As a health club owner and fitness expert, Nick Hayward knows about strength.
But it was the strength of spirit shown by his brother, Jake, during his battle with ALS that inspired Hayward to organize the inaugural Paris Push and Pull Competition at Fit Effect on Sunday to raise money for ALS Canada.
Jake Hayward died eight years ago at the age of 29 of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neuro-muscular disease that kills the nerve endings of the spinal cord, causing otherwise healthy muscles to waste away.
There is no treatment or cure for ALS and most patients die within two to five years of diagnosis.
“ALS is a disease that pretty much takes all your strength,” said Hayward, who runs Fit Effect on Grand River Street North. “Here, everybody’s competing to build strength, and there are people fighting a disease that takes strength. So it’s a good connection.”
The bodybuilding competition attracted 33 weightlifters from as far away as Sarnia, Windsor and the United States. Sunday’s competition was a Canadian Powerlifting Federation event officiated by certified national-level judges.
A framed picture of Jake stood on a table near trophies and medallions for the top bench press and deadlift winners.
“This is huge for Paris,” said Derek Tiller, a veteran bodybuilder who trains local high school students at Fit Effect.
Tiller said Sunday marked the first powerlifting event in Paris, though he expects there will be more as the sport continues to gain popularity.
“Having 33 lifters is an excellent response for a first-time event,” he said.
Tiller said several national-level lifters were in attendance and that he expected new records to be set during the competition.
The two youngest lifters certainly turned heads with their impressive performances. Brothers Gabe, 15, and Liam O’Halloran, 12, say bodybuilding helps them build muscle and determination at the same time.
“It gives you a lot of confidence, that’s for sure,” said Gabe, a Grade 10 student and football player in Belle River, Ontario.
Liam said the discipline he develops while training every day helps him in sports and in life.
“It’s one of those things, you have to keep at it,” he said.