September 15 to October 15 marks National Hispanic Heritage Month. As part of this occasion, USA Weightlifting is celebrating Hispanic Americans who have helped to shape the sport of weightlifting in the United States.
USA Weightlifting strives to be a sport that is open and welcoming to all, and this month marks an opportunity to celebrate the members of the USA’s large Hispanic community who have been influential in our NGB. USA Weightlifting has also recently been accepted into the Ibero-American Weightlifting Federation due to the large Spanish-speaking population in our nation.
In no particular order, here are some men and women of Hispanic origin who’ve helped USA Weightlifting become the organization it is today.
Roberto “Tony” Urrutia (Miami, FL) – 2 x US Olympian
Tony Urruita was born in Cuba and originally competed for his nation of birth. He won three World Championships for Cuba and appeared in his first Olympic Games for Cuba in 1976, becoming a national hero.
Just before the 1980 Mexico City Olympic Games, Urruita tied bed sheets together to flee some four stories from the Cuban team camp, eventually finding his way to Miami before becoming a US citizen in 1986.
Urruita went on to set the American record in the 82.5kg division and represent the USA at the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games. He also won the national championship five times between 1987 and 1992.
Mario Martinez (Salinas, CA) – 3x Olympian, 1984 Olympic Silver Medalist
The late Mario Martinez is the most recent male Olympic Medalist for the United States, winning the super-heavyweight silver medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
Northern California born and raised, Martinez competed in weightlifting for over 20 years. During his decorated career, Martinez held the American records between 1982 and 1992, while winning the national championship nine times. He would go on to win the Pan American Games in 1987, once again on home soil, and medal at the 1991 and 1995 Pan American Games.
Martinez qualified for the Olympic Games in 1984, 1988 and 1992 but it was in his own backyard in Los Angeles that he would experience his greatest success: standing on the medal podium at the silver position.
Martinez was inducted into the USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame in 2001. He passed away in 2018.
Danny Camargo (Longwood, FL) – Snr International Coach
Florida born-and-bred Camargo took up weightlifting at the young age of 12-years-old. He progressed through the FHSAA High School Weightlifting system and was eventually invited to Colorado Springs to reside at the Olympic Training Center, where his training landed him on the Junior World Championship team.
However, at 21-years-old, Camargo left the platform and that’s where he built a stellar reputation as one of the leading coaches in the nation. Along the way, Camargo has served in head coaching roles at almost every international level including the IWF World Championships.
Emmy Vargas (Woodland Hills, CA) – Pan Am Games Team Member
Emmy Vargas has experienced almost every facet of USA Weightlifting. Now coaching athletes to their goals as head coach of Barbarian Barbell in Southern California, Vargas is also giving back to the Weightlifting community as a National Referee. She also recently served on the US Anti-Doping Agency Board of Directors representing athletes.
Vargas was a national and international competitor for USA Weightlifting for over 10 years, starting out under the watch of coach Bob Takano before moving to Colorado Springs and the Olympic Training Center for several years. Vargas became a Pan American Champion and Pan Am Games silver medalist in a career that saw her compete at three Olympic Trials, the IWF World Championships, Pan American Championships and win medals of all colors at the National Championships before retiring in 2008.
Since retirement, Emmy spent the maximum of eight years as the weightlifting representative to the US Olympic Committee’s Athlete Advisory Council and representing her fellow athletes on the USA Weightlifting Board of Directors, including a period as Interim Chair, while also becoming a National Coach.
Ursula Garza Papandrea (Pflugerville, TX) – Acting President, International Weightlifting Federation
Five-time World Championship team member Ursula Garza Papandrea began her career in Texas where powerlifting was the major strength sport. She worked her way to weightlifting at a critical time in the sport, making her national debut in 1987.
Garza Papandrea went on to win the National Championship twice while playing a part in the storied Coffee’s Gym dynasty of 20 Team Championships. She set the American record clean and jerk and represented the United States at Worlds before 1992-1996. Retiring before the inclusion of weightlifting for women in the Olympic Games, it is perhaps as a coach where Garza Papandrea really cemented her status.
The only female to achieve the rank of Senior International Coach, Garza Papandrea has coached athletes to represent Team USA at almost every level available. She also coached a team of athletes to the National Men’s Team Championship in 2014, the only female to do so in history.
Garza Papandrea joined the USA Weightlifting Board of Directors in 2009, becoming the organization's first woman chairperson in 2016. She resigned in 2020 to become acting president of the International Weightlifting Federation. She was elected the first female VP of the IWF in 2016 and currently chairs the IWF Women’s Commission.
Suzy Sanchez (Colorado Springs, CO) – OTC Resident, USA Weightlifting Director of Grassroots Programs and Scouting
World University Championships medalist, Suzy Sanchez started her strength sport career as a high school powerlifter in the state of Texas before being spotted by Louisiana State University at Shreveport coach, Dr. Kyle Peirce.
