Weightlifting, being a more or less niche sport, cannot rely on the parent culture to help it produce a steady supply of new recruits. If all of the nation’s football players and coaches were to disappear overnight, they would be replaced almost immediately. Not so weightlifting. Such a calamity would end our sport for a long time. As a result, finding new lifters is a constant challenge for our coaches.
All is not lost, however. Because we are a niche sport, we have another way to increase our numbers. I call it “the DNA method.” Instead of beating the bushes for new lifters, we just breed them at home. This frequently manifests itself as a family tradition in the sport. Children follow parents. Many of us cut our teeth on our father’s weights. We grew up around the iron, and one day we just naturally wanted to see how much we could lift. Our life changed at that moment.
The number of second-generation lifters has been impressive. Just look at Norik Vardanian, Oscar Chaplin, and Dmitri Klokov, along with countless unknowns at the local level. There are far fewer three-generation families since the sport just hasn’t had enough time to create them.
There is one exception in Canada. The Santavy family resides in Sarnia, Ontario, a refinery town just across the Detroit River (and border) from Port Huron, Michigan. They are not a three-generation family. In fact, they are now on their fourth.
A Strong Family Tree
Their dynasty started with one , who lifted in the 1940s and 1950s. While he competed mostly on Canadian platforms, he also campaigned stateside. He was the Michigan state champion a number of times, as well as 1945 Junior National champ. In common with many iron-heads of that era, Joe also did some bodybuilding, and maybe some odd barbell lifts as well. As his career wound down, Joe gradually moved into coaching.
One day in 1966, his sister’s son Bob Santavy wandered into his gym. Young Bob would soon become his star pupil. This was probably a result of Joe’s tough, no-nonsense approach to coaching. Within a year, nephew Bob was lifting in the 1967 Pan-Am Games. In 1968, he was the first non-heavyweight to do a three-lift total of 1000 lb. I competed against him in the 1967 Canadian Teenage Nationals. He won, and I had to settle for a distant second.
After that, it was onward and upward for Bob. He lifted in two Commonwealth Games, two Pan-Am Games, and two Olympics between 1967 and 1978, competing at 90, 100 and 110kg. His best lifts at any bodyweight were 155kg in the snatch and 205kg in the clean and jerk. Lifting was not his only talent though. In fact, in 1968, he had to choose between a baseball tryout with the Detroit Tigers and training for the Olympics. Weightlifting’s gain was Al Kaline’s loss.
Bob Santavy travelled a bit more in his career than Uncle Joe. Contact with foreign lifters opened his eyes to the point that he could then show his uncle a thing or two. This included the use of the hook grip, and the squat style of lifting. This is indicative of how difficult it was at mid-century to get information on the sport. All we had was one magazine, no books on coaching, and no contact with those mysterious Eastern Europeans.
Bob had two children, and both have followed in his footsteps. The first was daughter Bobbi June. She became the first female lifter of any serious stature in Canada, and set some records before they even officially recognized them.
The other is son Dalas. Like his father, Dalas competed in two Commonwealth Games and two Pan-Am Games, and also won five national championships. His best lifts were 147kg in the snatch and 187kg in the clean and jerk as a 94kg lifter.
The Next Generation
Despite that fine record, Dalas Santavy’s best performance might turn out to be the lifters he and wife Beckie have produced. They have four children, and all are lifters. Beckie has so far resisted the siren song of the iron.
Their oldest is 20-year-old Boady, who has been lifting since he was six. In that time, he has competed in a number of Youth, Junior and Senior National and World Championships. His current best lifts are 165kg and 201kg, which makes Boady a very rare bird: a third-generation 400lb jerker. As I write this, Boady is getting ready for the Senior Worlds in Anaheim, California.
Boady had better not relax, though. His 19-year-old brother Noah is following in the well-worn Santavy footsteps, having done 120kg and 145kg at 77kg, breaking provincial records in the process. Next come the 14-year-old twins. Son Bradyn lifts at 62kg has already set some Ontario juvenile records. Being a card-carrying Canadian, Bradyn also plays minor hockey at the elite AAA level. Sister Alana lifts as well, and recently hit her first 100kg squat. She has already served notice to Aunt Bobbi June that her records are not long for this world.
Lessons from Santavy Success
With so many generations in lifting, it is only natural that they would have some philosophy about training and goals. What was the underlying philosophy that made success in a hard sport look so easy? Dalas’s first reaction to this query was to tell me that none of it was easy. His advice: “Never give up. Perseverance is the key. Anything worth doing takes hard work. If it doesn`t, it will likely not be worth much.”
He went on to say that a young weightlifter, or any serious athlete for that matter, will have to sacrifice a lot to succeed. He and his children have had to miss out on a few aspects of teenage life in order to keep their totals rising, just like Grandpa Bob did. All have had to forgo some of the things that many of their peers take for granted. This might include hanging out with friends or going to prom.
Dalas pointed out that there are positives and negatives in all life’s choices. There are few win-win situations. The name of the game is to choose a goal, one you think is a good choice, and then never give up in your struggle to achieve that goal. Though the world has changed much since Uncle Joe’s time, I was left with the distinct impression that, with respect to success, the third generation of Santavy acorns have not fallen too far from the original Turcotte oak tree.
My discussions with the Santavys also brought up to me the importance of proper socialization in the training of weightlifters. If you want to lift big weights, you should hang around others who already lift big weights. This gambit is even more effective if those fellow lifters are in your own family. Boady Santavy has already done his first 400lb clean and jerk. No big deal; so have Dad and Grandpa. Noah’s turn will also come if he works hard at it. Conversely, if no one in your family has ever lifted even 200lb it will be difficult to even imagine doing 300, let alone 400.
If you want to accomplish little in life, then take up with others of the same ilk. This works with any goal, not just weightlifting. That is the real lesson here.
[Note: In case any baseball fans are reading and wondering, all generations of the Santavys are still rabid Detroit Tiger fans. The Blue Jays just came along too late for them. Apparently, loyalty still counts in the Santavy house.]