I think at some point we all contemplate the meaning of life. Why are we here? The longer I’m alive, the more I think the point of life is just that: to be alive. However, I can assure you that as you live out your final days, the impact you had on people’s lives will matter far more than how much money you made, how big your house was, how many toys you had, or even how much you lifted.

Years ago, I wanted to work with the Special Olympics, but wasn’t sure how to get started. Thankfully, as destiny would have it, I received a phone call from Sande Piantieri looking for a coach for her son CJ. If you haven’t seen it in my previous posts, CJ suffered a stroke in utero, resulting in a severe speech and language impairment, decreased control of the right side of his body, and lack of motor skills. The stroke also caused decreased proprioception and a seizure disorder. I’ve now coached CJ for almost 10 years and through three Special Olympic National Games (they take place every four years). CJ may not show a lot of emotion, but upon talking to him you would have no doubt how much his lifting means to him.

WATCH: 2016 Special Olympics Ohio Summer Games — Powerlifting

On Monday, July 2nd, CJ competed in the 66-kilogram/145-pound class at the 2018 Special Olympic National Games held in Seattle. This was his first time competing since coming back from shoulder surgery. Because of this, we were admittedly uncertain how he’d do. I also wasn’t selected as the Special Olympics Coach for Florida for Nationals (which I’m completely fine with, since I’d prefer to give other coaches the opportunity, especially since they often coach their family members), so I wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to assist CJ at the meet. Either way, it was still worth the effort to go to the games in hopes of being able to provide as much support to CJ as possible. Thankfully, I was able to help him a decent amount and got close enough to the stage where he could hear my cues. Here’s how his day went:


  • Warm-Ups (Pounds): 135x5, 185x3, 225x2
  • First Attempt: 110 kilograms/242.5 pounds, good
  • Second Attempt: 120 kilograms/264.6 pounds, missed on depth
  • Third Attempt: 120 kilograms/264.6 pounds, good


  • Warm-Ups (Pounds): 95x5, 115x3, 135x2
  • First Attempt: 65 kilograms/143.3 pounds, good
  • Second Attempt: 75 kilograms/165.3 pounds, good
  • Third Attempt: 80 kilograms/176.4 pounds, good


  • Warm-Ups: 135x5, 185x3, 225x2
  • First Attempt: 132.5 kilograms/292.1 pounds, good
  • Second Attempt: 142.5 kilograms/314.2 pounds, good
  • Third Attempt: 147.5 kilograms/325.2 pounds, good

CJ finished the day with three golds—including the overall—and a silver in the deadlift. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of him. He may not fully understand what he’s overcome, but I do. Congratulations again, CJ. I encourage all of you to do what you can to give back to our sport. It’s easy to focus on ourselves without realizing how much we could potentially help others. The Special Olympics are always looking for help. If you’d like to get involved please go to and click on "Get Involved" to find out how to help in your area.

Header image courtesy of