A Few Minutes with ...
a 73-year-old weight-lifting phenom
appeared in Detroit Free Press'
A Few minutes with ... a 73-year-old weight-lifting phenom
By Jim Schaefer
Ray Fougnier set four world records recently by lifting weights.
At the age of 73.
Competing last month at the 2016 Amateur Athletic Union’s North American Powerlifting Championships in Laughlin, Nev., Fougnier bench-pressed, squatted and deadlifted more weight than anyone in his age group, and his combined scores won him an overall award, too.
This retired educator, who splits time living in Plymouth Township and Tennessee, plans to try for a world championship in Las Vegas in September. I watched him work out last week.
So four world records at the age of 73. You look like you’re in pretty darned good shape from my amateur judging here. Have you always been in great shape?
I started liftin’ at 15 -- 15, 16 years old. And had some interest in Olympics back then, but it never happened. I continued throughout life. I think there was a four- or five-year period where I didn’t lift, didn’t participate in workouts and such, but then noticed it wasn’t working too well, so I went back to it.
So you’ve never had the beer gut the rest of us get in our 40s and 50s, huh?
I’ve maintained the same waist size, I think, for most of my life.
Is that right? What are you if you don’t mind me asking?
34! You’re humiliating me.
(Chuckles.) I don’t know about that.
How often are you workin’ out? What’s your schedule?
I work out daily. Not powerlifting, but I do powerlifting three days a week, and then the other days I do other kinds of things.
Like cardio and that kind of thing?
Right. ... I try to focus on various things. Powerlifting is one of them, but that’s strength. I try to do flexibility, endurance, speed, hand-eye coordination, those kinds of things. Balance. Those are things that I really have a focus on. I try to do those things. When I retired, I said I’m gonna stay in shape. I’m not gonna become dependent upon other people. I’m not gonna become dependent on medicines and so forth. My independence was the primary focus. That’s why I was working out. My mother was diabetic and her retirement years were not very good. She suffered from that diabetes and ultimately that took her at 72 years old. And my father, he retired at 65, was sick for a year and then died. So that had an impact on me, and I just felt that it was important when I retired not to have to be in that kind of situation.
Do you go to the doctor regularly, have checkups?
No? I was going to ask you if your doctor holds you up as a shining example of fitness, but sounds like you’re overdue for a check.
Yeah, probably. ... Well, the last time I was to a doctor they diagnosed the problem wrong. I’m not sure that I trust a lot of it. I really should. I know that’s important and I need to do it.
Yeah. But the bottom line is you’re bound and determined that you’re gonna live out your years in the best shape possible.
Right. I want to be independent, and I want to be active. I want to be able to do things. This is why I was into it in the first place. And again, with the family background, I’m Native American (Oneida) so the diabetes and certain kinds of diseases that affect older people is prevalent. And I’m just trying to avoid those kinds of downfalls and pitfalls.
Any special challenges because of your age when you’re working out? I know when I go out, for instance, weeding in my garden, I can’t walk for two days.
(Laughs.) Oh, sure, there’s all kinds of things that you have to be careful of working out. I’ve injured myself doing things that I shouldn’t be doing. I train myself. I don’t have a coach or anything of that sort. I’ve had to learn the sport myself.
You’ve already achieved many things people your age don’t achieve. What would a world championship mean?
Well, basically, what this means for me is it focuses my workouts. More importantly, the thing that I’m lookin’ at is staying healthy and being independent. The world championships? That’s OK. That isn’t my goal in life, but it gives me a focus in terms of what I’m doing with my workouts and what I’m trying to achieve in my senior years.
That’s the end game, really, is just keepin’ it together, right?
Right. Right. The guy I looked up to was Jack LaLanne. … As a kid I used to watch Jack LaLanne on TV, and watch his workouts and just be able to do things like pull a couple of chairs together and do some kind of push-up, pull-ups, things of that sort.
Do you see yourself as an example for others or are you doing your own thing for yourself?
I’m doing my own thing but I would hope that, I guess I’d like to give seniors the message that if I can do it, you can do it. It doesn’t have to be powerlifting. It can be anything. It could be hiking, it could be bicycling. It could be Ironman contests or whatever. But I would encourage older folks to go out and challenge their bodies and stay in shape and stay off the meds and feel good.