In January, Raymond Fougnier was at the Pigeon Forge Community Center in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, putting in a couple of hours of weightlifting when a fellow gym-goer approached him and made a suggestion that would send Fougnier on an unexpected journey.
“He said he’d been involved in powerlifting for some years and thought I should give it a try,” said Fougnier.
The 70-year-old retiree of the Oneida Nation was at first reluctant, he said.
“I’m not interested in macho kinds of things,” declared the grandfather of two. “I said, ‘When I’m going into retirement I’m going into retirement.’ I never thought about [competing]. It never entered my mind until that gentleman walked up to me and said, ‘Hey, you should give it a try.’”
It wasn’t long after that fortuitous conversation before Fougnier, now in his eighth year of retirement, decided he’d give it a shot and enrolled with U.S.A. Powerlifting, the nation’s leading, drug-free powerlifting association, according to its Website.
Fougnier, who is the former head of the American Indian program at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, soon began competing in competitions across the country.
“I went to my first event – won that. Then went to my second event and got a silver medal there. The third event I was in I got the national championship,” he said.
On July 20, the former science teacher won the gold medal at the Raw Nationals championship in Orlando, Florida, in the masters’ class for power-lifters ages 70 to 74. Fougnier competed and eventually broke records in the squat, bench press and deadlift categories.
According to Fougnier, a raw powerlifting competition is when an athlete isn’t assisted or supported by equipment while lifting.
“I totaled 760 pounds in all three lifts,” he said humbly. “I beat the squat record and the deadlift record and the total record. The previous was 695. I got three out of four.”
Fougnier added that although he enjoys winning at championships, he didn’t get into powerlifting for trophies and distinction. He joined to keep his physique in shape and to prevent life-threatening maladies, especially diabetes.
Fougnier’s mother suffered from type-two diabetes.
“When I retired eight years ago I happened to be concerned about the fact that I [am] more susceptible to diabetes than the general population,” he said. “And from what I’ve read and what I know about diabetes I was concerned that if there was an inheritance that I’d get [it].”
Fougnier said weightlifting has sundry health benefits, adding to the appeal of the sport.
“Weightlifting really helps to control sugar in the blood,” he said.
Fougnier stressed that’s important that humans, who are often relegated to desks, simply move about and exercise as frequently as possible.
“We’re part of the animal kingdom,” he said. “The difference between us and plants is that we move. If you’re just sitting behind a desk bad things are going to happen to you. You really need to be aware of that, and especially American Indian people.”
Fougnier emphasized that Native Americans specifically should always be cognizant of their daily diet and of how much they exercise.
“If we continue to live a sedentary lifestyle it’s going to have a negative effect, especially if we’re predisposed to diabetes, blood pressure, cancer, heart disease – all of those things,” he said.
So what’s next for Fougnier?
“Now that I’m into [competing], I’d like to continue on with it,” he said. “I’d certainly like to set some more records and go into the international level.”
Fougnier said that he didn’t fully expect to go as far as he has in his first year competing.
“It was a surprise to really get the results that I did,” he said. “But I also somewhat expected to because of the records I saw that were posted. … I thought, ‘I’m pretty sure I can beat those records.’”
Fougnier is slated to compete in the powerlifting state championships in Michigan in November and has qualified for the world championships international powerlifting event in Johannesburg, South Africa in June 2014.