(Juan Toledo, powerlifter and Gay Games VI competitor)
by Jim Provenzano
Condense years of training, months of workouts, thousands of reps and immense effort into one brief moment. That?s powerlifting. Add being openly gay and HIV-positive, and it defies more than gravity. Two Bay Area men are doing just that here, and in Sydney this November.
Juan Toledo has been training for almost two years in the sport, with years of bodybuilding before that. The 38-year-old Brooklyn-born massage therapist trains religiously at Valencia Street Gym, where he also used to work.
"It?s one of the few places that has a specific powerlifting facility," he said of the low-key yet well-equipped gym.
Toledo credits well-known Jim Schmidtz - who trained several Olympic-level athletes- and the welcoming environment there as a strong foundation for his lifting gains. Toledo placed second at the recent state powerlifting championships in Napa, CA, and will be competing in Sydney in the 75K category.
In contrast to the strain and pain of lifting weights over twice his weight, Toledo?s massage therapy work at his Diamond Heights studio offers a welcome break for sore muscles.
"I?m focusing now on trigger point massage, which is Western-based," he said. When not lifting weights, he regularly studies a huge two-volume book on the variety of human muscular therapies and related studies.
Toledo also volunteers at hospices to offer his strong skills in helping others relax and heal. He?s found that honing his skills in powerlifting has also helped his HIV-related concerns, something he?s proud to mention.
"I?m happy I?ve been doing so well," he said. "I?ve always lifted weights. I thought my system would not take to it, because of the medications. But, in fact, lifting has helped my health and my self-esteem. Another benefit is having a goal."
Toledo says his partner, Gabriel Tsai, asked him if he may set larger goals after Gay Games. For now, their plans are limited to "seeing places outside of Sydney. We?d love to go to the Outback, really see Australia."
Until then, he?ll be adding pounds to his lifting regimen, using that strength to relax others, and defying gravity.
Raised in Lakeside, CA, outside San Diego, where he competed in high school track, Cotrill has racked up quite a few medals.
Gay Games regulars know him not only for his powerlifting, but multiple track and field events (gold in shotput, silver in discus and bronze in hammer), gold in football (at Vancouver's Gay Games III), and more in powerlifting, adding up to eight medals, and counting.
He?ll be competing in track and powerlifting events in Sydney. Cotrill trains at MacAteer High School with the SF Track & Field Club, and for powerlifting at both San Francisco Gold?s gyms. But his training is a bit different than the average Gold?s regular. He practices the three requirements of sport; lifts, squat and deadlift.
"Bodybuilders are doing things to look beautiful," he said. "I?m working to be strong. What?s different is that anybody can become a power lifter, because it?s about how much can you lift. It has to do with focusing of your energy within a manner of five seconds."
Some potential stress areas include, "the lower back and knees, not really shoulders, a little bit, not much. I have a build like my bulldog, a big upper body, so it?s not a problem."
Cotrill has progressed from being in the Open category to Sub-Masters, and now Masters. Among the gay world-class competitors he looks forward to seeing in Sydney are World Champoion Scott Velliquitte from Los Angeles, and English National Champion Jim Atkinson from London.
"It?s a really wonderful, dynamic community," he said.
And although his intimidating size betrays an affable personality, Cotrill is quick to note that size isn?t everything. "Little guys can lift tremendous amounts. It?s about strength You have to be right on the money or you miss it."
If he has one regret, it?s being disqualified at Gay Games V in Amsterdam. "I opened too heavy - at 405 pounds. You have to get on the board. The first lift should be a safe one that you know you can do. It?s like a chess game. You have to pay attention to what you?re doing. The third try should be something you?ve never attempted."
Such patience is a useful skill in his work. He?s in his 23rd year teaching at Hayward Middle School. "The kids don?t mess with me. I love them and they love me."
Unfortunately, due to travel restrictions, another important part of his life, his dog Hercules, won?t be able to accompany him to Sydney. "He?s the love of my life. He?s actually very shy, like I am."
At 46, Cotrill sees himself as more than a symbol of strength for gay athletes. "Having AIDS, I want to show that we have the ability to beat it, one day at a time. So many people think that if you have this disease, that it?s the end of you. I?m going to Sydney, and Montreal in 2006, God willing."