Leo Totten resides in Littlestown, Pennsylvania, but his Carroll roots run strong.
The former Westminster native spent an extensive amount of time in the county. He attended Westminster High School before eventually working more than 30 years in the school system as a physical education teacher, athletic administrator, and coach, primarily at Francis Scott Key High School.
It was during that time in which he discovered two passions — coaching and weightlifting.
“Bottom line is I’ve learned how to coach throughout all my high school career and all of that really paid off in the weightlifting area of it,” Totten said. “I had been doing weightlifting coaching ever since I retired … and so all of the coaching background that I had and the mentors that I had kind of just led into the weightlifting coaching career.”
Totten said he received his first set of weights when he was 12 years old and entered his first lifting competition in 10th grade. Weighing just 83 pounds in eighth grade, Totten said he taught himself the sport with a primary goal in mind.
“I basically just needed to get bigger,” he said. “So I bought my first set of weights from York Barbell way back in the day and that was kind of like my introduction to what the sport of weightlifting was all about.”
Totten wasn’t really sure what motivated him to begin weightlifting but said it was something that always intrigued him. The decision to embark on the weightlifting journey proved to be a life-changing decision that’s led to a prosperous career for the 66-year-old.
Totten competed at multiple Olympic Trials before hanging up the weights in 1984. He then entered the other side of the sport through the coaching ranks.
From there, East Coast Gold Weightlifting Team was born in 1992.
“I was by myself for all those years and I found that there is a lot of people out there on their own trying to learn the sport, trying to learn to lift,” Totten said. “I found there were pockets of individuals that really didn’t have a team connection … so that’s when I decided to start my team.”
The central location for the team began in Totten’s home, but consistent growth required the need for bigger facilities.
East Coast Gold now boasts 15 satellite centers across the country, and Totten compared it to a “farm system” in professional baseball. Lifters and coaches are trained so each center can develop their own athletes while still implementing the East Coast Gold System.
The team has since blossomed in 26 years and dominated at the 2018 USA Weightlifting National Championships in Kansas City, May 24-27, clinching both men’s and women’s team titles.
Along with the team victories, Totten reached a career milestone.
Bouncing back and forth while helping coach lifters at two platforms during the competition, Totten said he heard his name called.
“Literally the first thing that went through my was, ‘Uh-oh, what did I do now?’’’ he said.
But when he saw his good friend Jim Schmitz standing on the platform holding something in his hand, Totten was overcome with a completely different feeling.
“I thought, ‘Oh, maybe this isn’t going to be so bad after all,’” he said.
Totten was inducted into the USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame — capping off his accomplishments throughout a dedicated weightlifting career.
“It was very humbling but at the same time it was very satisfying,” he said. “Most of the stuff you don’t get many accolades, you just do it for the sake of doing it because it’s the right thing to do and that’s what you love to do.”
This wasn’t Totten’s first hall of fame experience. The former athletic director at FSK was part of the Carroll County Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2001.
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Totten coached gymnastics, tennis, track and field, volleyball, and wrestling for the Eagles. In 1996 he led Key’s volleyball team to a Class 1A state championship.
Totten served as AD at Francis Scott Key from 1998-2006. He was a three-sport athlete at Westminster High School and West Chester University before becoming a physical education teacher and coach.
Whether it’s someone walking through the door for the first time curious about weightlifting, or a lifter competing at the master level, Totten’s love for coaching expands to all experience levels.
“You never know how far somebody can go so you just can’t judge a book by its cover,” he said. “This is why I give everybody a chance. I don’t care what level they start at, if they’re willing to work, I’ll put in the work with them.”
As for the future of weightlifting, Totten said it’s coming a long way from when he first started out in his teens.
With the booming popularity from the likes of Crossfit, Totten expressed confidence in the future of the sport.
“As long as we keeping doing all the good things we’re doing and getting people to know what our sport is all about,” he said. “Once you compete it hooks you, boy, I’ll tell you.”