While Sault Ste. Marie is known as a producer of seemingly countless professional hockey players, Ben Cinelli would like to remind locals of the role the Sault Ste. Marie Powerlifting Club played in the city’s athletic history.
Cinelli, a personal trainer and owner/operator of the one-on-one, by-appointment-only YOUnique Fitness at 16 Queen Street East for the past 14 years, was a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Powerlifting Club in its glory years from 1972 to the early 1990s.
The team won provincial and national championships, and some of the local powerlifters also competed at the international level.
Cinelli himself, at one point, ranked fourth in powerlifting at the provincial level.
“That was the golden age of local powerlifting,” Cinelli told SooToday.
“There’s a lot of great sports history in this town, and powerlifting was a part of it. We were proud to represent this city,” Cinelli said.
“We stuck around together, we had a core group, we trained together and went to meets together.”
“That era will never come back again. There are no more powerlifting teams like that here in Sault Ste. Marie, these were great athletes, tremendous athletes.”
While not the general manager of the club in an official sense, Cinelli convened many of the competitive events in which the club participated, the largest of which was the Canadian National Powerlifting Championships held at the Sault YMCA in 1981.
“Joseph Michael Diodati sort of started the personal fitness business in Sault Ste. Marie and then out of that, we had the opportunity to start a powerlifting club,” Cinelli said.
Diodati, born in the Sault in 1929, produced some of the strongest men in Canada from Diodati’s Health Studio, the men holding powerlifting championships for many years, producing several Mr. Canada champions.
Diodati passed away in 2005.
The powerlifting club operated at Diodati’s until a fire destroyed that facility in 1984, then moved its activities to the Sault YMCA.
“We started off at the Diodati studio on White Oak Drive. Diodati’s health studio was ‘the Mecca’ of fitness, bodybuilding and powerlifting here in Sault Ste. Marie. Everybody went to it, there were judges, everybody,” Cinelli said, comparing it to the original Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach, California.
“Every time we went somewhere they would say ‘oh, here comes Diodati’s, here comes the Sault Ste. Marie Powerlifting Club,’” Cinelli said.
“There was no money in it. It was just for trophies and the love of the sport. The guys had jobs, then we would get together in the evenings and train, then travel on weekends for competitions.”
“The amount of weight they lifted was just phenomenal. They trained hard.”
Recalling one event in particular, Cinelli said “there was a meet held in Quebec City. We went as a team and started at eight o’clock in the morning on a Saturday and the last lift we took was Sunday morning at two-thirty.”
While praising the entire group, Cinelli said Karl Hult and Steve Finateri excelled in particular, competing at the international level at the Pan American Games.
“Karl started it and established some Canadian records, while Steve, pound for pound, was the best lifter who came out of Sault Ste. Marie,” Cinelli said.
To put Finateri’s strength in perspective, he lifted 468 pounds in a squat, 468 pounds in a deadlift and benched 245 pounds at the Elite Status level, while the man himself weighed 123 pounds.
Hult, a Sault Ste. Marie Sports Hall of Famer, did a 704 pound squat while weighing 242 pounds at the Master Status level and held the Canadian bench press record at 484 pounds while weighing 220 pounds.
“These are amazing lifts and I don’t think a lot of people understand the tremendous effort it took to do that. I think they should be recognized more for that,” Cinelli said.
Powerlifters who stand out from the pages of the club’s history include Lou Caruso, Karl Hult, Steve Finateri, Bill Autio, Peter Perry, Dan James, Brian Zanatta, Greg Shoemaker, Bruce Chester, Darwin Nicholson, Anthony Zanini, Sam Mazzuca, John Scott, John Pine, Armando Barban, Dan Schmidt, Grant Collings, Tom Foley, Dano Krajchi, Rod MacDonald, Dan Weeks and Brad Luzzi.
Many of the lifters still reside in Sault Ste. Marie, while others moved to different communities.
Some are deceased, such as Lou Caruso, a Master Status powerlifter who passed away Oct. 23, 2017.
“Lou was one of the great lifters, he was a good guy,” Cinelli said.
“What we did two weeks after his death was hold a gathering here (at YOUnique Fitness). I brought in a lot of the old powerlifters, a lot of people came in from out of town, and we held a vigil and a service here.”
“There were about 15 or 20 of them, and some of them hadn’t seen each other for 20 or even 30 years, so we were able to look at ourselves and say ‘oh boy, that was a blast.’”
“That day, Lou sort of brought us all together again.”
“There’s a way of doing it. You’ve got to prep for it. When we started there was a prep stage of a year or two just to get the basics, then we went from there,” Cinelli said, encouraging more Sault young people to get involved in the sport.