Community, Clubs and the Rise of Afterburn Barbell

by Rhaea Stinn
By Walter Cariazo

In the past few years, Powerlifting has undergone explosive growth. In my opinion, the community and culture of this sport coupled with social media presence are the cornerstones of its recent success. This has lead to the surge in popularity of Powerlifting Clubs and the emergence of Powerlifting as a team sport. Below I will share the continuing odyssey of Afterburn Barbell and how we’ve shaped our small corner of the Powerlifting community. This is our story.

 Rise Again Shirt

The Crucible and the Catalysts

Four years ago, I walked into 21 Progress with my good friend Phil.  He told me of a cool new gym operated by a fellow U of T Scarborough Alumni Andrew Liew, so we decided to drop-in and check the place out. Phil said it was a Dragon Boat gym but they had bumper plates, squat racks, sleds and rubber flooring suitable for serious barbell training. I immediately fell in love with the place. I fell in love with the community of hard-working individuals and teams and their thoughtful pursuits of athletic excellence. After a year of training there, Andrew and his now late wife and Co-owner Lisa asked Jeremiah and I if we would like to start a gym-sponsored Powerlifting club.

Andrew and Lisa were the ‘spark’ that lit the flame. Photo Credit: Afterburn Fitness

We were delighted at the idea but we knew we couldn’t do it alone. However, we knew we had a great number of individuals within the diverse, drive, and skilled community from which to choose. Afterburn is home to many young professionals who hail from countries all over the world and who are successful in their respective professions.

The core values of Intensity, Efficiency, Effectiveness, Sustainability and Togetherness created an environment that ultimately captivated people from various athletic backgrounds. Under one roof, we are all able to lift and learn from one another. The majority of the members are young professionals and everyone by in large, conducts themselves as such -  with courtesy and understanding towards others in the gym.

Afterburn Performance Fitness, Inc. Sign

These are the core values of Afterburn. Photo Credit: Andrew Apostoli.
(For his insights on our words, click here)


Our mission statement is to “build a strong community through competitive and recreational barbell training, to provide a positive and inclusive training atmosphere, and to compete as a team in sanctioned Powerlifting meets.” This statement gives us direction when making decisions about the club. When the club is faced with a difficult choice , we ask ourselves “how does this further our goals and relate to our mission statement?” Powerlifting is a sport of building. In many cases, the greatest Powerlifters are the ones who contribute the most to the sport and the community off the platform.


Staying connected is crucial to building quality, lasting organizations. Powerlifting has seen explosive growth in recent years due to social media, which creates a necessity for us to be highly active on multiple platforms, it allows us to optimize our reach and to better connect with our target audience. More importantly, it provides consistent lines of communication within a club in order communicate and coordinate activities, such as meet planning, travelling, social events and general operations.

Powerlifters Posing
Afterburn Barbell Executive Team
From left to right: Justin, Teresa, Myself, Asif, Jeremiah

Member Development

The greatest contributor to our growth as a club has been our continual collaborative efforts to help each other improve as individuals. A lot of our more experienced lifters coach our newer, younger lifters. I’ve always advocated coaching and mentoring other Powerlifters as it helps one grow as a lifter and, more importantly, as a person. With my experience in team sports, I have found that when an athlete matures and improves in their sport, that excellence spreads to the other areas of their lives and vice versa.

People find their passions in lifting and the surrounding culture.  Some even turn it into their profession, or use their profession to give back to their sport. We encourage our members to use Powerlifting as a platform or medium for their aspirations. These are some of my closest friends and people whose growth I am blessed to witness exemplify these ideals. To name everyone who has contributed to our success is too much for a single blog. What I present to you is but a snapshot of our growing family.

the “OG Powerlifters” of U of T Scarborough
From left to right: Taro Yamashita, myself, Jeremiah, and PhiI.

Jeremiah Villanueva is a close friend of mine and Phil since undergrad and he has been a large proponent of not just Powerlifting, but the greater health and fitness community of U of T Scarborough.

I have known Phil Luu and Jeremiah Villanueva since my undergrad at U of T. Phil and I both competed in our first meets at the Toronto Pro show, whereas Jeremiah had been competing since before the weight classes changed. As mentioned earlier, Phil was the one who brought me to Afterburn before heading to New York Chiropractic College, and I, in turn, brought Jeremiah. Phil has now become our team rehab specialist, while Jeremiah continues to contribute as a club executive, a mentor to his teammates, and our First Aid/Designated Medic at any meets hosted by Afterburn.

Phil Luu, my close friend and teammate


Teresa Yeung’s guiding hand was responsible for the vast majority of our club infrastructure. An accountant by profession, she is unrivaled when it comes to planning and financial management. Since switching over to Powerlifting from Dragonboat, Teresa has made huge waves and quickly became one of our most decorated lifters AND coaches. Teresa has already given back so much to the sport with interest, and continues to serve as the Treasurer of the Ontario Powerlifting Association.

Teresa Yeung: The Powerlifting Accountant. Photo Credit: John Balatbat

Asif Ahmed is another one of our founding members. He came from a background in business and entrepreneurship. He may not be the most decorated lifter, but his  contributions of life experience and knowledge have proven invaluable to the club and its members. Alongside his capacity for empathy and mentorship, Asif's business acumen remains critical to the growth of our organization.

