We all know Quesnel locals are strong.
This is the north, and the frontier attitude which brought along the city’s first settlers is still alive and present, even if there is a Walmart and Booster Juice in town.
Along with tales of mental fortitude and can-do willpower there are also prime examples of great physical strength in the city’s history.
Parm Phangura is one such case, and the Observer caught up with him to talk about his weightlifting heyday and what he is up to now.
While still studying at Correlieu Secondary School, Phangura caught the lifting fever from observing some of the city’s other strong men.
“Back in the eighties and nineties, Quesnel was well known for weightlifting,” he says.
“We has some elite level athletes that competed internationally.”
Phangura and some high school chums made their way to the Olympic Training Centre, a city-built gym on Lewis Drive across from the outdoor rink, where they watched some herculean figures hoist prodigious weights.
Major Lidder and Parmajit Gill, both two-time Canadian Olympic weightlifting champions, became inspirations to young Phangura, and he began working out with them around 1994-1995.
“We used to see them train and that got us learning the technique,” he says.
“We were just kids, but it really got us going.”
Unfortunately, Gill left for the Lower Mainland and took a lot of his equipment with him. But as luck and fate would have it, Phangura reconnected with his mentor when he moved down to Surrey after graduation.
He had taken a short break from weightlifting, but when he started again in 2000, Phangura says he immediately slipped right back into it.
“It’s like riding a bike,” he says. “Once you learn certain lifts with Olympic weightlifting movement, it’s easy to repeat the same technique and get good again.”
Gill started coaching his prodigy and it wasn’t long before Phangura began competing at a high level.
He won his first national gold medal in 2002, repeated in 2003 and won another for good measure in 2007, surpassing the national achievements of his mentors.
Weightlifting also led to Phangura meeting the love of his life, Sophia, a nine-time national medalist in Olympic weightlifting.
The couple, who have been together for 15 years, have two children, Talia, nine, and Akkaev, three.
The sport is so ingrained within their family that their son’s name came from an event they both attended.
“My wife and I were at the 2011 world championships (in Paris) where there was a marquee showdown between two of the finest big men Olympic weightlifters at the time, (Khadzhimurat) Akkaev and (Dimitry) Klokov,” he says.
“It was probably the showdown of the century. No one missed their lifts and they kept going back and forth, outdoing one another in one of the best competitions I’ve ever seen.
“During the competition my wife said, ‘If we ever have a boy, I want to name him Akkaev,’ and I said, ‘If he wins, we will.'”
Akkaev ended up taking the championship, and the name was passed on to perhaps another weightlifting great.
Phangura now works for the City of Abbotsford as its occupational health and safety manager, but he still finds time to be very active, leading classes in Olympic Weightlifting at a local Crossfit gym and keeping up with his young family.
His daughter Talia is an avid track and field athlete, who also enjoys practising Judo.
Phangura says he and his wife join her for classes every now and again to encourage the physical activity and, since they’re both so competitive, it can lead to pretty hilarious results when throwing each other around the gym.
“It’s great for parents to get involved in their kids activities,” he says.
“Sports can be an escape and a saviour for young people and they will get more involved if their parents are into it too.”