Spending time under both Coach Pierce and Coach Zygmunt Smalcerz at LSUS and the Olympic Training Center, Sanchez would go onto set American University Records, medal at the National Championships and represent the US at the collegiate level on several occasions.
Sanchez’s successful career off the platform began with the Houston Harris County Sports Authority, where her duties included significant work on the 2015 IWF World Championships. Suzy joined USA Weightlifting’s full-time staff in 2017 in time to work on the 2017 IWF World Championships in Anaheim, CA. Now serving as the Director of Grassroots Programs and Scouting, Suzy is tasked with identifying new weightlifting talent across the nation and growing the sport at the university level.
Rizelyz Rivera (Moorestown, NJ) – World Team Member, American Record Holder
Originally from Puerto Rico, Rivera represented her native country until 2008, appearing at the Pan American Championships and World Junior Championships. Rivera is the niece of two-time Olympian Julio Martinez.
After moving to New Jersey in 2009, Rivera began to represent the USA. She went on to set an American record, and compete in both the World Championships and Pan American Championships.
Leonardo Hernandez (Miami Gardens, FL) – World Team Member
Originally from Cuba, Hernandez settled in the Miami area of Florida. Hernandez never competed for his native Cuba but instead gained US nationality as a naturalized citizen in 2015.
Hernandez would be part of a competitive 77kg category during the lead up to the 2016 Olympic Games, vying for spots on Team USA with the likes of Travis Cooper, James Tatum and Angelo Bianco.
Hernandez successfully represented the USA at the 2015 IWF World Championships in Houston and the 2015 IWF Grand Prix in Fuzhou, China.
Paula Aranda (Seattle, WA) – USA Weightlifting Chair and IWF Commission Member
Aranda became a national level athlete before utilizing her career in the technology industry at giants Amazon and Microsoft to lend her expertise to the USA Weightlifting Board of Directors. She was elected chair in 2020.
Now well known internationally, Aranda became a member of the IWF Development Commission in 2017.
Sarah Robles (League City, TX) – World Champion & Olympic Medalist
Robles started her sporting career as a thrower before being introduced to the Olympic lifts by Rich McClure in Desert Hot Springs, CA. Robles would go on to win a scholarship at the University of Alabama and University of Arizona for throwing.
However, Robles quickly realized that her supreme talent was in weightlifting. Robles went on to make the Olympic Games in 2012 and 2016. In Rio 2016, Robles ended a 16-year medal drought winning a bronze medal in the +75kg category.
Robles was not done, in 2017 she would go on to become a World Champion, the first for the USA in 23 years. In September of 2018, she finally exceeded the 13-year-old clean and jerk American record held by three-time Olympian Cheryl Haworth. Robles competed for Team USA at the 2018 and 2019 IWF World Championships.
Christian Rodriguez Ocasio (San Ramon, CA) – World Team Member
Known as "Chevy" in the weightlifting world, Ocasio most recently lifted for Team USA at the Lima Grand Prix CSLP Cup in 2019. A native of Puerto Rico, Ocasio quickly rose the ranks when he began lifting full time with Team USA. He has represented the stars and stripes at the 2019 World Championships, 2019 Pan American Games, 2019 Pan American Championships, 2019 Las Vegas International Open, 2018 FISU World University Championships and the 2017 Universiade.
Ocasio lifts with California Strength and holds a USA Weightlifting Level 2 Coaching Certification.
Steve Galvan (San Antonio, TX) – Athlete, Coach, Photographer
A fixture at International Weightlifting Federation competitions, Steve Galvan has served the sport as an athlete, coach and photographer. Responsible for capturing iconic moments of the sport as the IWF's official photographer, one of Galvan's most recent international competition, the 2019 World Championships, saw him photograph Kate Nye's Junior World Record-breaking 112kg snatch.
Away from the camera, Galvan comes from an athletics background. A track and field athlete in college at Texas A&M, he transitioned to weightlifting after finding the sport through CrossFit in 2007. He started his own gym in his garage, before moving to a permanent facility where he has successfully coached dozens of athletes.
Galvan served as the IWF's official photographer at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.
Victor Gallego (Miami, FL) – Senior International Coach
A USA Weightlifting Senior International Coach at Team Soul Miami, Victor Gallego is responsible for coaching athletes at the highest levels of the sport. Gallego has coached at USA Weightlifting teams at international competition (including the women's squad at the 2013 World Championships) and coached at USA Weightlifting camps for many years.
Gallego also contributes to the sport as a Technical Official. Holding the title of National Referee, Gallego served the sport as a technical official at many USA Weightlifting National Events.