He may have been just an “average kid” but he went on to accomplish extraordinary things.
Picking up the sport of powerlifting when he was in high school, Dave Mitchell went on to accomplish an excellent career that included three Canadian championship titles while also setting 11 records along the way.
The Fort Frances native will be the lone athlete inducted into this year’s Fort Frances Sports Hall of Fame Class.
“I was just this average kid who was never gifted and I got into lifting weights and I thought, you know, if I dedicate myself to this sport, put everything I had into it, that I’d be a champion,” Mitchell told the Times in a phone interview on Monday.
“Keep setting goals and make it to the next level and be competitive–from provincials, to nationals, to the world level.”
Be competitive indeed.
It didn’t take long for Mitchell to realize what he was capable of in the world of powerlifting as he started his career in 1984 and was already placing well in his second year of competition.
His first taste of success came at the 1985 Ontario Intermediate Championships in Cornwall, Ont. where he wound up second before following that up with an identical showing the following year in Kitchener.
Then in 1987, Mitchell started to turn heads at the provincial level as he took second at the Western Canadian Championships in Winnipeg before snaring his first national title in 1988 at the Canadian Championships in Okotoks, Alta.
Mitchell then cruised to a silver at the 1988 World Open in Victoria, B.C. before claiming his second national title at the 1989 Canadian Championships in Calgary, Alta.
He then placed fifth at the 1989 World Championships in England.
“I don’t remember as much as winning the titles, but more going to that higher level–to the world level, like the World Open,” Mitchell noted.
“You get nine attempts altogether with your three lifts. Three in the squat, three in the bench [press], and three in the deadlift and they add it all up and whoever has the highest is placed higher.
“So going to the World Open [in 1988] I finished second, I got all nine of my lifts deemed to be perfect and there was only two people in that whole meet because it’s so strict,” he recalled.
“Your lifting has to be just perfect and I remember getting the second-place trophy and it was like, wow! I never thought I’d be that good.
“It was just a perfect day for me then,” he stressed.
After an eight-year retirement, Mitchell returned to competitive powerlifting in 1998, winding up second at the 1998 Canadian Championships in Okotoks and garnered third at the 1999 Canadian Championships in Calgary.
Mitchell then nabbed his third and final national title in Taber, Alta in 2001.
The reason for his retirement?
“I just accomplished making it to the world level and I just thought . . . well, I guess I lost interest,” he remarked.
“Other things were just more important and [then] I made a comeback. My first contest was in Minnesota; I set three records there,” he recalled.
“One [of them] no problem. Two months later, all of the records that I broke I shattered them all and then it was off to the Canadians where I finished second the first time after my comeback.”
Mitchell noted that some of the biggest challenges he faced with his comeback was moving up to a heavier weight class.
Before 1999 he competed at 165 pounds but made the leap afterwards to the 181-pound class.
“I moved to the heavier weight class, so that means you gotta lift more weight,” he noted.
“There was no more dieting and it was hard just trying to always make weight. Like when I went to the world championships in England, I went on the scale the night before, all the weightlifters weigh in, and I weighed 170 [pounds].
“I had to lose five pounds in 12 hours,” he stressed. “So I went and had a pile of saunas, didn’t drink, didn’t eat anything, and if you’ve ever been in a sauna–when you get out of there and you’re parched. You just wanna put more fluid back into you,” he reasoned.
“You’re a disciplined athlete and you say ‘I can’t do this’ because if you don’t make your weight class . . . it’s like boxing, you gotta make your weight class, right?” Mitchell noted.
“I had to make my weight class, there’s no ifs ands or buts.”
The very next morning was Mitchell’s last chance to go and weigh in, where he fortunately made weight.
“I jumped on the scale and I was 164 [pounds], it was six pounds in 12 hours that I lost,” he recalled.
“So when I made my comeback, it was like no more dieting, just go to the heavier weight class–I could weigh up to 181 [pounds].”
All told, Mitchell entered twenty competitions during his career and was named “best lifter” five times while also setting 11 records.
His best-ever official lifts in the 165-pound class included 550 in the squat, 285 in the bench press, and 565 deadlift for a total weight of 1,400 pounds.
In the 181-pound class, meanwhile, his records were 605 in the squat, 300 in the bench press, and 575 in the deadlift for a total of 1,480 pounds.
As he looks back on his career, Mitchell said that what he is most proud was never lacking confidence and being able to meet fellow athletes.
“Meeting the other competitors and just all the goals you set when you first start out. You accomplish setting records, winning championships, it was just like, wow! It’s a dream come true,” he enthused.
“Never giving up because when you lift weights, when you step up to the bar, you can’t have one percent doubt,” he stressed.
“When you go up there, you have to know you’re gonna lift that weight because that one percent doubt it’s really gonna screw you up.
“You can’t be scared of a heavy weight,” he reasoned.
Looking ahead to next month’s Fort Frances Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which is slated for Saturday, Aug. 10 at La Place Rendez-Vous, Mitchell noted that he is looking forward to writing his speech and talking about what he accomplished in his brilliant career.
But the speech itself is something he still needs to construct.
“I gotta start my speech and I’ve been putting it off for so long, this week I gotta start working on that,” he stressed.
“I was no gifted athlete or nothing. When I was growing up and played hockey and I saw all these people that were so much better than me–I wasn’t jealous, I was just envious.
“I’d say, “Well, if I ever get good at something, I’m gonna make sure I go all the way’ and discipline myself and make it happen,” he recalled.
“I mean live, eat, and breathe it 24/7 when you’re training. Mentally visualize everything you’re gonna do the next day in that gym and that’s what I did.
“I don’t look anything at all like a powerlifter,” Mitchell stressed. “I’m just an average-looking guy.”
Well, “average-looking guy,” that’s a career you can hang your hat on.