From backyard sheds to national forefront

Kenn Oliver
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The sport has few athletes in this province and little in the way of resources, but Newfoundland and Labrador keeps developing top-ranked lifters

You won't hear them grunting loudly under the strain of a couple hundred pounds across their shoulders at Nubody's. Nor will the thunderous boom of a 500-pound deadlift hitting the mat echo past the treadmills and yoga mats at Good Life Fitness.

In fact, commercial fitness centres often frown on powerlifters training at their facilities because of noise, chalked hands, and the fact lifters often train in groups of three to four for spotting safety reasons.

Justin Miller of St. John's gets ready to make a lift during a workout session at a makeshift training facility located in a backyard shed of former powerlifter Perry Price. Miller, who holds the unofficial national junior record-holder for combined lifts

You won't hear them grunting loudly under the strain of a couple hundred pounds across their shoulders at Nubody's. Nor will the thunderous boom of a 500-pound deadlift hitting the mat echo past the treadmills and yoga mats at Good Life Fitness.

In fact, commercial fitness centres often frown on powerlifters training at their facilities because of noise, chalked hands, and the fact lifters often train in groups of three to four for spotting safety reasons.

With the exception of a gym in the basement of Memorial University's physical education building, most of the powerlifters' training takes place underground, or in some cases, out back.

In Perry Price's 12x24 shed in the Goulds, only about 10 square feet is allotted for tools.

The rest is a training ground for one of the province's elite powerlifters, multi-record holder Tom Kean - a national team member since 2003 and one of just six Canadian men to lift 10-time his body weight - and a quartet of young athltetes determined to keep the province's reputation as a powerlifting powerhouse intact.

"It's an underground sport without the face of the higher profile sports," Kean says. "We just don't have the numbers."

And without the numbers, funding, dedicated training facilties and overall recognition is limited.

"I've gone to Sport Newfoundland and Labrador meetings and ball hockey will have 800 people (registered). They're in all the little towns and the little nooks and crannies around the island. We aren't," Kean says.

"I think our highest membership in any one year was 43 people."

The Newfoundland and Labrador Powerlifting Association operates on a meagre annual budget, so when athletes want to compete abroad, they generally do so largely on their own dime. Kean estimates having spent in excess of $25,000 over the last seven years attending national and international events. That's not including what he's invested in equipment and gear over that time.

And yet despite training in basements and gyms, without serious financial support, local lifters are continually proving themselves to be among the best in the nation.

Kean is the ranked fourth nationally by the Canadian Powerlifting Union and earned an invite to the World Games - a fringe-sport equivalent to the Olympics that includes events like billiards, surfing and bowling - this July in Taiwan.

"That's the pinnacle in our sport," Kean says.

And the stable of proteges he unofficially coaches - brother and sister Stephen and Stacey Price, Corey Grandy, and promising rookie Justin Miller - show just as much promise as their lifts have shown steady improvement in a short time of competition.

Stephen, the youngest of the lot at 17, went from squatting 353 pounds in 2008 to 397 this year. Stacey squatted 259 pounds at the Eastern Canadians Championship last fall in Stephenville. At the nationals this past April in Moose Jaw, Sask., she upped it to 314.

Pretty impressive for a pair of lifters whose first meet was last June at the provincials.

Grandy, 27, has lost some of his power in the squat, but has made up for it with a 56-pound improvement at the bench.

And Miller, 18, competing in the 75-kilogram class at nationals, squatted 545 pounds, benched 352 pounds and hoisted 529 in the deadlift for a total of 1,426. Not bad for a kid who has been lifting weights since Grade 7, but only powerlifting since last March.

Miller actually broke the national junior record, but opted not to pay the $70 to have it registered because he can plans on setting the bar even higher at the provincials this weekend.

"If I never paid for any of my records and they weren't posted, I wouldn't care," Miller insists.

"I personally know I broke them, that I got them. Knowing you're among the top in the country at what you do is pleasure enough."

The staggering growth of their potential comes as a result of their own dedication, combined with experienced training from provincial association president Frank Williams, who operates a gym out of his basement where Stacey and Stephen both started their training, along with and Kean.

In this case, our geography helps

The ever-humble Kean, whose numbers have seen the same sort of steady progression in his seven years in the sport, attributes the success of provincial lifters to a variety of factors, including the province's sea-level geography.

"If you go to Calgary and lift at their elevation, you're only getting about 85 per cent of the oxygen you're getting at sea level," he says.

