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Training with Canada’s oldest master weightlifter

By Ashliegh Gehl


STIRLING, ON (05/26/11) Donald Buchanan ,80, is Canada's oldest weightlifter. He's been training for more than 50 years. Photo by Ashliegh Gehl.

Weightlifters at the Apollo Barbell Club can’t complain about the pains of aging when Don Buchanan is around.

Buchanan is Canada’s oldest master weightlifter and has been lifting weights for more than 50 years. He trains with Stirling’s Apollo team twice a week and never misses a night.

It’s a feat most retirees can’t add to their list of accomplishments.

Building muscle may be the catalyst for many young aspiring weightlifters, but for Buchanan it’s about mental health.

“That’s really the main reason why I’ve been lifting weights for many, many years,” says Buchanan.

Buchanan used to workout at the old central YMCA in Toronto. After a day at the office he’d head to the gym to get rid of job-related stresses.  “I’d go have a workout, shower and I can still remember the feeling of walking out the front door of the Y, born again. That was the feeling.”

Joel Carr-Braint, vice-president of the Canadian Weightlifting Federation, lifts with Buchanan every week.

“Like any sport, the older you get the more you have to put into it,” says Carr-Braint. “Weightlifters are typically in their prime in their 20’s. He turns 80 this year. So he’s been with it a long time and stays with it and does a lot hard work.”

Determination and dedication are two ingredients Carr-Braint credits to Buchanan’s weightlifting successes.

“When you weight lift, you kind of stretch and damage muscle,” says Carr-Braint. “That’s how you build it. The older you get the longer it takes to recuperate. So he needs to watch what he does and trains to the point where he can still recover by next training night.”


Apollo Barbell Club Photo Gallery

Buchanan associates the gym with rejuvenation. The Apollo Barbell Club isn’t tranquil like Peterborough’s St. Anne’s spa or as manicured as GoodLife Fitness. Its ruggedness is its charm. Grunting, groaning and the clatter of barbells on plywood give the makeshift gym character.

Buchanan started training at the club when he retired and bought a couple of acres of property to live on outside Campbellford.

“Look. I like training. I like competition. And if I win, well, I like that too. But it’s not the be all and end all. However, I do have an accumulation of little medals, trophies and memento’s.”

Being Canada’s oldest master weightlifter comes with a level of respect. He’s at the top of his sport with years of experience under his belt.

“It’s a very demanding sport both physically and technically,” says Buchanan. “It’s not just brute strength. There’s a lot of finesse. And there’s a lot of athletic ability that goes into elevating the maximum weight overhead.”

Buchanan is constantly reminded of his age, and is usually the butt of lots of jokes.

“I’m not anxious to get older and to be the oldest,” says Buchanan. “But I guess, you know, it just happens that I am. However, most weightlifters that I speak to about this, or joke with me about it, they respect that. I think they see it’s an indication that they too can carry on and enjoy weightlifting for a long period of time.”

Even though Buchanan has always given 100 per cent to the sport, he maintained a professional career that took him all around the world.  As a structural engineer, Buchanan worked on the Ontario Science Centre, First Canadian Place, the World Financial Centre in New York and the Canadian embassy in Beijing.

In July, Buchanan and other members of the Apollo Barbell Club will be headed to Savannah, Georgia, for the Pan American Master Weightlifting competition.

Carr-Braint has made his Pan American predictions.

“This year he’s going to the Pan Americans. I think he’ll end up with a gold medal. Silver or gold. It’ll be in the top three for sure.”