this isn’t a Special Olympics event.

Taylor’s been a bowling, golf and powerlifting athlete for seven years with Kelly.

“Rob’s a good coach. He doesn’t let anything happen to us because he doesn’t let us get hurt. He’s always telling us he knows we can do it,” Taylor said.

“I never give up because I always like to do this and everything about it is fun,” Taylor said.

Taylor has cerebral palsy and a hip displacement.

“So when he’s lifting, it’s really more of a balance issue than the weight he’s lifting,” Kelly said. “Most of the time, especially in the dead lift, he’s hurting every time he lifts. He grunts through it, keeps going and lifts it.”

Taylor’s best dead lifted 85 pounds during practice Saturday, his personal record, and he’s aiming to hit 100 in the bench.

Woolfork’s best lifts are 260 pounds in the dead lift. That mark came in winning gold at a state championship. He’s lifted 225 in the squat and 135 in the bench.

In part because of powerlifting meets, Woolfork’s been to Disney in Orlando, Busch Gardens and Kings Dominion, which brings up another passion: roller coasters, the badder, the better.

Martin won four gold medals overall at states in Richmond in June, one in each lift and another for the overall first-place in the squat. Her best marks are 200 in the dead lift, 80 in the bench and 60 in the squat.

Martin began working at Chesapeake Services Systems in Portsmouth in January 2008 and began powerlifting at the same time. She played volleyball and bowling before going into powerlifting and she still plays golf each summer and fall.

“This (powerlifting) is the first thing in Special Olympics I’m excellently good at and I love it because I believe in perfection,” Martin said.

Residents at the Zuni Presbyterian Homes have full-time jobs. They live with roommates in houses or apartments and must pay rent. Kelly describes the homes as “assisted independent living.”

Taylor is a Pittsburgh native. He moved with his parents to Southeastern Virginia and when his dad was moving back to Pittsburgh, he decided to stay here.

“I’d miss all the people here and I like everybody down here,” Taylor said.

Martin gets encouragement from her teammates and coaches, but also from friends at the homes and from opponents at meets.

“One thing I really like is when we meet different teams and we’re lifting, they never say, ‘I can lift better than you’ or anything like that. They’re always nice about it and nice to us,” Martin said.

“My sisters in Christ, they really aren’t my sisters, they’re my best friends, Amy and Jennifer, we do all sorts of things on the weekends…” Martin said. “They want me to buy them something in Vegas.”

Kelly’s taken his team all over Virginia, to Florida, Myrtle Beach and more in the last few years. A meet in Florida is on the schedule for the fall.

At the mention of Orlando, as clear and as excited as if he just stepped off the ride and is going to run around and get in line again, Woolfork starts on every detail of the Drop Tower at King’s Dominion, the Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens and Space Mountain in Orlando.

For the next set of dead lifting 200-plus pounds a minute later, Woolfork was focused and ready to go.