The rest, he figures, you can chalk up to mentality.

"I don't know if it's bred into them, but I've trained all across the country where I travel for work a lot and the mentality is not the same and the camaraderie is not there."

While those factors might well explain much of the success, for the Prices and Miller, it comes back to the dedication Kean's commitment to help make them better.

"You can ask him anything and he knows," says Stacey. "What way should my stance be? What am I doing wrong? He's able to give you a solid answer that will help you in the future. It's insane what he's done for us."

Stephen, too, says they wouldn't be where they are today without Kean's influence.

"The thing about having your own coach, you want to push yourself but unless you've got someone there like him, you're not going to push yourself hard enough. You can think you are, but without having him there to tell you what to do, you won't ever get to the level where you need to be."

PROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIPS IN ST. JOHN'S SATURDAY

When the Newfoundland and Labrador Powerlifting Association hold its provincial championships Saturday at the College of the North Atlantic in St. John's, it won't be a display of strength in numbers as much as just strength.

Some 20-odd provincial powerlifters ranging in age from 16 to 60 will look to squat, bench and deadlift their way into the record books at the event which was brought to St. John's this year in an effort spur interest in the fringe sport.

"It's a really exciting sport that doesn't get a lot of exposure," explains meet co-director Mike Loder. "Most people who attend events like this are amazed by the weight being moved.

There will be guys lifting 600 pounds on their back, guys benching 400 pounds. Not something you see in every day sports."

While commercial gyms don't make good homes for powerlifters, the growth of such facilities has helped the sport pick up a few extra bodies.

"We have a lot more novice lifters this year compared to what we usually have. They're seeing more experienced lifters in the gym and it's kind of sparking an interest in some of the younger guys."

Loder expects "a nice few" provincial and some national records to be set at the event which gets underway with a weigh-in at 7:30 a.m. before competition begins at 9 a.m.

Organizations: College of the North Atlantic, Newfoundland and Labrador Powerlifting Association, Canadian Powerlifting Union

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Goulds, Taiwan ST. JOHN'S Stephenville Moose Jaw Sask. Calgary

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Recent comments

  • You Talkin To Me ?
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    Powerlifters make a lot of noise, what with all the grunting and the weights hitting the floor but they're lifting very heavy weights so it's understandable. What's up with the wannabe heavy lifters at the local gyms who bang the weights down on the floor on the last rep and let the weights bang down on the resistance machines on the last rep ? There are signs posted but perhaps these jocks can't read. These posers should take note: You're not impressing anyone, you're just being an annoyance that other members have to put up with, thanks to the staff, who don't care enough to enforce the gyms' policies.

  • Dave
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    Well done guys (and gal). You're better off clear of places like Nubody's, Good Life Fitness, etc. anyway. They're only for the alleged trendy, crowd who go to a gym just so that they can brag about it at work - even if all they do is sit on the equipment and check each other out in the mirrors.

  • Mark
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    Dave, that's a big stretch. I respect the powerlifting as much as anybody, but to say that everybody who's not powerlifting is just looking at each other in mirros is rediculous. It's pretty hypocritical to be annoyed by the stereotypes given to powerlifters and then go stereotype the other crowd in the gym.

  • You Talkin To Me ?
    July 01, 2010 - 20:08

    Powerlifters make a lot of noise, what with all the grunting and the weights hitting the floor but they're lifting very heavy weights so it's understandable. What's up with the wannabe heavy lifters at the local gyms who bang the weights down on the floor on the last rep and let the weights bang down on the resistance machines on the last rep ? There are signs posted but perhaps these jocks can't read. These posers should take note: You're not impressing anyone, you're just being an annoyance that other members have to put up with, thanks to the staff, who don't care enough to enforce the gyms' policies.

  • Dave
    July 01, 2010 - 20:01

    Well done guys (and gal). You're better off clear of places like Nubody's, Good Life Fitness, etc. anyway. They're only for the alleged trendy, crowd who go to a gym just so that they can brag about it at work - even if all they do is sit on the equipment and check each other out in the mirrors.

  • Mark
    July 01, 2010 - 19:53

    Dave, that's a big stretch. I respect the powerlifting as much as anybody, but to say that everybody who's not powerlifting is just looking at each other in mirros is rediculous. It's pretty hypocritical to be annoyed by the stereotypes given to powerlifters and then go stereotype the other crowd in the gym.