By Erik Willis
It all started early December when I received a message from former 105KG Squat World Record holder Bronco Deiranauw. He told me that I was being invited to compete in Nauru and airfare and accommodations were to be covered. After some discussion with the Nauru Powerlifting President and confirming that the IPF was okay with me competing I was going to Nauru!
For those that don’t know Nauru is the 3rd smallest country in the world and is this tiny little spec in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Go ahead and Google map it and then zoom out then keep zooming out until you recognize a place. That is how far Nauru is from anything, literally the middle of nowhere. The island itself has about 11000 people living on it and is 21 square kilometres in area. It was a UN protectorate state after WW2 due to being occupied by the Japanese, and in 1968 declared its independence. The reason why myself and other international lifters were invited to compete was to celebrate the closing of their 50th anniversary celebrations.
Looking out at the tiny island
The non-Oceania internationals that went are: Kim Walford (USVI), Tony Harris (USA), Jaisyn Mike (USA), Josh Greenfield (UK), Steve Ringoot (Belgium), and myself. There were also competitors from Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinee, Tuvalu, New Caledonia, and I hope I didn’t forget anywhere. Officials came in from the USA, Philippians, South Africa, and Australia. They were also generous to let my wife come as my coach and travel companion.
Getting ready for the opening ceremony
It was about 2 weeks out from the meet before everything was confirmed and tickets were booked. Ali and I packed up our backpacks, one for my lifting stuff, and one for all our clothes. Thankfully Nauru is always hot so we didn’t need any big clothing.
We left for Nauru on Sunday the 20th from Ottawa. Our first flight to Toronto was delayed by over an hour due to the weather, but once we got to Toronto it was smooth sailing. From Toronto we flew 5.5 hours to LA and quickly walked across the giant airport to international departures. The flight to Fiji was about 10 hours but thankfully it was overnight so we managed to get a little bit of sleep on the plane. We had about a 6 hour layover in Fiji so Ali forced me to go on a quick little tour of Nadi. After our quick 3 hour tour we went back to the airport to get ready for the final leg of the trip, the 3 hour flight to Nauru. Upon landing we were greeted by government officials and got rounded up into our mini buses and brought to the hotel to check in.
Ali and I taking in the Nauru sunshine
The Menen hotel is right on the water, however, all the athletes were staying in the newer editions off to the side. The downside is there were no views at all, but our rooms were clean and new. All of us got cleaned up and ready to go to the opening ceremonies. We were originally supposed to go on an open roof bus tour around the island but unfortunately it was about to storm and the organizers wanted us to compete in one piece, so we asked our mini bus driver to just take us around the island instead and we got a quick 30 minute tour before needing to head back. A 30 minute tour was enough to drive around the island and see how much of the island lives their life. The speed limit is 45 KM/H but everyone drives faster. We were told helmets are required on motorcycles and scooters, but only the police wear them. Lots of quirky little things we learnt by just asking our drivers. So when it was time to go to opening ceremonies we got a police escort to the sports complex which was a pretty strange experience.
After we arrived we all got a quick run down of how we were being brought in. Each country would be escorted in with a Miss Nauru contestant or past winner. After all countries were brought in we got to see Jezza lead the Nauru team through a banner. Probably one of the coolest things I have ever seen!
Platform set up for competition
After that we all sat down and there were a number of speeches from the Minister of Sport, the President of Nauru Powerlifting, General Secretary of the IPF, and the President of Nauru. At the end of President Waka’s speech he kicked off the competition with a deadlift!
Most people who know anything about Nauru knows the love to eat so the buffet that this banquet had was insane, probably 30 different food choices in total. Watching some of the smaller kids come up and have plates stacked higher then some of the other international guests, thankfully I embraced the eat and grow mentality and was competing as a SHW so I ate as much different things as I could.
After dinner was over everyone went back to the hotel to sleep after our long journeys in. After we got up we met up with the other athletes in the hotel restaurant where we would spend a lot of our time due to it being ridiculously hot and humid outside but AC’d in the restaurant. It did have a beautiful Ocean front view so it wasn’t too bad.
Some of the competitors for Nauru and around the world
I went over to the sports complex to get a little bit of training in. Squatting and benching the day before competition isn’t what I normally do but I wanted to move a bit after being stuck traveling for 30 hours. The plus side was the area they had set up had an ocean view, like pretty much everything on the island! After lifting quick we did some more touring around and ended up at what is essentially the Walmart of Nauru. They had everything from canoes, to clothes, to food, and even printers. We all ate and hung out before heading to sleep before the competition the next day.
Competition day had weigh ins run like any other meet, weighed in at 128.6KG, set my openers at 295/210/330 and then waited to get going. I think everyone was worried about the heat as the lifting was done in the sports complex which was this new open air but covered building. Normally the building would be okay because the ocean air would blow across the venue, but they put in bleachers across the venue and cut off the flow.
