An Open Letter Regarding Tokyo Strong

To all of my friends in USA Weightlifting,

Last week, my friend Dane Miller, owner of Garage Strength, wrote an article referencing his take on the Tokyo Strong Project. Phil Andrews, USAW CEO and also my friend, responded. Since I respect and like both of these men, I’ve thought about this response for quite a while before writing this open letter.

Tokyo Strong

Tokyo Strong is a project USA Weightlifting is working on which would house the athletes and coaches outside of the athlete village for the 2020 Olympics. It would guarantee the athletes would have the following:

  • Proper nutrition which is both required for performance and typical in America.
  • Access to training times that are both convenient and would allow the athletes to continue on their written programs. For example, some athletes perform two-a-days, which aren’t possible in most meet venues.
  • Access to their personal coaches, which isn’t possible within the Olympic village.
  • Less distraction.
  • Camaraderie and bonding of the team.

We had this exact situation during the Pan American Games in Lima this year, and I can tell you from our experience in Lima that it was a success and an advantage for Team USA. My friends on Team Canada told me the food and training venue were not the best. Meanwhile our food was so good I gained way too much weight (which isn’t so good for me, but shows how awesome this was for the athletes). I have been traveling with my athletes on Team USA since 2015, going to almost every youth, junior, and senior international event. Eighty percent of the time there is an issue with the food in regards to proper macronutrients, amounts, and/or taste. I’ve had multiple athletes struggle to keep weight on. I am in no way criticizing the food in other countries. It’s just different from the typical food in America, and some athletes struggle with the change. When an athlete drops three to four kilograms, a drop in performance will usually follow.

In Lima the food was amazing, but there was so much more the athletes and coaches were thankful for. The hotel was beautiful, and the beds were amazing. Of course comfortable beds means better quality of sleep and better recovery. However, there was an intangible no one has really spoken about. We grew together as a team during the ten days in Lima.

Because weightlifting is an individual sport, at times in the past it has felt like Team USA was a group of individuals instead of a team. In Lima the coaches were sitting together, talking to one another, and sharing ideas – which is crucial for the growth of the sport in my opinion. For the first time, it didn’t feel like Hunter versus Jess or Harrison versus Chevy. It felt like Team USA!

If our goal truly is to bring home as many medals as possible in 2020, I believe Tokyo Strong is an important key. Does it guarantee we will medal? No, but it’s another positive part of the equation that adds up to success. I agree with Dane that data would be nice, and the planned costs. However, Phil has always been open with me when I have asked. Sometimes a phone call would probably handle the situation, but in this case an open dialogue will help make all of the members of USAW feel closer to the project. Plus I hope parents will see USA Weightlifting under the leadership of Phil Andrews has flourished – which brings me to the next section of this article.

Goals and Funds

I agree lately funding has been a bit frustrating. Before I go into detail on this subject, I want everyone to understand that I totally get it. There is only so much money in any organization, and the way money is spent has to be based on the overall mission of the organization. In the case of USA Weightlifting, the overall mission is multiple medals in the Olympics. In that case, the money has to be directed at the people with the most chance to do just that and to the programs and systems which support that mission. Phil is doing this, and I get it.

However it leaves a few amazing populations in the cold:

  • Senior Athletes right on the cusp of the higher medal level
  • Most youth and junior athletes
  • Coaches

I am going to explain the situation of these populations, and then I am going to give some solutions. I wanted to say this up front, so everyone could understand I am not complaining. I am simply pointing out the issues before giving my ideas to solve those issues. To be clear, I have never been more proud to be a part of any organization like I am proud to be a part of USA Weightlifting. Under Phil Andrews, USAW is a reason for the increased performances of our athletes and the professionalism of my fellow personal coaches.

Here are the issues:

1. Up and Coming Senior Athletes – I have athletes who constantly make international teams for Team USA who do not have stipends. Now I am the first to say nobody is entitled to anything. However, my senior athletes who I am referring to are young. They are the future of USA Weightlifting and are one solid training block away from being on the podium. If we want to see them get to the top, it’s imperative they receive financial assistance. If we want them training 10-15 times per week, visiting the physical therapist, getting a massage, perfecting their diets, managing their stress levels, and sleeping 8-10 hours per day, we can’t expect them to work eight hours per day.

