Ray Fougnier is one-of-a-kind. A member of the Oneida Indian Nation’s Wolf Clan, he took up powerlifting last year at age 70 and just this summer, at 71, returned from the Powerlifting Federation World Championships in South Africa with five medals.
But while Fougnier is pleased with himself, the Pigeon Forge, Tennessee resident doesn’t want his victory to overshadow the other hard work he has done. “It’s nice to get recognition for powerlifting,” he said, “but the greater inspiration should be for the education of children.” Fougnier grew up on the Oneida Nation’s ancestral homelands near Syracuse, NY and after graduating from and working at a couple of prestigious universities, developed courses and programs related to American Indian studies. He is the former head of the American Indian program at Cornell University.
Fougnier says pursuing athletics is a way for him to stay healthy and guard against diabetes, which his mother had. He hopes other American Indian people will take note and avoid sedentary lives.
Senior Planet chatted with Fougnier soon after his World Championships success.
How old are you, and how old do you feel?
I am 71 years old and I don’t know how I “should” feel, but I don’t feel any different than I ever have.
Is it true that you started powerlifting at 70? Were you always athletic?
I’ve been active in athletics and recreational lifting for most of my life. I became interested in powerlifting at the suggestion of a complete stranger who was visiting the gym where I was working out back in 2012. He was a former powerlifter and after watching me lift thought I could “kick ass” in my division. I told him I wasn’t interested, but he suggested that I at least explore the idea. So I investigated powerlifting via the Internet – and the rest is history. My first powerlifting meet was in March 2013 at age 70.
How do you view your success as an opportunity to inspire others?
I’ve only been involved in powerlifting for just over year. I hope some of my other accomplishments are equally or more inspirational, like my work in education.
I went to Cornell in ‘81 and they wanted to get an American Indian program started. It was a huge and challenging task, because everyone had an idea of what it should be, but I helped launch a great, in depth program that still exists. I’m really proud of that.
I hope I can be an inspiration for others no matter what they pursue. The beauty of powerlifting is that everyone can compete – young and old, male and female, and people with special needs. I would like to see people form clubs and compete in powerlifting events as a team. The health and fitness of my people is a mixed bag; I’d like to see some improvements.
What surprises you most about the passing of time?
How fast time has gone by. It’s hard to believe that my wife and I have raised a family, had our careers and are now retired.
What do you know now that you wished you had known at 30?
To me, trying to second guess the past only leads to anxiety and regrets. The world was different when I was 30 and the decisions I made were based on my knowledge at that time.
What’s the best thing about getting old?
Being able to pursue other interests and having the time to do so. I really wanted to make sure to get into excellent physical shape so that I could enjoy my retirement in good health, without meds – and without a rocker! Now I have time to devote to that. I also love to work on old cars; I’m currently tinkering on a vintage black-and-silver Corvette.
What does “aging with attitude”mean to you?
It means going to the gym and having people say ”take it easy, you’re making the younger guys feel bad” or “I’m a semi-pro football player and you’re lifting more than me.”
Just because I’m old doesn’t mean I have one foot in the grave!