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SHOWCASING LOUISIANA: Olympic weightlifting

Published: Jul. 28, 2021 at 6:44 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Delicate fingers wrap tightly around an iron bar. Brynn Catalano gives a grunt and snatches it from the ground. She squats deep and hoists the bar high over her head, then stands up. It’s only 60 pounds - a warm-up weight.

Next, Liam Bujanda grabs his bar, repeats Brynn’s routine, then slams the bar to the ground. In the corner, his coach and father, William Bujanda just smiles. “I’m very demanding,” William said of his training schedule.

Cameron grabs a deep breath, an iron bar across his chest.

“Quick dip and push,” shouted William. He’s training the next generation of Olympians. “I train them like adults. I ask a lot of them.”

All of Team Bujanda Strong is under 12 years old.

Olympic Weightlifting is not the most glamourous of the summer sports, but these kids already train like they are chasing gold. “I train four days a week, two hours, with my whole team,” Brynn said. “Just put in hard work.”

But the weight room is not the only place they train. “They’re still kids,” William said. “If there are days they’re not having fun, we adjust. We’ll go to jumpy places in lieu of a training session so that they can go be kids together.”

At age 11, Brynn is the oldest. “When I lift heavy weights,” she said, “people are just mind-blown - like mind-blown. They don’t know what to do.”

Liam has been slinging iron since he was in diapers. The 80-pound 10-year-old can already throw 90 pounds over his head. “I get to stand on the stage in front of a whole bunch of people and they get to see how well I do,” he said.

Nine-year-old Cameron has been lifting for less than a year. All three have just returned from the USA Weightlifting National Youth Championships in Detroit.

Cameron came back the fourth-strongest boy under the age of 13 in the country. Liam took second. To get there, he snatched 72 pounds and clean-and-jerked 90 pounds.

And Brynn?

William just laughs. “I’m not going to lie. We knew.”

She snatched at 80 pounds, she snatched 10 pounds more than her body weight. Combine that with a 112-pound clean and jerk, and she took first place in the Under 13 class: making her the strongest girl pre-teen in the country.

“The girls she was competing against were 13,” William said. “At this young age, one year, two years is a huge difference.”

Brynn is already talking about the next level, but she cannot qualify for the Junior Pan American Games until turns 13. “If I was 13 this year, I would have made it, and I would have won,” she said. She is also eyeing the Olympics further down the road.

There is a lot of training between now and then. William thinks medals and Olympic dreams are great motivation, but he sees weightlifting as laying the foundation for something more important.

“You have to get used to failing,” William said. “They miss weights, and they have to get back up and do it again. And they have to deal with that. And a big part of life is you’re going to have failures, and you have to deal with those. I just want them to be the best people they can possibly be.”

In sport and in life, isn’t that the ultimate goal?

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