Asif Ahmed. A founding member and essential in leading  our business and marketing related endeavours. Photo Credit: Loaded Bar Collective

Justin Alfante was the final piece to our executive council. Justin is a veteran in the sport and this year he coached Afterburn teammate Tiffany Sengsourigna to a junior 52kg Women’s silver medal at IPF Classic World’s alongside Team Canada coaches Jeff Butt and Jess Benedetto. His calm, collected demeanor, his passion for the sport, and the camaraderie he has inspired among us is invaluable to the club and the community at large. He is a leader both on and off the platform.

Male Powerlifter Celebrating

Justin Alfante. Executive Team member, outstanding Leader, Coach and Friend.
Photo Credit: Loaded Bar Collective

Photo Credit: Loaded Bar Collective

“Prince” John Balatbat began shooting video and photo at our gym and at our meets. Prince also devoted his time and skills to help design and produce club t-shirts and media content you see posted on our club’s social media. With some time and nudging by his peers, he decided to dive into the content creation industry. This year, he filmed and edited the CPU Nationals highlight reel and shot at IPF World’s in Calgary with the official media providers - the Loaded Bar Collective. Through his work, he has quickly become a highly sought after videographer and photographer in the Fitness and Lifting community.

Christine Castro came to Toronto in search of a new life. After spending some time with Dan and Mae at Band of Barbells, she decided to join us at Afterburn. Since then, she has taken her coaching and lifting to a whole other level with the launch of Castro Conditioning. She has coached multiple athletes up to Nationals and I’ve watched her grow as a person, both on and off the platform, all while nurturing the growth of those around her. 

Powerlifter Applying Gym Chalk

Christine Castro and Charles Peralta.
Photo Credit: LVD Media

Jackie Liang joined us while he was just starting out in Powerlifting while doing his undergrad at Ryerson University. Despite his desire, Jackie was conflicted he was unsure whether Afterburn would be right for him as he felt joining would interfere with him supporting his school’s budding Powerlifting community in downtown Toronto. I told him he need not worry, and he should take what he learns and experiences with us at Afterburn  back to Ryerson. Eventually, Ryerson Barbell Club needed new leadership after some inner turmoil, and Jackie stepped right up and did exactly what we discussed. Jackie became their President before graduating from Aerospace Engineering and continues to serve as Ryerson Barbell’s Alumni President.

Powerlifter Celebrating

Jackie Liang.
Photo credit: Loaded Bar Collective

Silvia Yoo and her partner Antwane Hamlet have been training and coaching people all over the city from their current HQ at Afterburn Fitness for as long as I have been there.  From people simply looking to get into better shape to IFBB Pros, their coaching is well known by many. Since they started training out of Afterburn Fitness, they have become icons of the gym training athletes of many sports at all levels. Not only have they helped me in my training and diet, but others  as well. They have a passion for education and a holistic approach to health and fitness and it has rubbed off on all of us. In fact, this year I had the honour and pleasure to help Silvia prepare for her first Powerlifting meet. I have sat down with the two of them, both separately and together, many times to discuss everything from training, food, family, injury, rehab and healing to life itself.

Silvia and Antwane

Last, but certainly not least is Josh Smith. This man has transcended ordinary human consciousness and has become synonymous with Powerlifting hype. The passion and energy this man brings to his friends and team mates both on and off the platform is infectious.  Whether lifting, spotting and loading or in the warm-up room, Josh is there for you. I have had the pleasure of guiding Josh through his Powerlifting Journey for the past couple years and he still amazes me to this day with his diligence, mindfulness and work ethic. He now seeks to turn this passion into a Civil Engineering undergraduate thesis project under the tutelage of veteran standout Bencher Greg Zilberbrant.

Male Powerlifter - Amped Up
Josh brings the hype wherever he goes.


In summary, the growth of the sport and community are tied directly to the growth of their membership. Athletes, coaches, volunteers and officials all play vital roles in their success and sustainability. In our first year as a club two years ago, I was the sole lifter to compete at CPU Nationals. This year, we sent 14 people to Nationals, bringing home medals from almost every weight class and age category in which we had a lifter compete!  Three of us won our weight class and National Champions! We then sent five people to IPF World’s - three athletes (Tiffany, Lorraine and myself) and three personal coaches (Teresa, Justin and myself.)

2017 Afterburn Barbell National Team

The growth and development of our sport can be seen in the growth of our club, which in turn feeds back into the community. We strive to continue to provide our concerted, collective contributions. Hosting meets, volunteering as a team, and outreach are as equally important to us as competing and showcase our passion and dedication. We host two meets every year with great success: the OPA sanctioned Scarborough Spring Classic and our  Jinglebars 'mock meet’ that we host with our friends from Band of Barbells. Jinglebars serves as our community outreach event that provides those wishing to try Powerlifting with a fun, stress-free chance to compete under simulated meet conditions. The meet is also fun for those already in the sport who want to let loose and celebrate the community and camaraderie of our sport. The recent success of our family as individuals and as a whole is a testament to everyone’s hard work and willing to help make each other better and Jinglebars is a way for us to share what we have worked so hard to build.

Powerlifter Group Shot
Afterburn Barbell and Band of Barbells: Jinglebars II

Cariazo, Remulla, Castro. Photo Credit: John Balatbat

If you are interested in where to find us next, you can catch us at 2019 Nationals!