When Parksville teen Billy Buhler took up weight training two-and-a-half years ago, his motivation was simple.
“I was a fat kid,” he said. “I was trying to get less fat.”
Buhler, now 17, has a rather more weighty goal for this weekend, when he takes aim at the B.C. powerlifting record book in his first competition.
He will compete in the annual Taranis Open on Sunday in Victoria, with qualifying lifts that already place him among the top age-group lifters that have ever entered the meet. He will tackle the squat, bench press and dead lift in the 14-18 year-old class at 105 kilograms (231 pounds).
“Billy’s probably the strongest 17-year-old we had in the gym, and we’ve been open 15 years now,” said Dale Nagra, owner of Parksville’s Bodyworks Fitness and one of Buhler’s trainers at the gym.
Buhler, a 2016 Ballenas Secondary School graduate, grew up playing hockey, baseball and lacrosse, and also spent a year on the Ballenas wrestling team. Since taking up weight training, he said, he has gotten not only physically stronger, but mentally stronger and more confident.
He also became something of a student of the discipline, studying history and following some of his favourite lifters through YouTube videos and other programs.
It was while watching some of his “power idols” that the seed of powerlifting competition began to grow in his mind late last year. He brought up the subject with trainer and training partner Alex Adams.
“He asked me, ‘What do you want to do, get lean for the summer, or compete in powerlifting?’” said Buhler. “Because the training is different. I was at a crossroads, and with this competition coming up, I decided I wanted to try powerlifting.”
One of the differences in training is that Buhler could pretty much eat what he wanted, as the former “fat kid” worked to bulk up from 220 pounds to near the 231-pound maximum in his class during the 10-week training for the Taranis Open.
But training is about much more than getting big, said Nagra, who said Buhler’s dedication to the sport and his workouts should offset his lack of experience in competition.
The teen works at Eat Fresh Market, and when his work schedule cuts short his morning training, he’ll return to the gym after work for a second workout.
“He is as dedicated as anyone I’ve known,” said Nagra, a former powerlifter who set a Canadian record in the bench press while competing two decades ago.
“He knows that if you miss a workout, your competition is still training.”
Lifting has become so central to Buhler’s existence that he has worked it into his career plans. He will take the coming year off from school, then plans to enrol in university, with a major in business.
“I’m going to be lifting for the rest of my life,” he said. “I have a plan for a business that involves fitness and weightlifting.”
“He’s going to be my competition,” Nagra joked.
Buhler admits he’s had a couple of recent setbacks while preparing for the coming competition. Adams, who had been planning to spot and serve a support role for Buhler during the meet, plays with the Vancouver Island Raiders football club and will have to play a game that day.
Also, Buhler just last week learned the silicone sleeves he’d used for his knees while squat lifting were not allowed in the competition.
Nagra stepped into the breach to serve as Buhler’s spotter and support crew — the equivalent of a boxer’s corner man — and will apply the traditional supportive knee wraps as well as providing feedback on the youth’s lifts and generally ensuring all Buhler has to worry about is making the lift.
But Nagra said he doesn’t need to worry about providing motivation.
“He’s going to have so much adrenaline, especially this being his first competition,” Nagra said. “I won’t have to pump him up.”
Buhler has personal-best lifts of 290 pounds in the bench press, 440 pounds in the squat and 500 in the dead lift. He will get three lifts in each discipline to establish a combined weight total in Sunday’s meet.
Asked if he knew who his competition would be in the meet, Buhler hesitated a beat.
“I am the competition,” he said with a small smile. “I’m not coming to take second place; I’m coming to take first place.”