By Barbara Allen, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Sam Belinsky had just returned from his trip to New Jersey, where he participated in the powerlifting competition at the 2014 Special Olympics Summer Games. The 20-year-old Shrewsbury resident was tired but triumphant. He had come in second place in his weight class and had been awarded four silver medals, one for each lift: squat, bench, deadlift, and one for overall accumulated weight.
“Those medals were pretty heavy on my neck,” Belinsky said, with a laugh. And Belinsky certainly knows about heavy: he lifted 424.4 pounds in the squat competition, a new personal record for the young athlete. He was hoping to also break a personal record in the deadlift competition but didn’t quite make it.
“He attempted 512 [pounds],” explained Special Olympics Coach Nick DiAntonio. “But he didn’t “lock out” [locking knees when standing up fully] so he didn’t get [credit for] the 512.”
Officials determined that his second attempt, at 463 pounds, would be the one that went on record for the lift.
Still, DiAntonio is pleased with Belinsky's performance.
“It was an incredible day,” he said, referring the day of the competition, June 20. “He lifted unbelievable.”
DiAntonio has been working and training with Belinsky since December, but stated that Belinsky is responsible for his own success.
“Most of what he does, 95 percent of it, is due to him,” he asserted. “I was just the icing on the cake.” Belinsky, he said, is self-motivated and has been training on his own at the YMCA, where he works part-time.
Ronn Moody agrees. He and his wife, Holly, are Belinsky's local coaches; they have been working with Sam since he was 16.
“He's very driven,” Moody said. “He's a good competitor, gives 110 percent into competition.”
The Moodys became involved with powerlifting in 2008, when their own son expressed interest in the sport. When they were unable to find a program for him, the couple decided to take matters into their own hands and became coaches themselves. They attended a training program taught by George Toma. Toma runs the powerlifting event at the Special Olympic Summer Games, and is, according to Moody, passionate about the sport.
“We were shown proper form, reviewed the Special Olympics” training guide and were given a test to confirm our comprehension,” recalled Moody. “My wife is very strict about training regimen and proper form.”
The couple did additional reading and research on the sport to round out their knowledge and expertise.
The Moodys found that they enjoyed coaching and continued with it, even after their son eventually lost interest in the sport. When they first met Belinsky in 2010, Sam had been weightlifting on his own, with his focus mostly on the chest press. He had started working out to get in better shape.
“I used to be overweight,” Belinsky said, mentioning, in particular, his middle school years. He began powerlifting as a sophomore in high school; the Moodys helped him learn to work with his legs, to improve his squat and deadlift. They reinforced form and safety.
“He has never been injured,” Moody said. “He's been receptive to guidance and rules.”
“I’m strict with myself about powerlifting form,” agreed Belinsky. “I’m always worried [for example] about how deep I squat.”
Over the years, Belinsky has competed in national and international powerlifting events, in which he has placed between first and fourth place. Through past Summer Games, he has formed a connection with other powerlifters at Northeastern University and has worked with them on diet, form, flexibility and safe lifting. He holds the state record for powerlifting for his age and weight class.
The Moodys have worked with Belinsky less this year than in previous years.
“It's getting to the point where the weights that he is lifting are beyond our capabilities,” Moody noted. “The biggest issue with lifts is that they require spotting. At the weight he is lifting, my wife and I can’t do that anymore; it's a safety issue. We want somebody who can take him to the next level.”
Belinsky is currently studying for a career in fitness leadership and exercise science at Mount Wachusett Community College, works at the YMCA in the Wellness Center, and hopes to be certified as a personal trainer by September. But despite his busy schedule, he plans to continue with the sport.
“I’ll stick with it,” he said. “I’m good at what I do… I’ve been doing it for four years now.”
He still looks forward to training and competing.
“After each meet, I always ask: “When is the next one?””