On a Wednesday afternoon at Sardis secondary school, Koltan MacDonald walks into the weight room and starts loading up a deadlift bar.
With curious strength and conditioning students watching, the 25 year old Sardis alum puts a couple 45 pound plates on each side. Then he puts a couple more on each side.
Jaws start dropping and teenagers start whispering as he goes back one more time, slipping two more plates onto the bar to bring the total weight to around 450 pounds.
“We don’t need to do this much just to get a photo,” a concerned journalist says. “Are you sure you’re not going to hurt your back or something?”
Koltan shrugs off the suggestion and proceeds to lift the bar.
The bar bows, but Koltan doesn’t appear to labour at all.
It’s as if he’s hoisting a couple bags of groceries, and not the rough equivalent of two baby elephants.
He holds the pose as the camera goes click, click, click and then lets the bar drop to the floor.
“All good?” the journalist asks, concerned.
“All good,” Koltan replies, not.
As students stop gawking and get back to work, Koltan looks around the space he knows so well.
It was in this room that he first fell in love with weight lifting.
When he was 12 years old, his parents bought him a set of weights for Christmas and he took to it like some kids take to hockey or soccer.
When he arrived at Sardis secondary for Grade 10 in 2010, one of his elective choices was strength and conditioning, taught by the late Bob Fitzsimmons.
“When I saw that I had that option I was like, ‘Well, heck yeah!’” Koltan says with a grin. “You got credits for working out, essentially.”
Fitzsimmons, who founded the legendary Sardis Strongman competition in 1999 and passed away after a battle with cancer in 2014, was Koltan’s first strength coach and wrote his first power lifting program.
“Squats, deadlifts. and bench presses – it was pretty typical power lifting stuff and I really got into it,” Koltan recalls. “I started getting stronger and got hooked on it.”
With Fitzsimmons leading the charge, Sardis Strongman had become huge within the school.
“When the idea of Sardis Strongman came up it was like, ‘Let’s see how all this work in the gym transfers over to competition,’” Koltan recalls. “A lot of my friends were into lifting weights and we all wanted to do it together.”
He’s 258 pounds of muscle now, but Koltan was a skinny kid then. The results from that first Sardis Strongman were – underwhelming.
“I got ninth place or something,” he laughs. “I had a buddy, Ben, and we went to the Cheam Centre after school to train together.
“He got fourth or fifth place and I was like, ‘Awwww man!’”
The enduring image of Fitzsimmons for Koltan and many students of that era is of him hollering with unreal intensity as they pushed or pulled a sled across the gym floor, flipped a massive tire end over end or laboured to go around the gym one more time in the dreaded farmer’s carry.
“One more time!”
“You can do this!”
“Push! Push! Push!”
Fitzsimmons was never negative, but he was fiery and never let a student settle for anything less than their absolute best.
“He was a really good dude who really cared,” Koltan says. “He was outgoing, he had a lot of spice to him, and he was super encouraging.
“You could tell he had a lot of passion for what he was doing.”
Though he’s gone six years now, Fitzsimmons lives on with Sardis grads like Koltan. He’s a voice hollering in Koltan’s ear every time he lifts a weight at Murph’s Gym, every time he feels like he can’t do another rep and wants to give up.
As Koltan prepares to enter the world of amateur Strongman competitions this year, ‘Fitz’ is with him.
“I went to a dedicated Strongman gym in Surrey, and my first time lifting a 310 pound Atlas Stone, I got it up onto the platform with no tacky (grip on forearms), and the owner was super impressed,” Koltan says. “Then I doubled the gym record with a 310 pound sandbag.
“I’ll be competing in my first Strongman at that same gym in a couple months and I have a feeling I’ll do pretty well.”
Koltan will also return to Sardis for this year’s Strongman Alumni competition, as he has each of the six years it’s existed. It’s his way of honouring the memory of the man who helped him take the first steps down the path he’s on.
Proceeds from the alumni event go into the Bob Fitzsimmons Memorial Scholarship fund.
“It means a lot to me to be a part of this, and it’s cool that something can be taken from what he’s done through the Bob Fitzsimmons Memorial Scholarship,” Koltan says. “It’s something he would have supported and it’s definitely a good thing.”
— This year’s Sardis Strongman Alumni Event is March 6 starting at 7 p.m.
The 22nd annual Sardis Strongman student competition runs five days that week, around lunch time in the school gymnasium.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or look up Sardis Strongman on Facebook for more info.