CrossFit FAST, a fitness and training center in Westlake Village, is pumping out championship winning weightlifters.

Throughout the facility, people of various ages and athletic abilities are swinging from rings, running sprints and tossing medicine balls as music continually blares from unseen speakers. But, tucked away in the corner of the 6,500-square-foot building, the staccato of weights assaulting the floor drowns out all else. It’s an area crowded with barbells and Olympic weights cast in an array of garish colors.

“Welcome to the Pit,” said Josue “Cap” Cano as a cloud of chalk dust erupted from his hands.

Cano, 36, spends six days a week training in the Pit. The Oxnard resident is an accomplished Olympic-style weightlifter, specializing in the barbell snatch and the clean and jerk. This past July, he won a gold medal at the California State Games in San Diego. Cano out-lifted his opponents in both events, totaling just more than 487 pounds between them. He also earned a silver medal at the So Cal Championship and another gold at the American Masters Championship in November, both in the 170-pound weight class.

Though Cano is an Olympic lifter, the Pit is also home to several powerlifters. While powerlifting is different from the Olympic styles — consisting of three different lifts: the squat, bench press and deadlift — Cano insists that competitors of each style are cut from the same cloth.

“We’re lifters. There’s a difference between being a lifter and lifting weights,” he said. “Lifting weights? That’s an activity. People will use it as a tool to do something else, bodybuilding, fitness or whatever. We’re lifters. We compete. We’re concerned about one thing: putting up as much weight as possible. That’s what we cultivate here.”

Steve Melero, 30, is one of CrossFit’s powerlifters. The Newbury Park resident has been lifting since high school, though he has only been competing as a powerlifter for a little more than a year. During that time, Melero has wasted no time setting records. In November, he took first place at the 2012 International Powerlifting League (IPL) World Powerlifting Championships, with his combined totals for the squat, bench and deadlifts topping 1,344 pounds. He also set both California State and World records for the United States Powerlifting Association (USPA) and IPL with a 600-pound deadlift.

“I love it. You know, it’s something I could see myself doing for life,” said Melero “With proper training and being safe, you can last a long time in this sport.”

But it’s a sport not without its stereotypes. Competitive weightlifting is often regarded as a realm of sweaty, hulking behemoths. Cano casually brushes these preconceptions aside.

“There’s not just a bunch of bare, rugged men in the Pit. We have females in here, too,” he said. “And they don’t look like men. They’re feminine and beautiful.”

Tina Daneshmand, 26, is proof of Cano’s claim. Clad in a blinding pink and standing a head shorter than the men around her — she’s only 5 feet tall — Daneshmand goes about her training with the same determination, performing her reps with relative ease. Though she hasn’t been lifting as long as Cano or Melero, Daneshmand’s efforts have afforded her an impressive start within the sport.

Just six months after starting her powerlifting training, Daneshmand competed in the 2012 USPA Southern California Open. Her combined totals for the squat, bench and deadlifts topped 655 pounds, earning her three state records. The following day, she set a national record for the 132-pound weight class by deadlifting 358 pounds.

“After that, I mean, I’m so competitive and I just want to compete, compete, compete,” said Daneshmand. “I’ve only been in two competitions and lifting for five months. No athletic background prior to that. I didn’t play sports or anything my whole life.”

Daneshmand isn’t the only one focused on competition. Cano is currently training for the National Championship in March and the International Weightlifting Federation’s Pan-American Championship in June.

Meanwhile, Melero has his sights set on entering the 181-pound weight class and performing a 700-pound deadlift. Rest assured, he’ll be working toward that goal in the Pit.

 “It’s a great, great home to train in,” said Melero. “We all come together, unite and just encourage each other to become stronger. It’s a great environment.”

“We’re all a big happy family here,” added Daneshemand.


Steve Melero has his sights set on entering the 181-pound weight class and performing a 700-pound deadlift.