I am proud of Hunter Elam and Nathan Damron for responding to their lost stipends. Hunter has become an amazing influencer on social media, earning her the additional revenue needed to pursue her dreams. Nathan found a job he really likes. Both of them are excelling in their training right now, so things are working. Of course it would be much easier on them to have stipends so they could focus 100% on training.

Both Hunter and Nathan are still in the hunt for the Olympics. That’s the tough part of this whole thing. These athletes might very well be the ones in Tokyo. There are others ahead of them right now, but with two more big Gold Events lots can happen. If they end up being the ones in Tokyo, they will get there without the aid of a stipend. To be clear both of them have benefitted from a stipend off and on – but not much at all in 2019. The risky part of this is having athletes like Nathan and Hunter leave the sport early. That’s the real risk. Both of these athletes are going to be peaking as strength athletes in the 2024 quad, so we don’t want them getting frustrated and leaving now.

2. Youth and Juniors – The funding for the youth and junior athletes significantly dropped off in 2019. The problem with this is it takes away the bargaining chip when trying to recruit new athletes. Before this year, I could go to parents and tell them that the sport of weightlifting could equal stipends and free trips around the world. For a select few it’s still true, but for the majority it’s not. If we want this sport to continue to flourish after 2020, this is something we need to rectify right away. If we want this sport to crush it, we need as many benefits as possible to offer our young people. Pyrros Dimas is the first person to tell you how important it is for the athletes to start younger.

When it comes to recruiting young athletes, we compete against other sports like football, basketball, and baseball – which can all lead to scholarships and big money contracts for the best of the best. We might not ever have million dollar contracts, but we want to offer as much as possible. The personal mission of my company has always been to offer as much as we can outside of USA Weightlifting. We offer benefits to our elite athletes like:

  • Stipends
  • Travel costs
  • Recovery tools

Recently we launched a new fundraising campaign to offer more of these benefits to our athletes and especially to our youth and juniors to offset the costs they experience. It has been super successful early on, which is promising. I am in the middle of establishing a new University Program, which would benefit all of my athletes. I will tell you more about it when we get closer to closing the deal. I am the most excited about this opportunity because a university program has been my goal from the very beginning. I will get more into what we can all do as individuals at the end of this article.

3. Coaches – Obviously this one is close to my heart. I have spent over $15,000 this year on travel just for me alone. That doesn’t include what I have spent on the athletes. This has been a really big challenge for my company. The amount of time and money I have spent on my team has been a challenge on my family as well. I have always dreamed of having youth, juniors, and seniors on Team USA – but dang it, I didn’t realize the price it would cost.

After talking to the other high performing coaches in USA Weightlifting, I can promise this is a problem we need to address for the future of our sport. I am not putting this on the corporate office at USA Weightlifting. I am saying if the organization as a whole wants to continue with the success we have enjoyed during this quad, we need to do something to help the coaches. This brings me to my ideas.

Looking for a Solution

For a bunch of athletes and coaches from a democratic government, we sure do act like a bunch of people from a socialist government… always looking to the organization to make things better. By the way this isn’t a political post saying democracy is better than socialism. I’m just saying that could offer more solutions if we tried. Ironically many of the top coaches in USA Weightlifting happen to be pretty good entrepreneurs and business leaders as well. So here is my solution.

Let’s come together outside of USA Weightlifting. Let’s see if we can work together to raise funds and make the sport better than ever. We all have our own businesses, but I believe there is a lot we could come together on. I am about to email a few of you with the beginnings of some ideas. I think we could come together and ease the pain of travel and other extra costs we come across.

This group could also serve as a sort of consultant for USAW. I have watched guys like Dane and Dave Spitz form million dollar businesses in a small niche barbell world. What if we all came together? I think we could come up with some amazing ideas to continue the growth of USA Weightlifting in a way that would be beneficial for all. I am ready to get this dialogue started now.

Anyway these are my thoughts. I love this sport, the athletes within it, and my fellow coaches. In my lifetime I want to help build this sport into one that will thrive for years to come. Over the last decade, I have come to the conclusion this is only possible if we come together. The era of secret programs and techniques needs to be over. Let’s quit being self-absorbed and redirect focus onto the sport in general. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s leave this sport better than we found it. Let’s stop complaining to Phil and the others at USAW, and let’s start helping them instead. This is my stance at least. I hope you all will join me in making this sport the greatest sport in the world.


Coach Travis Mash
USA Weightlifting Senior International Coach

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