Texas Barbell: 2014 National Champion Men's Team

Oct. 02, 2014, 10:45 a.m. (ET)

Adding Extra Shine to a Prominent Coaching Career

By Ryan Lucas

Ursula Papandrea is accustomed to life as the first of her kind.

A two-time senior national champion, multiple-time collegiate national champion, two-time Olympic Festival champion, five-time world team member (1992-96) and former senior and masters record holder, she excelled as a forerunner of American women’s weightlifting competitors in the 1980s and 90s.

In 2003, more than a decade into a prominent coaching career, Papandrea then became the first female to attain her country’s highest coaching level in the sport. To date, she remains the lone woman with USA Weightlifting Level 5 coaching status.

And in July, Papandrea added a fresh coat of polish to an illustrious coaching record. When she led Texas Barbell Club to the men’s team title at the 2014 USA Weightlifting National Championships in Salt Lake City, she earned the distinction of being the first female head coach to direct any squad—comprised of men or women—to a national title.

The luster of this recent accomplishment will not fade anytime soon.

“I think it was a validation of 25 years of work,” Papandrea said. “I’ve been coaching women for a long time; I started coaching in about 1992, and my first lifter ended up making the world team. I’ve coached lots of women since that, and I’ve coached some men, but there’s something about winning a men’s title that’s different from a women’s title.

“I haven’t won a women’s team title, but I’ve been a part of Coffee’s Gym, which has won 19 women’s titles. But I just felt that to earn the respect of coaches of both sexes—and as a woman in the coaching field, in general—I had to accomplish as many things as I could.

“Overall, I felt like I really needed to excel with coaching men to really be recognized. I was already a (USA Weightlifting) Level 5 coach and all that, but this was another thing that I really feel I needed to work on, and I needed to prove that I could do something like that.”

The Texas Barbell Club, which she also coached at the 2013 nationals, used equal parts strategy and strength to morph into a powerhouse. Papandrea’s collaboration and flexibility with her athletes led to the narrow victory over runner-up Muscle Driver USA in Salt Lake City, she said.

“We didn’t have one cohesive team; I was helping coach a bunch of different guys who were all at the national level, and they were all on a bunch of different teams,” Papandrea, whose squad accumulated 48 total points to MDUSA’s 46, said.

“In 2013, the guys kind of pushed me and said they wanted to have their own team. We put the team together and, little by little, we’ve added guys and decided who was going to play what role on the team. Once we had that basic group in place, I started looking for where our holes were as a team.

“We had a group of guys that, by looking at the points from previous results, would’ve been 12th place and above, so it was just a matter of making the right decisions and picking the right roster to make sure we got enough points to win.”

Derrick Johnson led the charge at the event. The Olympic hopeful set 62kg records in the snatch (123kg) and lift total (271kg), collecting 12 points for his team’s effort.

Colin Burns matched that point total in the 94kg category. The USA Weightlifting standout, who’s now training at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., provided a formidable second lifter at the top of the roster.

In other scoring, Spencer Arnold also added eight points at 69kg, Dutch Lowy contributed seven points in the same category, Thomas Field chipped in five points at 77kg and Chris Calimlim offered four points at 56kg. The rest of the squad—Edward Baker, 105kg; Michael Lozano, 62kg; Keith Minikus, +105kg; Ricky Redus, 94kg; and Kirby White, 85kg—afforded the team with necessary depth, skill and solidity.

The latter characteristic proved necessary. Some of the squad members live and train in Texas with Papandrea, who’s based in Austin. For the other competitors, who are spread across the country, the coach supplied remote assistance and workout programming.

She gave Johnson and his self-guidance in Los Angeles as an example.

“Just like we did when I was with Coffee’s Gym, we have members of the team who aren’t there all the time,” Papandrea, who also serves as Technical Director on the USA Weightlifting Board of Directors, said. “I have Derrick Johnson in California, and he’s come to visit and train for periods of time, but I don’t see him train every day.

“I do his programming, and I originally started helping him in 2013. So here you have an athlete who’s already at a really high level, and I obviously had nothing to do with that; my job with him was to try to help him get to a higher level, and that’s something I’ve done with other male athletes.

“When there are lots of coaches involved, though, it’s hard to tell who does what. But with guys like Derrick, the goal is always to try to help them real their absolute potential.”

And, from a macro perspective in the years to come, Papandrea wants to increase the reach of her influence throughout her home state and beyond.

“The biggest goal—even more than the validation—is to continue to grow the sport in the state of Texas,” she said. “We have a lot of guys who work with us who are starting clubs all over the state, so I’d like to keep growing USA Weightlifting as much as possible.”