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Pair of Catonsville residents share passion for weightlifting

Normally, the Olympic weightlifting workouts of Catonsville residents Mario Dispenza and Donna Liu-Young would be held out of the spotlight at Goals Baltimore on Edmondson Ave. in Catonsville at the Olympic Strength Systems (OSS), Weightlifting Club, LLC.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Goals was closed temporarily, so members had to find other training alternatives to train for the Olympic sport of weightlifting, which features two events — snatch and clean and jerk.

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Dispenza, the founder of Dispenza Weighlifting, LLC/OSS is training in his garage during the quarantine.

“Most of them (members) have some sort of setup in there homes in their basements or garages or yards,” said Dispenza, who gave up practicing law to take on weightlifting full-time.

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The national coach and International Weightlifting Federation Category 2 judge (Category 1 is the highest) started his business in 2014.

That was two years after retiring as an Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms federal agent where he worked for 25 years.

In 2012, he started practicing law, but it was weightlifting that inspired him.

“I was all in with my job as a lawyer, but my heart really wasn’t there," he said. "Weightlifting was my passion and I’m retired, I’ve got a pension, I am not really at risk by taking this on as a living, so I did.”

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That passion was re-directed when the coronavirus hit, but he has maintained his tutelage.

“I have several athletes that I am training by Skype that are not even in this area." Dispenza said.

Liu-Young, president of the club, is training on her deck.

Catonsville resident Donna Liu-Young has moved her weightlifting training to her deck during the coronavirus pandemic.
Catonsville resident Donna Liu-Young has moved her weightlifting training to her deck during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Mario Dispenza)

“Unfortunately with space limitations at our house, I can only work out on our deck,” said Liu-Young, who noted working outside has made her more popular. “It’s funny, when my neighbors see me, they cheer me on.”

Popularity in the sport surged from 2007-2010 when CrossFit athletes combined weightlifting with aerobic and endurance training.

“When I joined USA Weightlifting in 2007, up until about 2010, we had about 3,000 members nationwide,” Dispenza said. “Weightlifting was not big on the world scene and we had a about 10 percent women. We are now above 35,000 members and we are over 50 percent women.”

Weightlifting is what drew Liu-Young to Dispenza.

“I started off with CrossFit and I spent four and a half years with CrossFit and that’s how I was really introduced to Olympic weightlifting,” she said. “To be effective in the lift, it really does incorporate flexibility and agility and a bit of endurance as well.”

She would have competed in the USA Weightlifting National Masters (age 35-and-up) championships, originally scheduled for April 16-20, but that has been postponed until late August and she plans to participate there.

Liu-Young, who is also a trainer, has been training under Dispenza for nearly two years.

“I like that he is direct, he’s very helpful and he’s a wealth of knowledge,” Liu-Young said. “From a coaching aspect, he points out various aspects of even coaching other athletes just to sort of guide me and to know what to look for in other athletes and I feel like that has really helped me as an athlete as well as a coach.”

She only does CrossFit once or twice every couple of weeks now, but realizes how much it has helped her weight training.

“To be effective in the lift, it really does incorporate flexibility and agility and a bit of endurance as well,” said Liu-Young, who has lived in Catonsville for 20 years. “It’s such a technical sport, that’s really what drew me in, to have that challenge.”

Two of Dispenza’s top pupils are Cesar Ramirez and Abby Richards.

Abby Richards is one of the top weightlifters being trained by Mario Dispenza.
Abby Richards is one of the top weightlifters being trained by Mario Dispenza. (Red/Photo courtesy of Mario Dispenza)

Ramirez has lifted in the under-25 championships and Richards has lifted in the American Open finals, twice, and she had qualified again.

She had also qualified for the Senior National championships which would have been held in Chicago next month, but that has been postponed until December.

The Youth National championships are still scheduled for the last week of June.

“Whether or not that is going to happen we don’t know,” Dispenza said.

The youngest member in the club is 10 years old, so Dispenza spends a lot of his time training the women and veterans.

“I’ve got mostly women,” he said, noting six in the Masters category will be going to nationals.

Meanwhile, Dispenza has had to adjust his teaching and training methods.

“I’m even skyping with my coach, I just started training with a coach and she’s in California," he said. “It’s definitely catching on, people are finding a way to do it.”

That doesn’t mean Liu-Young doesn’t miss working out with her members.

“We are a pretty small club relative to some of the other clubs around in that we have kind of like a family,” she said.

While missing her friends at Goals, Liu-Young changed her role with her work family.

“I am a medical sales rep, so actually the last month, especially last week, has been pretty crazy because we were actually setting up hospital beds and recliners over at the Baltimore Convention Center,” Liu-Young said. “I’m helping our operations team just getting the work done because there is that emergency to get that facility up and running with the increasing numbers and cases in the state.”

She admits weightlifting is her release.

“It really is,” she said, noting she still lifts three to four times a week on her deck with a message for her neighbors, “You are all welcome to join me.”

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