Marcel Perron poses in the training room during the 2019 World Masters Weightlifting Championship in Montreal, Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019. Perron competed on Friday and won in the 73-kilogram, 80-and-above class. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

70 years of lifting: Canadian man, 85, could cinch weightlifting championship

The senior gym junkie is on track to win the World Masters Weightlifting championship

Olympic-style weightlifting isn’t just about strength or power. It’s about speed, coordination, focus.

More than five decades ago, Marcel Perron learned that in a visceral way.

The 85-year-old lifter — then a young member of the Canadian national team — was at a Montreal bus depot when he spotted a driver surrounded by three assailants.

“They were mad at him. I don’t know why … but I knocked them, bop-bop,” he said. “You have to be explosive, swift,” he said.

For years Perron worked as a nightclub bouncer — “a small bouncer … I was not big, but I was fast.”

Now the senior gym junkie is on track to win the World Masters Weightlifting championship, an annual contest hosted this year in Montreal where nearly 800 men and women over 34 are competing by age and weight class.

WATCH: Using scrap materials, man builds workout equipment at Surrey tent city

Currently the oldest competitor, Perron may not hoist the heaviest weights over his head, but the title of grandmaster is determined by a formula that accounts for age and weight, making the spry 156-pounder the man to beat after he clean and jerked 61 kilograms — equivalent to almost two La-Z-Boy recliners.

The event, which kicked off Friday, draws entrants from 60 countries, including Genice Paullay-Beazley, 50, who was working out hours after her flight touched down from New Zealand on Saturday morning.

A member of that country’s national Olympic weightlifting body and owner of a CrossFit studio in Auckland, Paullay-Beazley came to the sport by way of bodybuilding after starting to pump iron at 16 in New York City, where she grew up.

“This wasn’t really available to women then,” she recalled, adding that weightlifting has grown “exponentially” in the last decade or so.

“It’s exploded, at least for us in New Zealand,” she said. “It’s been actually really liberating to carry a little more skin on me, a little more fat on me, and care more about getting weight over my head than what my butt looks like in a bathing suit.”

Most rewarding has been discovering the strength, skill and technique her body is capable of, she said.

“It’s my catharsis. I’m a mom. I own a business. This is the only thing I do for me, really.”

As Paullay-Beazley speaks, steel weights periodically crash to the ground in the training zone, walled off by a black curtain that shakes with the floor panels while men and women in Lycra onesies squat, chalk their palms and fling down barbells.

At the snack counter nearby, a tray of hard-boiled eggs complements the chips and sports drinks on offer.

For Owen Duguay, 69, it’s not the protein but the persistence and mental discipline that keep him tethered to the sport.

“I like that when you first start out, you set a goal. And my goal was to get back in shape,” said Duguay, a retired tax collector who used to run a weightlifting club in Sherbrooke, Que.

He developed tendinitis recently, which required constant stretching and icing.

“I had to overcome that and start over again from zero and gradually build my way up,” said Duguay, an internationally qualified referee.

“Weightlifting is my passion. It’s the sport I like so much that 50 years later, I’m still lifting.”

Mario Robitaille, 54, has felt that same gravitational pull since 1978, when he first met Marcel Perron, the now-85-year-old local superstar.

Robitaille, part of the organizing committee this year, was about 14 when he started to lift.

“It gives the idea to the young that you have to put in effort if you want to succeed,” he said. “The more you train, the more you can lift. No shortcuts.”

The week-long contest Robitaille helps oversee takes place in the shadow of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, at the Centre Pierre-Charbonneau. But he says shadier side of weightlifting — and many Olympic sports — has no place at the Masters contest.

“You cannot compete and take drugs,” he said. Roughly 10 per cent of all competitors are selected for random tests of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, according to the organization.

Perron, who used to use his lunch hour to bench-press and dead-lift in the basement of the foundry where he once worked, said he’s never considered doping.

A firefighter for 15 years and lifelong Montrealer, he retired 35 years ago to focus on weightlifting. He gets some help from sponsors for international contests but mostly pays his own way, often taking out an informal loan.

“I remember many years ago somebody phoned me at home who was supposed to be a sponsor,” Perron recalled. “I said, ‘OK, what can you do?’ He said, ‘I will buy you a (wheel)chair.’

“I shut the line,” he said. “Too bad I didn’t break the phone.”

Established in the mid-1980s, the World Masters Weightlifting competition runs Aug. 16 to 24 in Montreal.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Event was virtual, recognition was real at Nanaimo Business Awards

Online event praised Nanaimo businesses and organizations for excellence in 21 award categories

Best of the City: This year’s winners

Nanaimo News Bulletin presents full results of our 2020 Best of the City readers’ survey

Nanaimo under a thunderstorm watch tonight

Environment Canada forecasts downpour and possible thunder and lightning

B.C. Greens hurrying to get candidates in place for provincial election

No candidates announced yet in Nanaimo, Nanaimo-North Cowichan or Parksville-Qualicum

Best of the City: This year’s winners

Nanaimo News Bulletin presents full results of our 2020 Best of the City readers’ survey

Mounties impound car of impaired driver celebrating birthday in North Vancouver

RCMP say the person was driving with their headlights off

Transgender B.C. brothers debut fantasy novel as author duo Vincent Hunter

‘Transgender people are being misrepresented in popular fiction and media, and we aim to change that’

‘Won’t be gathering for Thanksgiving:’ Trudeau says COVID-19 2nd wave underway

In all, COVID-19 has killed about 9,250 people in Canada

Canada’s active COVID-19 cases top 10,000 as daily new cases triple over the past month

Dr. Tam repeated her warning to young people, who have made up the majority of recent cases

First 8 months of fatal overdoses in B.C. have now exceeded 2019 death toll

Nine people died every two days in August, BC Coroners Service data shows

Cops for Cancer: COVID-19 can’t stop Tour de Rock

‘having the chance to come back and ride this year means everything to me’

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Masks and temperature checks now mandatory to enter Nanaimo’s Woodgrove Centre

Mall says it’s the first in B.C. to put the measures in place

Most Read