By Samantha Sciarrotta
Kevin Wagner, Joe DeMatteo, Jim Poinsett and Kyle Elder are all champion weightlifters. Between the four of them, they hold six separate certifications, more than 70 years of combined experience, one world record and countless tournament victories. They all also happen to be local. Wagner lives in Robbinsville, DeMatteo in New Egypt, Poinsett in Bordentown, and Elder in Ewing. Wagner and Elder both teach at Gametime Performance in Hamilton. “We work here with [former Major League Baseball player] Dave Gallagher who runs the baseball department, and he has all these accolades because he played with the best of the best,” Wagner said. “With us, as far as the powerlifting world goes, you’re sitting with the best of the best, but we don’t get recognized.” The four men will put their knowledge to good use when they teach Weightlifting with Champions, a class on Olympic and powerlifting methods, at GTP May 18-19. They said they see too many young athletes neglecting proper technique due to a lack of supervision and instruction in high school weight rooms. DeMatteo said adolescents “sometimes let their egos get in the way.” “They try to do too much too fast,” he said. “They’re worried about the numbers and how much they can lift instead of the right technique. You see a lot of kids doing things completely wrong, and they end up hurting themselves.” They all hope to change that. The men will cover four different lifts: the power clean, the snatch lift, the bench press and the deadlift. They will also go over the back squat in addition to leading a question-and-answer session. Wagner will handle the power clean section of the presentation. In this exercise, the athlete bends over, pulls the bar from the floor then motions upward, quickly tosses the bar into the air, and catches it in a squat position. “I could spend six hours talking about power cleans,” he said. “There’s so much information, and people just don’t realize it.” Wagner is certified by USA Weightlifting, Functional Movement Systems, Art of Strength, Active Isolated Stretching, and Athletic Performance, Inc. He is a former Natural Athlete Strength Association state and regional champion. Wagner took an interest in lifting as a high school football player. Soon, though, lifting became his passion. “My love was never in the team sports,” he said. “I liked to wrestle, and then I got into weightlifting. When I was in high school, I weighed 132 pounds as a wrestler. After high school, I gained 100 pounds.” Still, though, he said this program isn’t about him or the other three. “It’s about what we want to bring to the community and the high schools,” he said. Elder will take on the snatch lift. The lifter starts out in a crouch position with the bar in front of him. He then pulls the bar upward and over his head, transitioning into a standing position. Like Wagner and the others, he started lifting in high school. “My cousin and I started like most kids that age, reading the magazines with the big guys on the covers,” he said. “We wanted to be like that, but then we started reading how to properly do things, and we realized that wasn’t the way.” After a few years of training, Elder started seriously competing last year. “I brought my friend, and the two of us competed in states,” he said. “We both won in our weight classes. We were there for the experience. We didn’t know how it was going to turn out.” They started talking to others in the lifting community, who persuaded Elder and his friend to continue competing. They went on to the next competition, which they both won. That sent them to the World Natural Powerlifting Federation World Tournament of Champions in Youngstown, Ohio, which Elder won in the 148-pound weight class. He doesn’t think he would have had this much success if he hadn’t received the proper training as a young lifter. “I started at Man’s World in Trenton,” he said. “There were older people who were very willing to teach you. Now with the new franchise gyms, it’s just scattered people doing their own thing. I like to teach things properly.” DeMatteo will cover the bench press, an exercise in which the lifter lies on his or her back under the bar. He or she then moves the bar up and down toward and away from the chest. As a USA Powerlifting bench press specialist, he is certainly well-versed in the lift. At a weight of 181 pounds, he benches 512 pounds. He has been a member of three USA world lifting teams. His first was in 2005 in Sweden. In 2010, he competed in Orlando, and in 2011, he competed in Denmark, where he won as an individual in the 183-pound weight class. In fact, that is how he and Wagner met. DeMatteo takes his daughter to GTP for pitching lessons, and one day, he showed up in his Team USA jacket. “I knew I had to go up and talk to this guy,” Wagner said. Poinsett will handle the deadlift. Like in the snatch, the lifter starts in a crouched position but only brings the bar up to thigh-level rather than above his or her head. He currently holds the WNPF world record with a 675-pound lift at a 198-pound bodyweight. He hasn’t competed in a meet since 2004, but his record still stands. He currently judges powerlifting competitions. He entered his first competition when he was 16 at the urging of his football coach. He started taking lifting more seriously once he realized football wasn’t going to last beyond high school. Poinsett began to build a solid career as a powerlifter, winning several championships and even cracking Powerlifting USA Magazine’s top 100 in the deadlift. He switched over to strongman competitions after 20 years of powerlifting and won the New Jersey State Strongest Man title at 230 pounds and under. He currently coaches football in Bordentown. “The younger kids really don’t know technique,” he said. “All they want to do is bench and arms. It takes time. I trained this guy in deadlift for five years, and one day he called me up and said ‘I finally figured out what you were talking about.’ It took him five years.” Wagner hopes to inspire that kind of dedication during the presentation. “There’s basically nobody helping them,” he said. “It’s just kids hanging around, trying to spot each other, trying to coach each other. We’ve devoted our lives to learning how to properly lift weights. We can answer their questions and tell them where the hands are, where the feet are, what the back position is. We can provide that kind of information to these kids.” Weightlifting with Champions will be held on May 18 and 19 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., but the presenters are planning on staying beyond that to answer any questions participants may have. The class is open to anybody over the age of 14. Video taping is permitted. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.