'Desire, burning desire' pushes 89-year-old weightlifting pioneer to keep going

Sunday, July 05, 2020

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Desire, burning desire, is basic to achieving anything beyond the ordinary.”

That's a famous quote by late American businessman, religious leader and member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints, Joseph B Wirthlin.

And it aptly captures the 89 years of Leslie Roy Pedler, who has given selflessly to his beloved sport of weightlifting.

Never one of the most famous of Jamaican weightlifters, nor one of the select four to have donned the black, green and gold colours at the highest level — the Olympic Games in 1948, 1968, 1984 and 1988 — still Pedler, “Les” or “Jack Pedler”, as he was popularly called, in his own unassuming manner, managed to etch his name indelibly on the sport in Jamaica, by virtue of his contribution to its overall development.

It was love at first sight and by the time Les entered his mid to late teen years he had started setting up a gymnasium in his backyard at 5 Fifth Street in Greenwich Town.

“I got the plates and the bars and put everything together and started practising, and after a while I had friends join me and that is how it went for a long time,” Pedler informed the Jamaica Observer during a recent interview.

“It was love at first sight,” he continued. “Being a young boy what else you do? There were other sports but weightlifting was a piece of me at that time. You played your little football and thing, but weightlifting was my choice.”

So determined was the youngster that he taught himself the rudiments of the discipline buy investing in the monthly American magazine, Health and Strength.

“Every month I would buy the magazine,” he said. “We used to have about four editions each month and this is where my information came from. It had so much information in it about training, progress and different programmes.”

Without a coach, Jack Pedler entered his first competition, an informal gymnasium contest, around four years later. He did not win but the hunger for success grew.

But even as he competed he realised that to grow himself and the sport further, the discipline needed organisation, and he threw himself head first into making that a reality.

“We needed to have an association to begin with, an organised association and I made the effort to be a part of the association and this is how it came about that we were able to get the other guys who were bouncing about, because there was nothing constructive for us at the time.

“I took it upon myself to stay with this thing and try to get as much information as I could and pass on to others who were training at the time, so that's how the association came about.”

Les fondly remembers the association's first international competition, the Commonwealth Games hosted by Jamaica in 1966. “We won a gold and a bronze medal, and I came fourth in my class (165lb),” he recollected.

And from there the team participated internationally in regional events, including the Pan Am Games in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Cuba, and the fact that those countries were more organised in the sport encouraged Pedler to stay in close contact with them so that Jamaica, too, could gradually develop.

He attended the 1968 Mexico Olympics, the 1984 and 1988 Games in Los Angeles and Seoul as an official with the Jamaican team. Jamaica has not competed in weightlifting at the summer Olympic Games since the South Korea edition, and the sport went into an almost fatal decline.

But even as the years passed and the sport struggled and eventually was de-registered by the world governing body, the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF), Pedler continued to harbour and encourage others at his Hughenden Avenue home with an open space facility for training. It has been in place since he moved there in 1976.

But as fate would have it, Pedler, who has worked in a supervisory position at Jamaica Public Service for many years, seems set to yet again provide a jolt for the sport that he has devoted his life. He won't be lifting heavy metal like he did at his prime at 5'9” and 200lb, but he hopes to help raise the sport from the doldrums and back into the limelight.

New Jamaica Weightlifting Federation President Dr Mark Bromfield had been busy trying to make contact with stalwarts who would have had a road map on how to move the sport forward.

“Initially I had reached out to the IWF, the Pan Am, Barbados and Canada Weightlifting Federations for technical support to help us with the development of the sport because to grow you have to have coaches who know the sport and referees who can manage the competitions,” Dr Bromfield explained to the Observer.

“I was told about another gentleman, Louis Martin, a Jamaican who later represented the United Kingdom with great success, winning multiple medals and every major competition. But he died in 2015, and then we stumbled upon this man, Mr Pedler.”

An overjoyed Dr Bromfield said based on his preliminary information, Jack Pedler is a former president of the local weightlifting body, a coach and an athlete, and “just about everything”.

“He has a wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise that we can benefit from. So the dynamics have changed because we can learn so much from him and then to add to that he has a facility with open space that we want as a partner to have out athletes train there because we had reached out to 876 Crossfit and they said yes, but now that we have found somewhere else, we can have two places to train.

“We now have a man who has walked the road and can provide greater guidance, has the knowledge, a veteran who can motivate and we want to maximise whatever years he has left so we can learn and benefit from him,” said Dr Bromfield.

Due to the fact that there had not been any activities from the Jamaica Weightlifting Association for many years, the local body was de-registered from the IWF because no fees were paid. Dr Bromfield and his new executives have launched the Jamaica Weightlifting Federation (not association) and they reached out to the IWF who informed that to get back in they needed to indicate that there was an administration, a development plan, members of the executives, list of athletes and the ability to pay annual fees.

“We sent them everything. We have an athlete Omari Mears based in the UK who lifts for us, so we satisfied that part of the athletes because he went to a competition and won gold for us the other day, but when I spoke to the Pam Am Weightlifting president recently he said it was good to have overseas people lifting for us but we needed to have local people being developed.

“He said, 'we want to assist you, we have some funding that we can provide supplies in terms of equipment, but we would want to deal with athlete development and training, refereeing and coaching, but we want to know that you have local athletes,' so having found a man like Mr Pedler, we now have somebody who we can invite an athlete to see. We have a few young ladies who have expressed interest to lift, as well as a few young men who also want to lift',”

Dr Bromfield has advised that athletes have started training at Mr Pedler's facility free of cost, though there is a charge for others to train there. Also, Dr Bromfield is ruing the fact that the novel coronavirus pandemic has stymied the federation's journey back into the international fold after reapplying last November.

At the time of the interview Les Pedler, the father of three girls and two boys, was eagerly anticipating a reunion with the JWF athletes at his facility, and if he had a rerun of his life he said he wouldn't do anything differently.

“If it came back around I wouldn't think of doing anything differently. I wouldn't choose any other sport over the one I did for so many years,” he offered without hesitation.

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