Kevin Gray’s powerlifting achievements are so remarkable that coach and trainer Dean Mawby struggles to find an analogy a lay person might understand.
“Kevin is quite exceptionally gifted in the squat,” Dean says. “To break a world record you might expect to be working for 10 years; to do it in less than 12 months like he did is unheard of. To try and put it in some sort of context, it would be like pulling a kid out of the under 16s and putting him in the AFL where he wins the Brownlow after playing only half a season.”
Dean who, as a teen competitor, set a national squat record which was unbeaten for more than 20 years, believes Kevin has it in him to lift his way to a world record that will stand for decades.
Competing at the Pacific Invitational in May this year Kevin exceeded the under 59kg weight class record held by legendary Russian powerlifter Sergey Fedosienko by 12.5kg, hoisting a staggering 240kg.
The extraordinary lift by a complete unknown earned him a fan following overnight, but Dean has always been confident of Kevin’s ability.
The long-time Bendigo chiropractor spotted Kevin’s potential after seeing him in his first novice competition and invited the 32-year-old to come along to his Real Strength Studio where, after a few pointers, he added 20kg in one night.
“He scouted me basically,” Kevin laughs. “He said, you have done a triple bodyweight squat. I had never thought about it that way. I didn’t know it was anything special.”
Now he is demonstrably a world-class athlete, but growing up in New Zealand Kevin felt somewhat precluded from sport because of his stature. “Later I got into cycling with a bunch of friends and got pretty serious with that and did a few 160km and 100km races in New Zealand. Then I got into trail running and did four half marathons consecutively.
“For me is is a lot about mental toughness. There is a drive to show people that it can be done. I like to prove that if there is some sort of issue, it can be overcome somehow. There were definitely a few sports I wished I could do when I was younger, but this sport … this sport found me and my physique is actually an advantage, at least in the squats, although not in the dead lift.”
Like the best stories it all started with love. If Kevin had not met Bendigo girl Ashleigh Hutchins and followed his heart to Australia he might never have found his sporting calling.
The two started chatting online after Ashleigh returned from the 6th World Dwarf Games in the United States where she won nine medals (five gold, two silver and two bronze) competing in athletics, swimming, soccer and floor-hockey.
“Kevin was interested in what the Games were like and so we got talking and after a while he came over to meet me,” Ashleigh, a childcare worker, reveals. Their relationship progressed and Kevin decided to move to Bendigo where he quickly gained work making dental tools for the equine industry. For a while the pair discussed both competing in the 2017 Dwarf Games (held in Canada in August) but ultimately decided against it.
“I didn’t really like the idea of the Dwarf Games in the end,” Kevin admits. “It comes across like you are special and I didn’t like that feeling.”
Instead Kevin found a sport where he could compete against everyone and it was a matter of weeks before Ashleigh, 23, joined him at Real Strength. In August she competed in the Junior Nationals in Melbourne lifting a personal best of 130kg in squat and 115kg in the dead lift to place third overall.
Now it’s game on in their household to see who can achieve the most in the respective classes, with the couple travelling from Bendigo to Castlemaine three nights a week to train. “We are both very competitive,” Kevin laughs. “Hopefully one day we will have children and we can show them it doesn’t matter what, where there’s a will you can mix it with the best.”