When community members walk into Cougars Weightlifting Club they see a wall covered with the photographs of lifters and coaches who have represented Australia at Olympic Games, World Championship, Oceania Championships and Commonwealth Games. Success breeds success and the results of today stem from an enormous team effort that has occurred over the past three decades. To understand the present it pays to examine the past.
Back in 1983, a few months after the cessation of the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games,Mike Keelan was employed as Queensland Amateur Weight Lifters Association’s (QAWLA) first State Director of Coaching. The employment opportunity came about as a result of a partnership that was formed between the QAWLA and the Camphill and Carina Welfare Association. It was agreed that Mike was to manage the Clem Jones Centre, which comprised a number of swimming pools, BBQ area, squash and tennis courts, cricket, little athletics, rugby league and bowls. As a result of hard yakka from QAWLA stalwarts such as Maurie Carmichael and his boys, Bill Gadsby and Bob Henderson’ plus a few new iron game recruits and Mike, the ablutions block was transformed into a weights gym and the QAWLA had a training and administration headquarters for the first time in its history.
In 1983 the new recruits began lifting in the growing number of competitions on the QAWLA calendar and later that year Carina Weightlifting Club was formed. The inaugural members of the club consisted of Debbie and Mike Keelan, Gary Langford, Peter Thomsen, Neil Thomson, Rick and Richard Worreshk, Roman Wojceisuk , Pete Smith, John Everett and Danny Willet. Weightlifting equipment was provided from the QAWLA (including barbells and weights used at the Melbourne 1956 Olympic Games) and via donations by the Keelan’s which included two olympic sets purchased at a bargain price (from ’82 Games equipment sales). The club hosted the 1984 Queensland School Championships and soon afterward the 1984 National Youth Championships. Not long after Mike Keelan left the employ of the QAWLA and began teaching at Camphill SHS where a number of fine young weightlifters emerged. Carina Club moved premises and set up shop at the high school and the club became known as Camphill Weightlifting Club. Some of the stars of the club went on to win medals at National Schools, Youth and Junior Championships and included Ashley Sankey, Craig Crossland, Kristen Nimmo , Dean Cowan and Chris Sharman.
To attract a wider section of the community some of the equipment at the Camphill Club was transferred over to Redlands PCYC and weightlifting activity soon became popular with older lifters taking part. As the school athletes became more serious training hours expanded and eventually the school club centred on attracting talent and the Redlands Weightlifting Club took over – athletes included Dean Quick, Craig Wegert, Richard Rowles, Keith Rowles and the McFadden brothers – Craog and Bernie , Wayne and Kyle Bennett, Gina Burnett and Debbie Keelan plus kids from a number of schools in the local area who were coached by Gary Langford and Mike Keelan. Redlands Community Weightlifting Club played host to a number of state and national championships and became a frequent venue for Queensland Squad activities. 1987 was a big year for the club with Debbie Keelan making the Australian team for the inaugural Women’s World Weightlifting Championships which took place at Daytona Beach, California. Debbie received an enormous amount of publicity and as luck would have it the Brisbane City Council had an empty gym looking for members and skilled coaching staff. The offer was to good to ignore so we packed up from the Redland’s and established Chandler Weightlifting Club. The gym was under the eastern grandstand and behind reinforced glass next to the 50 metre pool which was being utilised by some of the worlds greatest swimmers under the tutelage of great coaches the like of Lawrie Lawrence. The gym began to grow in popularity and soon the membership had to be locked – we had aspiring weightlifters, Olympic rowers and track and field athletes, swimmers and general weight-trainers.
In 1990 we had no option but to move weightlifting from the aquatic environment onto the top floor of the sports hall. It was one hell of a job dragging platforms, barbells and weights up the zigzag stairwells to the highest floor in the building which in Summer reached temperatures in the high 40’s. Chandler Weightlifting Club continued to grow in numbers attracting weightlifters from more and more schools. Some of the more prominent lifters included Caleb Loades, Clinton Luxton, Roman and Alex Goodyear, Shaylene Asher, Ben James and Kurt Nasarenko, Members also wished to develop a bona fide club and to this end the club applied for incorporation in 1991. In the meantime the club continued to be popular for athletes from other sporting disciplines. The Bronco’s used our premises, so did East Football Club, Aztec Netball Club, South’s United and the growing number dedicated athletes – money gleaned for our services was used to buy more equipment and help our lifters with expenses they incurred while participating at national and international events. The activity increased and as the athletes were improving the weights got heavier and heavier and when they were dropped the building shook more and more. It became evident that a weightlifting club at the top of a building was not a smart idea and so we had no option but to look around for yet another new premise. It did not take long to find the spot. Under the velodrome was a large storage area and the BCC offered us a deal – strip the area of all contents including shelves, paint walls/ceiling and cover the floor and the area was ours. In the school September vacation in 1992 Mike Keelan and a group of students from Wynnum SHS worked like slaves to perform all the tasks required to get the job done – we succeeded and a few months later in February 1993 the club changed its name for the last time and became known what it is today – Cougars Weightlifting Club Inc.
The inaugural committee consisted of Ralph Hamilton – President, Debbie Keelan – Vice President, Mike Keelan – Secretary, Assistant Secretary – Craig Wegert and Stuart Wagner – Treasurer. From the days of incorporation Cougars has held many meetings where important issues have been discussed at length. Actions from these monthly gatherings have resulted in the development of policies, operational plans, community promotion and fund raising activities. Grants received from local and state governments have given us the capital to educate and train our growing band of volunteers, expand our facility and buy specific equipment. Our programs and services are second to none and Cougars Weightlifting Club is a true centre of excellence for weightlifting development. In recent years Cougars has hosted lifters from many parts of the world and the visitors are always impressed with our warm hospitality that emanates from our dedicated and enthusiastic people. If you’re a member of the weightlifter family and you find your self in Brisbane make sure you visit Cougars and experience the warmth of our club first-hand. Mike Keelan – Cougars Inaugural Life Member.