SUMMERSIDE – Rock music blaring, as he liked it, Shawn Gauthier planted himself astride the end of a weightlifting bench and flexed his arms and chest, giving a mighty roar for the victory that he anticipated over his rival, the set of weights that waited in steely silence for all comers
The spotters readied themselves, one on each end of the barbell, and a master behind the head of the now back-prone, powerlifting athlete, prepared to recover the weight if the lift failed.
Gauthier arched, and lifted, a steady rush of noisy air escaping as he concentrated on the bench press… but not quite enough; an elbow refused to lock and the bar descended on one end.
Not to worry: safety is one of the first concerns of the powerlifting genre and the spotters safely returned the indifferent barbell to its carriage.
Such was the scene for a the audience gathered at the Boys & Girls Club of Summerside Saturday morning for a fundraising demonstration of the bench press segment of powerlifting, with the proceeds from the $5 entry fee going to support the Special Olympics Bulldog Powerlifting team that practices at the facility.
Powerlifting options also include the squat and the dead lift. There are four Special Olympics athletes training in powerlifting every Wednesday and Thursday evening at the Club, according to Boys & Girls Club programming director Matt Pauptit, but the muscles are not the only things that get workouts.
“We also do some team-building skills, like hitting the heavy bag and playing basketball, trying to keep the guys as physically active as we can,” Pauptit added.
He says guys, referring to the four members of the Special Olympics Bulldogs, but the sport is not an exclusively male domain.
At the demonstration, Natasha Dunn pressed for gold with 160 lbs. (1.03 times her own weight), Jillian Sproul took silver with 120 lbs., and Michelle MacDonald seized bronze, with 105 lbs., among the female competitors.
Scoring on the event was done pound-for-pound, which relates to the ratio of athlete weight to weight lifted. Each athlete is weighed before the competition, and the best ratio of personal weight to barbell weight is the goal.
A special guest for the event was “Big” John MacDonald, who has tallied over 100 competitions, not including demonstrations, and has held numerous Canadian records. He is the top power lifter for P.E.I., according to Pauptit.
“We had him down here today to talk to the crowd, to boost morale about powerlifting here on P.E.I., and to give our guys a look at what top, P.E.I. powerlifters can do,” Pauptit explained.
Powerlifting is not something that all Boys & Girls Club members can get into. The Club is focused on the 5 to fourteen-year-old age group, currently, and serious weightlifting is not recommended for anyone under that umbrella due to rapid growth and other issues.
The demonstration offered the Special Olympics class, a women’s class, men’s 185 lbs and under, as well as men’s 185 lbs and over. Each lifter was provided three opportunities to achieve a maximum lift.
The pound-for-pound ratio method of scoring makes it fair for everyone. In fact, “Big” John MacDonald only secured a bronze medal for his effort on the day. Another power lifter, J.P. Richard, who acted as master spotter for much of the competition and is a national-level competitor who has held records, earned the gold in his division with a weight/lift ratio of 230/415, or 1.8.
The demonstration was a first for the Club. Pauptit is always looking for new opportunities for the members, and took the Bulldogs to the Atlantic Power Lifting competition back in January. They had a lot of fun with it, and it opened his eyes to the sport.
“We wanted to do something to contribute to our program. I was lucky enough to meet Natasha Dunn there, team up her, and we created this event,” he outlined.
“We are really pleased with the turnout: all the competitors and we had a great crowd, raising over $580 for the program. You could say it was a successful event. We’re really happy about it,” he assured.
He is now considering how the program can be expanded. He would like to get juniors involved, noting that lifters from Three Oaks Senior High School are going away for major competitions. He envisions high school kids added to the program in some manner.
“We’d like to have this again, soon, and have more awareness of the powerlifting in the community; bring everyone together and get more people involved,” he postulated.