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CLEARWATER, Fla. – In the 40 years the Sunshine State Games has been offering amateur sports opportunities to the athletes of Florida and beyond, there have been elite athletes with rigorous training schedules who strive for perfection at every outing.  The Games also offers opportunities for athletes who are there for a variety of reasons or for, but otherwise.

The Fifth Annual Sunshine State Games (SSG) International Beach Games came to a close on Sunday at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort with such a collection of athletes.

In the Men’s Powerlifting competition featuring athletes 90kg (198lbs) and above, the top Powerlifter by volume was 41-year old Cardell Oliver, from Georgia, who had a combined total of 805kg (1,774 lbs.) lifted.  He started his effort in the 100kg open division with a squat of 272.5kg (600 lbs.), followed by a bench press of 190kg (418 lbs.) and a USPA World Record deadlift in his classification of 342.5kg (755 lbs.).

His total on Sunday topped an eighth-place finish at the USPA Drug Tested National Championships, in July, in Las Vegas, Nevada, of 1,714 lbs.

But otherwise…..

University of South Florida graduate student Steven Zhao won a gold medal in the 125kg Junior Division (20-23 years old) with a combined lift of 717.5kg (1,584 lbs).  While the powerlifting total is impressive, it’s merely something to occupy his spare time while studying for a master’s degree in Public Health.

His long-term goal in life is to work with people with health disparities and low-income residents of the community. He served an internship with the Timothy Initiative in 2018, “helping addicts get their lives back together.”

He wants to go to medical school after his graduate work is complete to become a family practitioner to work with members of the community who don’t have insurance, or insurance of lesser quality.

“In the sport of powerlifting I see a lot of people in need of services like this,” Zhao said.  “There are blue collar workers who get hurt and need surgery and have difficulty paying for it.  Also, things like working with people with diabetes who don’t really need medication but just need to learn how to change their lifestyle to control their condition.”

Zhao along with four other members of the USF Powerlifting team competed in the SSG International Beach Games.

In the third and final day of Beach Tennis, the mixed doubles open team of Ignacio De Elia and Jessica Cortes defeated the team of Matteo Godio and Angela Bemquerer, both who had won gold medals in singles and men’s and women’s doubles.

De Elia and Cortes won a thrilling championship match by a score of 7-6, with a 7-1 tie breaker.  De Elia has been a fixture in the SSG International Beach Games winning multiple medals over the last few years.  Cortes was a member of the USF Women’s Tennis team from 2014-18.

De Elia credited Cortes for the gold medal winning performance.  “She has no fear,” De Elia said. “She had no fear today playing against some top competition and it showed.”

But otherwise….

13-year old Juan Coca and his mother Lourdes Bacardi, from Wesley Chapel, were also in the same event with the seasoned beach tennis players.  While Lourdes teamed with Jeffrey Rodriguez, Juan teamed with family friend Anna Villamedianna.

Juan’s father Jose Coca played on Friday and Saturday in Men’s Doubles competition.  He teamed with Rodriguez on Saturday in the Men’s Open Doubles.  They are all part of a neighborhood beach tennis community in Wesley Chapel and all support one another.

Jose is originally from Puerto Rico and on a recent visit saw the game being played and encouraged his family and friends to take up the sport.  It wasn’t too hard.

“There’s a beach volleyball court at a park in our neighborhood and we lower the nets and play beach tennis,” said Lourdes Bacardi. “No one seems to mind.”

Juan and Anna advanced into bracket play before losing their opening round match.  Lourdes and Jeffrey were eliminated in pool play.  The community was courtside hanging on to every shot Juan and Anna played and surrounded him with encouragement after the final outcome.

In the Highland Games competition featured competition in seven different events in six different divisions.  Two of the top overall finishers were athletes who have traveled to international locations for competition.

The Women’s Open gold medalist Stacy Snow, from St. Petersburg, recently competed in Norway and will be at the 19th Annual Scottish Masters Athletics Heavy Events World Championships in Tuscon, Ariz., in November.  Snow had the top scores in all seven events (Open Stone, Heavy Distance Throw, Light Distance Throw, Sheaf Toss, Hammer Throw, Weight Over Bar and Caber Toss) for a perfect 7 aggregate score.

The Men’s A Winner, Thorbjorn Gylfason, of Greenville, N.C., won five of the seven events and came in second in the other two for a score for 11.  Gylfason competed in Highlands Games events in Scotland and Iceland over the summer.

But otherwise….

The mother and daughter duo of Jo Parker and Madalyn Moore, from St. Augustine, competed together after National Daughter’s Day was celebrated on Wednesday. Madalyn, now 16, saw a Highland Games competition at age 13 and wanted to become involved.  Jo was informed a parent would have to compete as well.

“It was her idea from the beginning,” said Jo Parker. “Now it’s a passion for both of us.  We travel all over the state and have been to Games in Georgia and South Carolina.  I even got certified to be an official and went to Minnesota to judge in the World Highland Games.”

Both competing in the Women’s Open Division, Madalyn finished fourth while Jo placed seventh.

While the adult coed teams dominated the entries in Beach Volleyball action on Sunday, with the Coed A Division boasting a field of 22 teams, it was the Under 18 Women’s Division that provided some championship match excitement.

A pair of high school juniors, Kelsie Roberts, from Sarasota, and Hayden Woodridge, of Tampa, defeated a pair of high school senior twin sisters, Angeline and Arianna Berger, from Orlando, 21-18 in the gold medal match.

Trailing 18-17 after a back and forth match, Roberts and Woodridge won the final four points of the match. Robert plays for Lakewood Ranch High School and Woodridge attends Freedom High School in Tampa. The Bergen sisters are seniors at Bergen High School and have committed to Florida State University to begin playing volleyball in the fall of 2020.

Over 1200 participants were on hand for the seven sports of the 2019 SSG International Beach Games.  The 2019 Sunshine State Games began in February and have continued throughout the year with over 30 sports available for amateur athletes to compete statewide.

The Sunshine State Games are an annual program of the Florida Sports Foundation, the state’s official sports promotion and development organization of the State of Florida. The SSG International Beach Games were presented in partnership with Visit St. Pete/Clearwater.

About the Sunshine State Games
The 40th Sunshine State Games are presented annually by the Florida Sports Foundation (FSF), the state’s lead sports promotion and development organization, and a division of Enterprise Florida, Inc.  The Foundation works in conjunction with a variety of local sports industry partners to present the different competitions.  The Sunshine State Games, an annual amateur sports tradition in Florida, is part of the state’s $57.4 billion sports industry that accounts for 580,000 jobs statewide. #PlayInFlorida