Student’s heavy lifting pays off

Richard Gonsalves
Monday, May 27, 2013 - 1:04pm
Sharon Aschaiek

A University of Toronto Mississauga weightlifter has made a spectacular comeback after a major injury to qualify to compete internationally on Canada’s national weightlifting team for post-secondary students.

Richard Gonsalves earned a bronze medal at last Sunday’s Canadian Senior Weightlifting Championships in Edmonton, Alta, after achieving a personal best combined lift of 299 kg. The win comes on the heels of a major setback for the 22-year-old, who had to leave the sport for the better part of a year after seriously hurting his knee. His strong performance at the competition means he will now represent UTM at the World University Games in Kazan, Russia this July.

“It was a goal I had from last year, and I just came off an injury, so I was pretty happy to achieve it,” says Gonsalves, who also works for UTM as an Olympic weightlifting coach and personal trainer.

In his first year at UTM, Gonsalves explored weightlifting out of curiosity; but he quickly learned he had a knack for the sport, and it turned into an obsession.

“It’s something that clicked and I got really good really fast, so I stuck with it,” says Gonsalves, a fourth-year criminology student.

He went from recreational to high-performance weightlifting, eventually joining the school’s competitive-track Olympic Weightlifting Program, which focuses on developing participants’ functional strength and athletic physique. Students train under members of UTM’s Olympic Weightlifting Team, which is renowned across Canada and has included medalists in the Commonwealth Games, Pan Am Games and Olympics.

Gonsalves worked his way up to the elite Olympic training team, through which he became registered as a competitive athlete through the Ontario Weightlifting Association. He and his seven teammates participate in rigorous four-hour training sessions on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, and lighter sessions two other days of the week.

He was progressing well until August 2011, when he developed an inflammation in his right knee that made it too painful to continue. What followed was about 11 months of rehabilitation through physiotherapy and anti-inflammatory shots. “I lost quite a bit of momentum,” he admits.

When he was finally able to return to the team last May, he did so with more determination than ever. This year alone, he has competed in eight different weightlifting competitions—twice as many as most athletes in the sport would pursue in that time.

“Since it was my first year back after getting hurt, I wanted to do as many as possible. You want to get used to it again,” Gonsalves says.

That hard work and commitment paid off handsomely at the Championships on Sunday, where his achievements in the sport’s two competition lifts were 135kg in the snatch—a personal best—and 164 kg in the clean and jerk, which led to his personal best total of 299 kg.

“To see a student come so far and reach this level in such little time is amazing,” says Andrew Bellerby, program coordinator for UTM’s Department of Physical Education, Athletics and Recreation and a founder of UTM’s Olympic Weightlifting Program. “While he was injured, he was still focused on trying to get back into the shape he needed to be in to hit his benchmarks, so it feels really good to see him doing so well now.”

Gonsalves is aiming to go all the way in his sport, and has his sights set on the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto.

Until then, he’ll continue working and training at UTM: he recently helped launch a youth weightlifting program for those ages 13 to 19, and he’s now actively preparing for the upcoming World University Games.

“It’s seven weeks away, and I feel in really good shape,” he says. “It would be my first international competition, so a top-10 ranking would be great for me.”