Dan Curry from Australia, Josh Greenfield from GB, and myself enjoying some coconuts
Nauru produces some big squatters and they invited some as well too. I was the 4th lifter to open out of 14 in our flight. I hit my 295 easy enough, went to 310 for my second. It moved alright and then went to 322.5kg for a 2.5kg meet PR which I am pretty happy with given the heat! After squats went back to an AC'd space and hung out until it was time to bench. My pec has been bothering me lately so I didn’t expect too much out of it. Opened with 210kg, second was 227.5, after my second was not too great I only went to 232.5, 2.5kg less then my best in meet bench, and it moved better then 227.5kg did! Once bench was over we continued to chill, probably about 8 litres of water deep at this point just trying to stay hydrated. Saw some people drinking coconuts so a couple of us started drinking some too. For deadlifts I have a lofty goal of pulling 365kg if all was good. Lets just say all wasn’t good. I got my opener of 330kg nice and easy, and moved up to 350kg. I got it all the way up but might not have had my shoulders back all the way and got all reds. Ali went and asked the jury what they thought just for my knowledge and 2/3 said it looked a little soft, but one said it was fine. The crowd also thought it was good too but they aren’t the ones in charge! I had to scrap my plan of pulling over 800lbs because if I couldn’t pull 350 clean enough there was no chance I could pull 365kg. So I reattempted 350kg and got it to my knees before the bar slipped out of my hand. The humidity caused the chalk to clump up and just slide out. My 330kg deadlift was still the heaviest deadlift of the meet, and surprisingly enough for me to come Second place in the 120kg+ class behind the monster Jezza. This was the first international meet to use the new IPF score and because of how much it pulled supers down I managed to win the best overall lifter!
Receiving the silver medal from Robert Keller
Immediately after lifting was done, the photo op began. Everyone wanted to get pictures with he international lifters. The amount of photos that were taken with me that day definitely out number any photos taken of me during meets 10 fold. After all the photos we went back to the hotel to shower and change, the guys who got drug tested didn’t have such luxury and had to sit through the banquet in their sweaty shirts.
Receiving the President’s Cup from the President
At the closing banquet we had speeches by everyone again. I was presented with the Nauru President’s Cup for Best Male Lifter by the President himself. We were all presented with some gifts including a coin minted for the 50th anniversary of independence. I forgot to mention that he had watched basically the entire competition in the front row. He was also present the two days leading up to the international event spectating the local meet in Nauru, which had about 100 competitors. That means nearly 1% of the entire population of Nauru was competing in powerlifting! If 1% of Canadians competed in powerlifting we’d have over 300,000 lifters, instead we have just 1% of that.
On Friday we went on a little boat tour around the island. Drove around the entire thing hitting some big waves and feeling like we were going to die. The locals were laughing at us the entire time! Getting to see the island from the water was a different experience from what we were used to looking out, lots of beautiful views. On our way back towards the harbour the boat crew decided to toss a line in the water to see if they got lucky, and within a few minutes they had caught a decent sized wahoo. After we got back we did a little bit of swimming in the harbour. And it was time to eat again.
View from the boat
Since this was our first real free night we got to party a little bit. The bar at the hotel is actually a little bit of a club on the weekend and we had a few beers before Jaysin told us he had to go dunk at the basketball court, so we grabbed some road beers (totally normal thing there) and went to see him dunk. To put this in perspective Jaysin is a 300lb powerlifter with a 600lb bench press. Surrounded by locals he managed to dunk 3 times before he called it quits and we went back to the hotel to party.
Saturday we went and did some shopping around the island, got some sweet bula shirts, and took it easy. We then went to have some first dinner with the Nauru powerlifters by the harbour. After that we were invited to go to the international weightlifting closing ceremonies for more awards, entertainment, and speeches. Thankfully this one was at the hotel so it was air conditioned!
Shirt found at the airport, the whole country has a culture of strength!
On the last day we got one of our bus drivers to bring us up to see some WWII relics as the island was occupied by the Japanese. So we drove through island and saw what was basically the barren interior of the island. All the bare rocks from after the phosphate was mined out of it. After some climbing we made it to some WWII anti-aircraft guns, and what was the Japanese command center on the island. From the top of the command center there was basically 360 degree views of ocean all around the island.
Big Tony Harris and the WW2 Gun
It was then time to leave the beautiful island, with the nicest people I have ever met. At the airport all the Nauru powerlifters had come to say good bye. Children with their parents wanting to get one last picture with all of us. There is now a little kid running around Nauru sporting the maple leaf Inner Strength Products snapback.
One of our drivers son rocking ISP
Reflecting back on the trip it was surreal. The amount of the love the people had for sport gives me hope in the growth of powerlifting. The support that the government gave is more then I have even seen in Canada. If we could get a fraction of the support they had we could do a lot for our athletes. It also reminded me of one of the best parts of competing and it’s the travel and meeting new people. Getting to see new places that you likely would never see otherwise. If I get invited back in the future I already know what my answer is going to be!
Presidents Cup in its new home of Canada