He’s USA Powerlifting’s version of a jetsetter. One month he may leave his home, perched on the lava flows of his beloved Hawaiian home and travel to St. Louis, working 20-hour days as the Technical Secretary at the USA Powerlifting’s Men’s Nationals. The next month he may be in Denmark or South Africa, sitting in a referee’s chair and calling our kilogram loads from memory. It seems P. J. Couvillion is everywhere USA Powerlifting lifters compete. No matter where he’s needed, or how far he has to go, P.J. will be there and just about every cent of his considerable personal travel budget comes out his own pocket.
P.J. has the iron game in his genes. His father, Hansel Couvillion, a transplanted Cajun, owned the famous 9th Street Gym in Baltimore for many years. P.J. grew up around big people moving big weights and it’s one of the loves of his life since. P.J. still boasts about his father’s strength “…he could break a broom handle by twisting it in his hands…” says P.J. “In those days grip strength was a test of a person’s overall strength and people worked on it. In my father’s gym all the dumbbells had 2″ diameter handles to work the grip”. Hansel was a champion in the bent press, a now long forgotten one armed, over the head barbell lift.
When he was a young man the Couvillion family retraced Hansel’s steps back to the South, to North Carolina specifically, where P.J. worked with his father, traveling the world servicing those large oil tanks that dot the landscape in industrial towns and cities. P.J. attended college on a dual football and golf scholarship and he stills swings a sweet game every now and again. When P.J. was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1966 his life took a decisive turn when he was badly wounded in the Republic of South Vietnam. After a long and arduous rehabilitation he came to a life altering decisions: he wanted to live in Hawaii, a state (and state of mind) that he had tasted earlier in his life and wanted to return to. He packed up his young son Chris, now an accomplished power lifter in his own right, and traded life on his parent’s North Carolina farm for the black lava beds of Keaau on the big island of Hawaii.
With his genetic roots deeply planted in weightlifting, and what the was called “odd lifts” it was natural for P.J. to gravitate towards the godfather of powerlifting in Hawaii, Gus Rethweisch – one of the world’s strongest men and meet promoter without peer. With P.J.’s background as a weightlifting and powerlifting referee Gus put P.J. right into a judges chair at one Gus’ Hawaii Record Breakers meet and it seems P.J.’s been there ever since.
In time P.J. meet Odd Haugen, a top executive of 24 Hour Fitness and as with Gus Rethweisch, one of the world’s strongest men. Odd, winner of so many strong man contests – even today at 50 years old handily beating men decades younger – shared P.J.’s passion for the sport of powerlifting and together they formed a friendship and partnership that endures and benefits Hawaiian lifters today. And what lifters Hawaii claims as its own, names such as Tony Harris (1999 and 2000 USA Powerlifting 100 kg national champion), Tony Leiato (USA Powerlifting 1999 125 kg champion), the irrepressible Quincy Guzman, Nando Corpuz, Adin Kong and Eric Funakoshi to name just a few.
In 1997 P.J. traveled to Chicago for the then ADFPA Men’s Nationals and made a lasting impression on lifters and officials alike. He volunteered for every assignment that he could- 6 am weigh-in’s, late night gear check, sitting as a referee in any session he could find an open slot. When he wasn’t judging he helped the platform crew by acting as platform manager, calling kilo loads from memory, a skill that very few possess. When the long meet was over and P.J. lagged behind and helped meet directors Dennis and Sandy Brady break down the venue. P.J. was someone who came to a meet ready to work and to help; it did not go unnoticed.
P.J. amongst the first group of USA Powerlifting candidates to take the IPF Category II test and by doing revealed another talent: P. J. had memorized the entire rulebook – not just the rules but the book itself. P.J. recited rules verbatim and then provided the page number and the paragraph in which they appeared in the book. He added to his memory skills an instinct for fair play and the reasonable and equitable application of the rules. Qualities recognized by his fellow officials and competitors.
Early this year P.J. flew from Hawaii to the IPF Women’s Worlds in Denmark where he took and passed the strenuous IPF Category I test thereby becoming USA Powerlifting’s first IPF Category I official. Since his test in Denmark was to essentially take the position of Technical Secretary, under John Stevenson’s close direction and watchful eye, it was natural for USA Powerlifting’s president, Mike Overdeer, to ask P.J. to perform that same function at the 1999 Men’s Nationals. P.J. accepted the assignment and typically threw himself into the task; working weeks before the meet to organize the myriad jobs and tasks, then working tirelessly during the three day event and, as has become a P.J. custom, helping Mike Cissell to break down the venue after the meet concluded.
To ensure that USA Powerlifting receives every point possible in IPF competition P.J. has made a commitment to attend every international championship. In 1999 and 2000 his travel schedule included:
- USA Powerlifting Women’s Nationals
- USA Powerlifting Men’s Nationals
- USA Powerlifting Masters Nationals
- USA vs. Canada Challenge
- IPF Women’s Worlds
- IPF Masters Worlds
- IPF Men’s Worlds
If you add up just his 1999 and 2000 air miles they likely exceed the average person’s lifetime’s of airport delays, long and cramped flights, questionable airline food and jet lag. And through it all he maintains his zest for the sport, his dedication to the lifter, his support for USA Powerlifting and his pure joy in just being able to participate.
- By Mike Mooney