Miles Powerlifting: The path to state

Bill Hancock
Runnels County Register
Joel Garcia (left) and Radek Spatz both made it to the state powerlifting championships this year. Garcia, at 228 lbs, is the lightest in his weight class, 242 lbs. Spatz competes in the 123 lbs class and brought home the bronze medal from state.

In any high school sport qualifying for the state championship is not an easy path, whether it's an individual event, such as powerlifting, or a team event, such as football. The first steps on the path to state are taken years before the high school athlete and coaches ever reach those lofty heights.

Miles Powerlifting has experienced a surge in interest and excitement rarely seen, or experienced, so quickly in high school sports. In 2020, there was powerlifting. In 2021, there is powerlifting!

Much of the credit for the surge in the excitement surrounding powerlifting is due to coach David Buitron and athletic director Jayson Wilhelm. It would be remiss to leave out coach Hayden Stokes, an Angelo State University student-coach. Stokes competed in powerlifting in high school and at ASU.

Jayson Wilhelm came in as the new athletic director at the beginning of the school year and encouraged all of the athletes to get involved in powerlifting, "I've never had an athlete complain about being too fast or too strong," he said in an earlier interview. Wilhelm gave Buitron carte blanche with the program.

The heart of the team is also responsible for building the excitement. That heart includes senior Radek Spatz and junior Joel Garcia. Both athletes recently competed in the state championships with Spatz bringing home the bronze medal for placing 3rd overall in his weight class of 123 lbs. Garcia, the lightest in his class, weighs in at 228 lbs and competes in the 242 lbs class.

The bronze medal that Miles High School's senior Radek Spatz won at the state powerlifting championships. Spatz competes in the 123 lbs class and finished 3rd.

Garcia started powerlifting in his freshman year. He credits older brother, Leroy Garcia, Jr., for feeding his powerlifting desire, "He lifted in the 165 lbs class. He inspired me to get into powerlifting." In addition to powerlifting, Garcia competes in football and track (shot put). Garcia credits powerlifting with more than helping him become physically stronger, "Powerlifting helps me become mentally stronger." Garcia is also a member of the National Junior Honor Society.

Much like Garcia, Spatz had an older brother who competed in powerlifting, "Cole Schwertner is my older brother. He used to hold the record here for squats in his class. My goal has been to outdo him." His brother's record is 480 lbs.

The weight that the two athletes lifted in the state championship is mind-numbing. Overall, Garcia lifted 1,230 lbs. He lifted 520 lbs in squats, 270 lbs in bench press and 440 lbs in the deadlift, 4x his body weight.

Spatz lifted 950 lbs. His lifts included 375 lbs in squats, 190 lbs in bench press and 385 lbs in deadlift. That total is over 7x his body weight of 123 lbs. Spatz also credits powerlifting for building mental toughness, "I definitely learn to trust myself. I also learn to trust my body to not shut down."

Discipline is required to advance to the level of the state competition. Part of that discipline is the diet. Spatz's mother, Trish, says that her son's diet is a family endeavor, "We try to do the diet as a family. One day we were going to have a birthday party but he had a powerlifting meet coming up. I don't think it's right for me to eat a piece of cake in front of him when he can't enjoy the same food." Spatz says that his "walking around weight" ranges from 130-140 lbs. Spatz also plays football and track. In track, he competes in the 100m, 200m and 200m relay. But, it's not just athletics that Spatz enjoys. He's also been in the school's one-act play and helped out with the school's Business Professionals of America group. He waited until his senior year to play football.

Powerlifting is a family endeavor, from encouragement to dieting. L-R: Leroy Garcia, Maria Garcia, Joel Garcia, Radek Spatz, Trish Spatz and Kevin Spatz

Spatz made it to regionals last year, which fed his hunger for making it to state this year. Powerlifting held a surprise for him, "The amount of stress involved is definitely surprising. I feel like I dieted harder this year than ever before. This was probably my hardest year. It flew by way too fast." Trish says that the dieting is solely on the athletes, "The school and coaches don't push the kids to lose weight. Each kid decides it on their own."

The coaches are more than just coaches; they're also powerlifters. The coaches will lift at 6 a.m. and the athletes will come in to lift at 7 a.m. Garcia also works out after school, "I would say that Monday thru Thursday, I stay for about an hour to an hour and a half after school to work out."

Spatz's father, Kevin, says that the coaches, along with Spatz and Garcia, have helped build the program, "It's (success) because of these guys and the coaches. They are the reason this program is going places." Garcia agrees, "Like with Radek and I, and our older brothers, we influence the younger athletes on the team." Spatz and Garcia spoke about how the younger athletes come up to them to ask them for advice on everything from proper form to dieting. Garcia said that attitude is important, "If they see us stressing, they'll stress. If we're motivated, they'll be motivated."

Improvement is required if you want to advance in any endeavor, whether sports or other pursuits. Both athletes have worked as a team, and individually, to improve to the level of the state championship, "There are a lot of extra workouts that people don't know about that have helped a lot." Garcia's weight class is one of the most competitive in all of powerlifting, "I'm the lightest guy in the class, but I made it to state. That was a great learning experience."

Spatz may have achieved his goal of making to to state, but he had other goals as well, "I'm happy that I made it to state and placed. No, I didn't get fulfillment because of not defeating who I wanted to defeat." Kevin says that his son put everything he had into the state meet, "In the deadlift he tried to win the whole thing with a lift of 420 lbs. He could have won just going for 410 lbs, but he died on his shield. He gave it everything he had. We couldn't be more proud of him. He never has to look back and ask, 'what if.' He left it all out there."

Garcia's trip to state came as a surprise, "I didn't even picture making it to state. At the Coahoma meet I lifted 1,200 lbs and coach told me that I was in 2nd place in the region. He said that I had a really good chance of going to state and encouraged me to keep putting in the work."

Kevin said that coach Buitron has done an incredible job, "Coach built this program. This is his baby. He's taken it and fostered it. He should be happy because it's a beautiful program." Spatz says the the two coaches have very distinct gifts, "Coach Buitron gets us focused. Coach Stokes gets us excited about powerlifting. Coach Stokes always tells us, 'make it happen.' He's a great motivator."

Spatz has received a $56,000 scholarship at McKendree University in Illinois. He will start classes this fall. Garcia will be a senior next year and graduate in May 2022.

It's obvious that the powerlifting program at Miles High School doesn't exist just inside the weight room. The program's borders extend to the families and the entire community. Limits are nothing more than challenges that can be surpassed with focus, drive and determination. As Garcia said, "It's adrenaline. It's all of the things that you do and tell yourself to make yourself better. The spotlight is on you." Spatz, perhaps, summed it up the best, "Powerlifting is more than a dream you can follow and want, but you have to make it happen."

In Miles, they are making it happen.