Connor Dantzler, a 16-year-old Damascus High student, was the youngest athlete to win multiple gold medals at this past week's 2011 Collegiate Powerlifting National Championships, at Furman University in Greenville, SC.
In the process, Dantzler set national and state records in the strict power curl -- curling 100 pounds -- and also set a Maryland-state record in the deadlift at 275 pounds.
While exciting in itself, it is somewhat common for Dantzler, who is a six-time U.S. junior national champion, and has used those skills to win three U.S. national championships in jujitsu as a walk-on competitor. He had never had a lesson in jujitsu or karate.
According to his dad, Mark Dantzler, a national coach who has trained junior national champions for 25 years and is an elementary school teacher, Connor has traveled to half a dozen countries for elite judo competitions and training. He is an international gold medalist and four-time judo All-America honoree.
Last July he won two gold medals at the 2010 National Junior Olympic Games in Richmond and was awarded the Joel Ferrell Memorial Award, the Games' highest honor, based on community service, grade-point average, and contributions to the sport.
His 2010 performance placed him in the top-three nationally for the 11th consecutive year. He is the author of several nationally published articles on the benefits of sports and fitness for youth and has been honored by the President's council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, and with the National Community Leadership Award for his volunteerism with young judo athletes.
This all comes from his dad, because when you talk to Connor Dantzler, you talk to someone who "doesn't often speak freely of his accomplishments." Or of his dreams, either.
He does say he discovered powerlifting by accident one night when he was 10 and he and his dad were looking for another judo national event.
He expands on that in an article he had published when he was 14, writing, "I was ten at the time, and already a competitive junior in the martial arts. Somehow, a web page with information about powerlifting events popped onto the screen. We casually studied it for a moment, and learned that the sport included meets for kids as well as adults. I was familiar with lifting, because I had used light free weights as a part of my strength training for judo. My dad and I traded grins, as if to say, 'Wouldn't it be fun to try that?'"
And he says now that it is "fun." But ask him about his goals, and, though in that same article he wrote, "I'm always up for breaking records; it just depends on what kind of mood the weights are in!" he says goals and records aren't really what the sport is about for him.
"I don't really set goals," he said. "I just go in wanting to improve my performance at every meet."
He said he has been doing judo since he was "really little," but leaves it to a later conversation with his dad to pin down just how little (age two), when he won his first tournament (age five) and what his deadlift record is (275 pounds).
"He is very humble," Mark Dantzler said. "Teachers and friends are amazed when they learn about some of the things he's done."
Connor Dantzler carries a 3.89 unweighted and a 4.58 weighted grade-point average. His dad said his son has "long wanted to be a doctor and he doesn't pretend to be an Olympian.
"When we travel to a competition, we have a realistic goal for him to have a 'personal best' day. Whether that means lifting a new amount or throwing an opponent, it's been a lifetime of great experiences," said the elder Dantzler.
Together, with Mark as the head coach, and Connor, the assistant, the Dantzler's run the Maryland Judo Team in Montgomery County.