Keys fishing captain remembers when weightlifting stepfather won Olympic gold

Florida Keys fishing captain Richard Stanczyk has been watching today’s stars of the Summer Olympic Games in London, but his thoughts keep bringing him back to the “Austerity” Olympic Games of 1948, when Great Britain was recovering from the devastating bombing raids during World War II.

Stanczyk’s stepfather Stanley Stanczyk — whom he has called Dad since he was a young boy — won an Olympic gold medal in weightlifting in the light-heavyweight division.

“My dad was humble and never talked much about it,” Richard said while showing off the aging gold medal that’s framed with several other medals.

Just getting to the Games was a feat. Stanley battled seasickness during the U.S. team’s long journey across the Atlantic.

Stanley obviously recovered. He stood just 5 foot 6 1/2 inches, but in front of the London crowd he pressed 286 ½ pounds, snatched 286 ½ pounds and clean and jerked 347 pounds, for an astonishing total of 920. It was 100 pounds more than the second-place finisher.

The performance was impressive. But Richard said all these years later he is more impressed by his father’s Olympic spirit, which was alive despite having witnessed the worst atrocities of the war three years earlier while on the front lines of combat in the Philippines.

Stanley snatched 292 pounds (lifting the weight from the ground to over one’s head in one fluid motion) — a world record. Two judges signaled the lift was good. But Stanley knew his knee had brushed the floor, nullifying the lift.

“My dad walked to the podium and disqualified himself,” Richard said. “He is not a person who could have lived with a record he didn’t achieve.”

In Miami, Stanley also is remembered by many as the 27-year owner of the Bowling Palace. He died in 1997 at age 72. But Richard, the longtime owner of Bud N’ Mary’s Marina in Islamorada, said the legacy of his dad’s life is worth telling now — with cheating prevalent in sports and money often outweighing raw passion for one’s game.

Stanley competed at a time when nobody in the United States was using steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, although there were suspicions that other countries were cheating. “I didn’t even take aspirin,” Stanley said in a newspaper article.

He was born in 1925 in Wisconsin and grew up in Detroit, where his immigrant parents from Poland struggled to make ends meet during the Great Depression. Young Stan was teased because his mother worked as a maid at his school.

Life-changing book

One day, his older brother gave him a Charles Atlas weightlifting book. By his teens, he was called “Superman of Detroit” for his amazing strength. By 1942, at 17, he burst onto the national scene with a third at the senior nationals as a lightweight.

But as he was hitting his prime, along came World War II. Stanczyk was drafted into the Army in 1943. He eventually was sent to the Philippines with the 25th Division to fight in the 165-day Luzon Campaign, in which Americans and Filipinos fought together against the Empire of Japan.

“It was hand-to-hand combat,” Richard said. “People were decapitated. My dad never talked much about the war.”

But what Richard would later find out about Stanley’s service is that he won two bronze stars, a purple heart and other medals.

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