Sitting at the kitchen table in his family’s Newark home, Jon Stoklosa comes across as a laid-back, almost shy guy. He answers questions with a word, preferring instead to look out the backyard window and let his parents, Hank and Liz, do the talking .
But the medal he clasps in his right hand offers a glimmer of the personality that hides beneath his sturdy 5-foot-5 frame.
It’s from a recent powerlifting competition in upstate New York, one where he bench-pressed a personal best of 402.5 pounds and came in third in his age division. He also picked up the “Most Inspirational” award, a unanimous choice by other competitors, many of whom gathered to watch the 31-year-old make his lifts.
Friends and family say Jon, who was born with Down syndrome, is an example of what is possible when people aren’t tethered by labels.
In addition to being able to bench-press more than 400 pounds, Jon can squat 440 pounds and dead-lift an identical amount. He has excelled at the sport, winning a gold medal in the Special Olympics World Games in 1999.
In recent years, Jon has branched out beyond Special Olympics, which is open to athletes with intellectual disabilities. He now competes at least twice a year in powerlifting competitions in Pennsylvania and New York against athletes who aren’t disabled.
His presence at these competitions has become a welcome sight for other lifters who respect his dedication and enthusiasm for the sport, said Dennis Brochey, the New York state chairman of the United States Powerlifting Association.
“You can’t help but love him. When he competed last year, everybody showed up to watch him. They’re in awe of his gifts,” said Brochey, who organized the recent powerlifting event Jon competed in, held at Mickey Rats in Angola, N.Y. “Once he gets up there, nobody notices any handicap he has. He’s a competitor. He’s just like everybody out there.”
If Jon seems quiet with a visitor to his home, the gym is where his extrovert personality explodes.
Read more at Born with Down syndrome, man wins respect powerlifting.