strong photo 1The Cree Nation of Nemaska may have the smallest population in Eeyou Istchee, but if Hugo Girard has his way, it will be home to the biggest biceps of the North.

Girard, known for winning numerous international strongman competitions – including the title of “North America’s Strongest Man” in 2001 and 2002 – is putting his 330-lb frame to work on a monthly basis at the Nemaska Sports Complex. After five years hosting Strongman and Fitness competitions in the community, the 42-year-old recently decided to start visiting aspiring athletes there on a monthly basis.

“Last year I talked about the possibility of starting a program to introduce training, nutrition and healthy lifestyles within the community,” said Girard. “In May, I started going every month and I guide people through their training. Whoever comes, I meet with them and give them advice on technique, nutrition and supplements as well.”

Nemaska’s most recent Strongman competition was held during the community’s 19th Annual Cree Nation Fitness Challenge July 24-27. This year, 10 professional competitors went head to head in what has become a marquee event during the annual competition.

With it, the event has brought new strongman training equipment to the North. Deadlift bars, atlas stones and farmer’s carry equipment are all available outside the Nemaska Recreation Centre.

The winner of this year’s event was Shawn Coonishish of the Eeyou Eenou Police Force.

“I was very proud of what Shawn accomplished,” said Girard. “He worked very hard and his success has proved that. I hope to see him competing soon at the professional level.”

Coonishish had been training intermittently with Girard for two years, but says that the superstar’s recent monthly visits are bringing healthy attitudes in Nemaska to new heights.

“It’s a huge benefit for the youth to have him here,” said Coonishish. “You see a lot more faces at the gym and he’s promoting a good, healthy lifestyle.”

For Coonishish, the road to success required plenty of hard work – even with one of the world’s best trainers helping him along. But he acknowledged that Nemaska’s increased gym occupancy is proof that hard work can pay off for anyone.

“When people start to see progress or change they want to keep pushing forward,” said Coonishish, adding with a laugh that sometimes an improvement can come just by “talking less and training more” while in the gym.

In Girard’s program, a healthy lifestyle doesn’t stop when you leave the gym. The strongman is a huge proponent of proper nutrition and dieting.

Aspiring Cree strongmen at Girard's event in July

Aspiring Cree strongmen at Girard’s event in July

“It’s not just about weight training, but also about learning the tools to improve your lifestyle,” said Girard, who also provides advice on how to supplement a healthy diet with protein and vitamins, which is a vital part of the muscle-building process. “I go into the community and I eat pretty healthy. People here have everything on hand to eat properly.”

Girard hails from the tiny town of Sainte-Anne-de-Portneuf, and says his visits to Nemaska remind him of his youth.

“I like Nemaska because the pace of time there feels different,” said Girard. “People care about each other and I’ve worked hard to build trust with people in the community and they return that trust.”

With Girard increasing his presence in Eeyou Istchee, more Cree weightlifters may be seeing the legend’s 21-inch neck leaning over the bench-press bar to spot their lift.

“Other Cree communities are definitely a possibility,” said Girard. “Once the program grows in Nemaska we can take the next step.”

Girard is planning to visit Nemaska several days a month for the foreseeable future. If you’d like to find out when his next visit will be, contact the Nemaska Recreation Department.