BARRY’S BAY – Able to lift 725 pounds, pull a tractor 100 feet, flip 950 pound tires and raise a car from the ground.
No. Paul Vaillancourt.
This Barry’s Bay native is a three-time winner of Ontario’s Strongest Man. His near Herculean feats include a 600 pound squat and an overhead press of 350 pounds.
Coined ‘The Giant Killer’ by World’s strength legend Hugo Girard, ‘for taking on the big guys successfully,’ Vaillancourt weighs in at a mere 260 pounds and measures just 5’ 11”. Compare that to American Mike Jenkins, whose statue dwarfs Vaillancourt at 6’6” and 350 pounds and you can envision what he is up against.
Vaillancourt wears the nickname bestowed upon him by the six-time consecutive world’s finalist with some pride. He grew up in Barry’s Bay, attending St John Bosco Catholic School and later Madawaska Valley District High School.
He and his younger brother Michael were huge fans of Sylvester Stalone and Arnold Schwarzenegger growing up watching their over-the-top action films.
“He was always involved with sports, playing competitive hockey and snowboarding,” his mother Glenda (née Zelney) said. She and husband Paul are very proud of their son.
“We all are,” she said speaking on behalf of extended family still living in Barry’s Bay.
For her part, Glenda is not shocked that her son carries the title of Ontario’s Strongman.
“He has always done things in his own way and in his own time and then he comes out and surprises everyone,” she added.
Vaillancourt started out body building but that quickly changed after he discovered first power lifting and then strongman competition.
His first strongman competition took place in 2006 when he was just 215 pounds.
“I finished second last that day,” he said of that day at the Newington Fair.
“But I had an awesome time,” he added.
“Body building is a vanity sport and dependent on judges. Strongman is not subjective-either you do something or you don’t,” he pointed out.
Vaillancourt and some buddies have converted a garage into a strongman gym with all the equipment to train year round.
“Strongman is not just about strength and power you’ve got to have endurance, speed and flexibility creating the need for a variety of training techniques,” he explained.
His training includes event training, an aspect that provides an edge, he believes. If they don’t have the equipment, Vaillancourt will build it, drawing on his training as a welder.
In 2008 he made the transition to pro strongman competition and has held the title of Ontario’s Strongest Man for three consecutive years qualifying for the Open Canadian Nationals and is ranked fourth in Canada. He is the first Canadian to receive a LW Pro card in the American Strongman Corps.
His favourite event right now is the yoke carry.
“I am one of the best, having carried 1200 pounds for 30 feet,” he explained.
What Vaillancourt gets from the sport he said, “can’t be bought, you can’t steal it and you can’t inherit it – you can only get it for yourself. It represents a lot of work and discipline.”
Vaillancourt would love to qualify for the heats at the worlds. He would need to win at the nationals first, “A lofty goal,” he feels.
“The difference between fourth and first is massive, I need to be about 20 per cent stronger.”
While Vaillancourt is pulling his weight on the national strongman stage, his wife Sarah Leighton is raising the bar in women’s weight lifting.
The 32-year-old Cobden native is a four-time Ontario Provincial Champion and holds the all-time best female total in Ontario with 485 kg (1069 lb) in her class; comprised of a 192.5 kg (424 lb) Squat, a 122.5 kg (270 lb) bench press and a 170 kg (374 lb) deadlift. She represented Canada at the International Powerlifting Federation World Championships this past November in the Czech Republic.
This story continues in the February 9 issue of The Valley Gazette.