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Photo courtesy of Cody Hughes/FitCode Conditioning

Meet the world's strongest church organist

‘Music’s my real love. Powerlifting is a fun hobby.’

By Alison Brooks-Starks

Music director and organist Colin Bonneau, 70, of St. David’s United in Leduc, Alta., could very well be the world’s strongest church musician. He is a powerlifting legend, having broken hundreds of records. Bonneau spoke with Alison Brooks-Starks.

On beginning powerlifting at age 50: Weightlifting strengthens your bones. It’s never too late to start exercising, that’s for sure. Boy, I couldn’t believe how strong I got in just a few months.

On why he got into lifting: I’ve always been pretty strong, and I wondered how strong I would be if I started seriously working out. One of my choir members, a friend of mine, joined the gym. [I joined too], and that’s what got me going.

On setting records: When I got my first Canadian record, I thought, “Wow, that was pretty cool!” It was wonderful, just a great feeling. I beat a record that had been held for about 14 years. I got my first world record in Luxembourg. They put the Canadian flag up and played O Canada. “It doesn’t get any better than this,” I thought. Now I’ve actually set 90 records. It’s fun to know that, for your age, you’re one of the strongest people in the world.

On the numbers: In my last competition, I bench-pressed 342 pounds. My ultimate goal is to get a 400-pound bench press. It’s better to aim higher than lower. About a year ago, I did 380 or 390 in the squat, and my dead lift was 350.

On reactions: I really quite enjoy telling people I’m a church musician because there just aren’t any musicians, let alone church organists, lifting heavy weights. That’s always kind of fun.

On music: I’ve been a church musician for over 50 years. I pride myself on the fact that I never play a verse the same in church; I always play it differently, decorate it, that sort of thing. I do a lot of jazz and blues in my playing, too. I like improvisation — I have my own arrangements to some of the standard hymns.

On hobbies: I play tuba in a brass quartet right now, and I’m playing keyboard in a dance group. Music’s my real love. The power-lifting is a fun hobby.

On church: I’ve always liked the United Church because it’s so open to things. I always like to say, “God gave us a brain — gotta use it!” You really think that if Jesus was among us, he wouldn’t want to hear what women have to say? That doesn’t make any sense. That’s what I like about the United Church — we use our heads.

On lifting a piano: A few summers ago, I worked moving pianos. One time, I ended up actually pushing the piano up the stairs, bench-pressing it, basically. The other guys were able to just ease it up the stairs. 

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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