CENTRAL FALLS --- Jim Bourgault sat at his kitchen table on Wednesday night and swore the best part of his recent trip to England wasn't being crowned a world master’s bench press champion but instead “reconnecting” with his wife, Jeannie.
When Jeannie, playing with her two grandchildren in the living room, heard the comment, she immediately spun around and replied, “Suck-up!”
Naturally, the Hunt Street home – which houses the couple's three adult children and little Amiaya, 3, and Antonio, 18 months – erupted in laughter.
“Really, the experience, the site-seeing, was better than winning,” grinned Bourgault, who last Sunday at the University of Bath, England's Sports Center captured the World Powerlifting Federation's Master's (45-49 age group, 275-pound weight class) bench press title with a lift of 522.5 pounds (237.5 kilograms). That total was exactly 32.5 pounds more than runner-up Herbert Winklemann of Germany.
“It was the first time in 27 years that it was just Jeannie and me; it was like we were dating again,” he added. “Of course, we called the kids back here every night, because we had 'kid' withdrawals. We had never been away from our children or grandkids before.”
Offered Jeannie: “We spent a lot of time just talking, holding hands and laughing together. This was the honeymoon we never had … But I still think the best part – for me – was seeing his face when he won. I knew that was his ultimate goal since he started powerlifting competitively. I'd say it was like, for him, giving birth. I always wanted children, and that trophy, to him, was something he had always wanted.”
Actually, that wasn't the only laurel snared by Bourgault, a 48-year-old lifelong city resident and assistant plastics department supervisor at Teknor Apex in Pawtucket.
As a member of the United States' bench press team, he also garnered a bronze medal in the “Bench Press Combined” event. Host Great Britain easily took the gold with 921.59 points, while Germany settled for silver finished with 757.21, 254-plus points more than Team USA (504.43).
For those wondering, the WPF Championships attracted over 500 of the globe's best powerlifters, and they represented 21 countries.
“I've bench-pressed 550 (pounds) before, but I wasn't really disappointed I didn't get it,” he said. “I was thinking about it also being a team competition, and me representing the USA. The scores are based on maximum points, which are achieved by the amount of weight someone lifts in comparison to his body weight and age.
“It's called a Modified Wilkes Formula, and that's how each team accrues points.”
He admitted he loved winning the massive, dark gray trophy of a gladiator draped in chainmail and holding a sword in his right hand, a shield in the left.
Underneath, the trophy read, “Secutor,” and, on a small gold metal sheet, “ 2010 WPF World Champion – Bath England.”
“I guess officials wanted the first-place trophy to be more representative of England, so they gave me this instead of a gold medal,” he offered. “I like this much better, as it's representative of the country and its history, and everything we saw there.
“A friend of mine at Teknor Apex, Joe Handy, congratulated me when he saw me at work (Wednesday). He said, 'Jim, now that you're world champion, you'll give it up, right?' and I just laughed. I told him, 'It's not the trophy, and it's not the title. It's the process. The training it took to get there; the process of what my wife and I go through every day, just dealing with life; the qualifying for competitions; the striving for a certain goal.'
“I'll never give this up. No way.”
On Sunday, while taking on competitors from Germany, Spain, Austria and Iceland, Bourgault – who won gold in the Master's heavyweight class bench press at the U.S. Powerlifting Federation Championships in Warwick on June 18 – easily hoisted his opening weight, 480 pounds, but failed on his second attempt at 522.5. He tried that latter weight on his third and final attempt, and “made it with ease.
“Herbert went for 240 kilos on his last attempt to beat me, but he missed it due to an uneven lockout,” he stated. “Actually, I was rooting for him because we all were cheering each other on. It wasn't like a competitor vs. competitor thing, but 'Man vs. Weight.' The camaraderie was fantastic. Everyone wanted everyone else to do well, and everyone was best friends when we left.
“You know how many e-mails I have to respond to? A ton,” he chuckled.
The competition took place between Nov. 3-9, and the Bourgaults began exploring the sites nearly the moment they arrived, Tuesday, Nov. 2.
“We went to Bath Abbey, which is one of the oldest churches in the city; it had been destroyed several times, first by the Norsemen, then by King Henry VIII, and then in the First and Second World Wars,” he noted. “It was gorgeous. The second day we went to the Roman Baths, the healing springs. We had to walk through catacombs under the city to get to them.
“There's still an active archaeological dig there, as they're still finding coins, spearheads and bodies in there,” he continued. “We also saw Harry Potter's house, and the oldest bar in the country, named King James' Pub. We found out it's had the longest continuous liquor license, one that dates back to 1362. Jeannie and I had a Westerchestershire 17X, which was 17 percent alcohol.
“I'm not a big beer drinker – I like my wine – but that was some really good (stuff). I had to drink part of Jeannie's, because she couldn't finish it all.”
The long-time powerlifter indicated he experienced a scare upon discovering he had lost about 15 pounds – through the first five days – from all the walking he and his wife had done.
“Honestly, I'd say we walked at least 20 miles a day, but we didn't realize it at the time because of all the fun we were having,” he said. “We were strolling through history. The best time for me was spending time with my wife: Sitting in the cathedral, or on a park bench, or holding hands, or finishing her beer.
“At first, when I found out I had dropped from 262 pounds to 247, it scared me, but – the more I thought about it – I knew I had done the training necessary to do well,” he continued. “I figured most of it was water weight, and that I wouldn't lose any strength. I knew I had done the work.”
Ironically, this wasn't the first time Bourgault had claimed a world title. On Nov. 4, 2006, he trekked to Newport, Me. For the World Powerlifting Association Championships and returned with the Heavyweight Open and Masters' divisional titles with a bench press of 530 pounds.
“This is a much more prestigious competition,” he stated. “This was against top-level lifters. I was competing against guys I've read about it in magazines, so, yeah, this means more … You know, I always had high expectations about visiting England someday, but this was 100 times better and more interesting than I ever dreamed. We were living history. It was unbelievable, incredible.”
When asked what's next for the “World Champion from Central Falls,” Bourgault just smiled.
“When I was a full-blown powerlifter, I used to bench, squat and dead-lift,” he mentioned. “I've only been benching lately, but what I may do is go to an Open competition and do all three. I'll go easy on the squat and dead-lift, and my goal will be to break the (Rhode Island) bench press record.
“The guy who holds the record now has always been one of my idols (Joe Reeves),” he added. “He's the best that's ever been in this state in the Open 275-pound or 308-pound weight class. His record in the bench is 525 pounds, and I've done 550 before. I really believe I can get it. That's something that would be very special to me.
“Then again, so would a return trip to England with my sweetheart.”