This is the sixth in a series of profiles on the 2016 inductees into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.
Name: Cindy Wyatt
Sport: Track and field/powerlifting
Born: March 31, 1944
Career overview: When her older brother was throwing the shot put and discus it was only natural that Cindy Wyatt would follow. She found success quickly, winning local AAU meets by age 13. She won the National Junior Division in shot put three times (1958, 1959, 1961) and discuss twice (1958, 1961). By the time she was 16 she placed fourth in the shot put at the Olympic trials. But competing for Williamsville high school in the 1950s was out of the question.
“By the time I was a senior in high school, I was throwing the men’s shot put, the weight the boys throw,” Wyatt said. “I probably would have placed in some of the meets the guys were having but I couldn’t compete with them. We tried to get permission for me to compete. Williamsville sent a request to the Board of Regents but they declined it. There was no track for girls.”
There weren’t many scholarships, either. In the days before Title IX, opportunities for women to get college scholarships for track and field were limited to three schools – Tennessee State, Tuskegee and Hawaii. Wyatt had a decision to make: attend the University at Buffalo on a Regents Scholarship or take an athletic scholarship to the University of Hawaii.
She represented the United States at the 1963 Pan-American Games in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where she won a silver medal in the shot put.
She always used weight training to improve her throwing ability. Her weight lifting went to a new level in Hawaii when she started working with three-time Olympic medalist Tommy Kono. Not only did it supplement her work in throws, it became a competition in itself. Wyatt won the Women’s National Powerlifting Championships from 1976-79 while establishing more than 20 world records.
Powerlifting: Wyatt started lifting in high school and remembers going to a small gym with her mother.
“Men and women didn’t train on the same days,” Wyatt said. “There were women’s days and men’s days and the gym was divided. On one side of the gym was the male stuff – weights and benches. The female end was crazy. It had those vibrating belts that they said would shake and rub off the fat. Then these rowers that people would lean up against and something that looked like a rolling pin would beat against them. The theory was that it would beat up on the fat and it would disappear,” Wyatt said with a laugh.
“I’d be over lifting weights. I was 16 at the time and the other women would say to my mother, ‘Aren’t you worried? She’s never going to have children.” They thought if you did that you’d strain your reproductive ability and that it would really hurt you. People had odd ideas.”
Celebrity: “I ended up on the cover of Strength and Health magazine, one of the main magazines for people who lifted,” Wyatt said. “Because of that, I developed my own group following. People would show up to track meets and want to talk to me about lifting.”
There weren’t many women throwing the shot put or lifting heavy weights. Wyatt was a pioneer, but she didn’t think about it at the time. She was just trying to get better at her sport.
“Younger people came into lifting and said, ‘Well I’m doing this because of Cindy Wyatt.’ But I wasn’t thinking about it at the time. I was more of an influence than I realized.”
Post career: Wyatt worked as a psychologist for 26 years for New York State. A round of downsizing had her rethinking her work, so in 1996, at age 52, she went back to school at Ohio State to work on her doctorate. She works as a psychologist in the Columbus area part time, mostly working with senior citizens.
She’s still lifting weights and competing. She took about 10 years off but returned to compete in Masters track and field meets, winning several throwing events in the 70-74 age group.
“I feel best when out on the track training or in the gym lifting,” Wyatt said. “Those are the best parts of my day.”
The GBSHOF induction dinner is Oct. 6 at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. Tickets can be purchased at www.gbshof.com