Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn.
Dillon O’Neill is probably stronger than you, and possibly stronger than you and me combined.
That’s a bold claim, seeing as I do not personally know the majority of Sarasota Observer readers, but in this case I feel comfortable taking the side of the Cardinal Mooney senior.
O’Neill is a weightlifter for the Cougars, and this weekend in DeLand, the 236-pound lifter (in the 238-pound class) will try to capture his first state title. He enters as the prohibitive favorite for his weight class, lifting a combined 695 pounds between the bench press (405 pounds) and the clean and jerk (290 pounds) to win his regional on March 25. In fact, he has won every competition he has entered this season. That 695-pound score is 55 pounds more than his biggest challenger at the state tournament's best combined score.
He’s careful not to get overconfident, remaining wary of opponents “sandbagging,” or intentionally lifting less weight at smaller competitions to lull other lifters into a false sense of security at larger ones. Thus, O’Neill said, he is preparing for the state meet just like he would any other, not resting on his laurels. Well, in terms of effort, at least. Rest is actually quite important to O’Neill. He takes the maximum rest time allowed between sets during competitions, which makes perfect sense to me. O’Neill used to work himself too hard. His coach, Drew Lascari, recommended he slow down a bit, and that has helped this season.
Another recent change that has helped? Adding cryotherapy to his routine. Yes, every week day for the past few weeks, O’Neill has journeyed down to Hydr8 on Second Street and subjected his body to 100-below-zero degree temperatures. O’Neill has had some nagging shoulder injuries this year, and he said the cold helps eliminate inflammation and helps him recover.
O’Neill originally started lifting weights in seventh grade after reading about a Sarasota High weightlifter (he does not remember the guy’s name) with a 475-pound bench press at 219 pounds in the newspaper (he did not specify which paper, either. Just for fun, let’s pretend it was this one). That piqued his interest, and that interest intensified when he decided to play football. O’Neill, who played both offensive and defensive line, wanted a strength advantage over his competition, so he started lifting.
His gains quickly went up. As a freshman in high school, he was able to bench press 300 pounds. The clean and jerk, which requires more technique, gave him trouble. By the end of ninth grade, he improved that lift to 230 pounds. After admittedly “stalling out” in the lift last season, he has regained his form this year, and hopes to hit 300 pounds in the clean and jerk at the state meet.
“I learned to keep my wrists flexible,” O’Neill said of how he improved his clean and jerk abilities. “That way, I can catch it (the bar) on my shoulders versus in the air. I have also learned to keep my back straight.”
He used to get nervous before competitions, O’Neill said, but now it’s old hat. The weight of the world — or at least the weight of the competition — is literally in his hands. All he has to do is lift.
The hardest part of Saturday for O’Neill might come after the competition.
It’s prom night at Cardinal Mooney, and DeLand is about three hours away.
Getting back from the meet and changing clothes in time for the first dance number will be a challenge, but if it’s like all the others O’Neill has conquered, he will be able to handle it.