2023 Discover FAD

Finding your community: Q&A with powerlifter William MacAlonan

A couple of months ago, I didn’t know what powerlifting was. Two days ago, I sat down with a nationally recognized powerlifter to talk about his journey to the sport.

Powerlifting is a strength-sport based around attempting to lift a barbell with as much weight as possible in three categories; squat, bench-press and deadlift. It’s a fast-growing sport, with the U.S.A. Powerlifting Organisation having reached 22,000 members in 2019 and slowly regaining those numbers after COVID-19 affected team sports globally.

I sat down with William MacAlonan, the third place male under 120 kilos in Australia. Quite the feat, considering he’s very early in his career. We talked in his gym, The Strength Syndicate in Weetangera, to talk about what lead him to powerlifting.

Q: Being a power-lifter; Is that something that you imagined for yourself when you were younger?

A: When I was young, I always pictured that I’d be, y’know, that action figure-y motorbikes, muscles, strong. That seemed pretty cool and I figured I’d be something like that. Played a lot of sports but I wasn’t particularly good at any of them. I just- I played the sports, right? It wasn’t until probably around sixteen, seventeen years old that I got into the gym, started training. It was more body-building stuff though, so a lot of trying to look good more than anything else. A couple of years after that is when I picked up powerlifting and found that and decided that was what I wanted to keep doing. 

A landscape picture of MacAlonan's hands as he applies chalk, with clouds of chalk dust.
Q: After you’d gotten into the gym, was there a specific moment that called you into powerlifting?

A: Probably the biggest thing was when I started lifting, in the gym, powerlifting wasn’t as big a thing as it is now, in the community. So I knew of it but it wasn’t something I thought appealed to me. It was, you know, kind of a joke that powerlifters are just an excuse to eat as much food as you want and not put in the discipline of body builders. I decided I’d gotten to my goal body weight in body building and thought I’d do like a bulking season and I’d pick up powerlifting as a way to get stronger during that bulk. And discovered that the gym I work at has, the gym I work at now, had a 12 week beginner’s course. It teaches, sort of, the basics of powerlifting. 

So I signed up to that with my father, came in and pretty much from the first day — walking in the door and there was this guy who was lifting, like, 250 kilos for sets of five. At the time I think I’d probably deadlifted 200 kilos so he was lighter than me, stronger than me and everybody in the gym stopped what they were doing and gathered around, started cheering him on. The support was incredible.

I think that moment there was the moment I realised the community based aspect of powerlifting was what I was missing in body building. Also, the emphasis on what you can do performance-wise rather than just like, a subjective goal in terms of aesthetics was a nice refreshing change from just trying to hunt down the perfect physique. Like now, I care more about what I can do than what I look like. 

A landscape picture of MacAlonan's legs and hands lifting some weights in a squat.
Q: That’s very cool! So that moment of community was very important for you- you mentioned that you played sport, I’m assuming team sport?

A: Yeah, AFL and Rugby League.

Q: Do you think that moment of community is possible to find in other sports?

A: For sure! I think most sports have some sense of community even if they are an individual sport. You’ve got your club, or your team, or your support network. And I think it’s very easy to find that community elsewhere, you’re just finding people who are just as passionate or as interested in the thing as you are, is probably key to long-term performance. 

Q: So you found your community, you had your moment; What advice would you give to someone who is still looking for that moment?

A: The biggest thing I reckon is trying different things. As I said, I wasn’t really interested in powerlifting to start off with, I thought it was a bit of a joke. Then I gave it a go. Dad pushed me into it, he wanted to do it. I was like, ‘I’ll give it a go, what’s the worst that can happen?’. And I sort of stepped out of that world that I knew and into something that was a little bit different. I won’t say it was hugely different but it was, it was different.

It was something I wouldn’t normally have done. And that’s where I found my community, so I think it’s quite possible to have that moment probably in something outside of your current everyday life. Like, you’ve got to push to find what you’re looking for, I guess. If it’s not where you are now, then you need to go somewhere else.

Original photos by Jamie Newton

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Jamie Newton is a seventeen year old student at Dickson College with aspirations of studying everything she can get her hands on. She enjoys baking, crafting and storytelling in all its forms. Her favourite animal is the hyena.