Westisle Composite High School may be the strongest school in Canada, and George Kinch is the man responsible. The Prince Edward Island School Athletic Association (PEISAA) Powerlifting Program has had twenty-five Championships, and Westisle has won twenty of these twenty-five. I’ve witnessed his athletes perform at a number of these events. It is absolutely incredible to see the level of strength displayed. A number of these athletes have since competed on the national and international stage competing and setting records in events hosted by the Canadian Powerlifting Union (CPU) and the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF). Some of these athletes have gone on to compete and win at the Arnold Classic. Others have pursued careers in the NHL and the UFC.
It is both unique and rare that so many strong and physically talented individuals were developed in such a small rural community.
Many thanks to CSCA Advisory Team Member Wyatt Inman for conducting the interview on behalf of the CSCA and bringing this story to light.
George is a large and incredibly humble man. He has his own big family, and as the youth service worker at Westisle Composite High School he has coached and empowered hundreds of youth. His passion for youth development and energy to support them is amazing. This story and the story about his program is worth sharing with the CSCA community. It is the story about changing lives through sport participation and developing honest hard-working community members in the process. Most importantly, it is a story about saving the lives of many at-risk youth by providing an outlet where they can compete, excel, feel special, important, and be excellent.
This interview focuses on George’s work with the powerlifting club at Westisle, the development of high school powerlifting on PEI, and most importantly, what are some key factors for the success of programs like his.
CSCA – George, thanks for taking the time to chat today. Tell us how you got into strength training.
GK – We had weights around as far back as I can remember. My dad bought me my first weight set when I was 10, and we had a punching bag and skipping rope hanging in our basement. I started lifting at the local gym when I was 13 years old. An older cousin of mine, Clayton Ellis, bought me a membership at the local gym in Summerside at the time (East Coast Gym). Clayton was also one of the three founding members of PEISAA Powerlifting program. I played a lot of sports growing up and sports may have saved my life.
In terms of strength sports my passion is Strongman. I am a two-time second place finisher in a Canadian Strongman Championships at the masters level, I’ve place third place at a Quebec Strongman open, I am a two-time Pictou strongest man, and a two-time Nova Scotia’s master level strongest man.
CSCA – Wow! George, can you tell us a bit about the beginning of the program you’ve developed at Westisle High School?
GK – I started working at Westisle in 2002 as a youth service worker. At that time, it was felt there was a number of youth in the community who needed some structure, support, and an outlet for their energy. This group of students were not typical athletes. They found their fair share of trouble and were disconnected from extracurricular activities. More often than we like to admit, society often passes this population off as unmotivated and unreachable.
I decided that the time had arrived for this attitude to change. Tasked with reaching out to these “troubled kids,” I organized a weightlifting/boxing club and strength competitions to spark an interest in school activities for this group. The response was immediate, and the program of weightlifting, boxing, arm wrestling, and strongman events took flight with astonishing results. These kids were now being recognized for positive deeds. School staff noticed both an improvement in academic performance and classroom and community behavior. Most importantly, they became part of the school socially and discovered the value of a healthy, drug-free lifestyle.
CSCA – That is amazing, George. Can you tell us a bit about the development of the sport within the high school system?
GK – In 2005, these once withdrawn kids wanted to compete against other schools. During that pilot year, three schools participated in the Fall event, and five schools competed in the Spring provincial finals. In 2009 eight schools competed in the provincial finals and now every high school competes every year. It is a raw event with no cost to students. We lift in t-shirts, shorts and sneakers.
CSCA – George, we understand that you have 50+ students every year in your club. Can you tell us a bit about why you feel what you are doing could be considered successful?
GK – The biggest factor for me being successful and anyone trying to start a club is dedication. I have put in a great deal of time over the years. Some days I pick students up at their homes in the morning between 5:45 – 6:00 AM, drive to school and open the gym for 7:00am. I open it again at lunch for a second training session, and finally again after school for a third training session. There are some evenings that I do stay late to accommodate students who need access to the facility later. I think it is so important that I am around and available during their training sessions. Being present, emotionally supporting big sets, providing movement feedback, and generally cheering on the folks is so important. It won’t be as successful if it is just an open and available room without coaching.
I also like to think we create an open and inviting atmosphere that includes lots of training models. The emphasis is developing strength with traditional barbell lifts, but we do include strongman lifts, cardio, and circuit style sessions. I think we are training athletes here and not just powerlifters; that’s why I don’t like adhering to one training philosophy. You shouldn’t be rigid in your approach to programming and it’s important to provide an atmosphere that is welcoming to all. I believe that’s why we have more girls lifting now than guys, because of the atmosphere. Students like to hangout in the space even when they are not training. They eat their lunch here, study, and sometimes just sit around and chat. It is their space.
CSCA – Can you expand a bit further on the success of the program on the athletes outside of the sport itself?
GK – This year has been an especially hard one for us at Westisle. Tragically, we lost three students early on in this school year. I believe the powerlifting program was a positive influence for some students. Participating in the workouts together helped them to cope with the tremendous loss. I’m not entirely sure of the full impact of the program in our community. I do feel it has been very positive for those youth who participated in it. Some examples are improved self-esteem, healthier lifestyle choices, academic improvement, and an improved outlook on life achieved by the kids involved in the program. I think it has helped troubled youth find a way to feel more confident and helped others deal with trauma. The natural progression would be to spread the message and continue to engage kids in the rewards of hard work, self-reliance, and personal pride.
CSCA – George, we think your story and the work you do every single day is legendary, honestly. What you have created in your school is very special. We appreciate you taking the time to share some of your life and your words of wisdom.
CSCA – My pleasure, (Wyatt).
CSCA Advisory Team Member Wyatt Inman has been teaching in the Kinesiology Program at Holland College since 1998. As well, he has been the strength coach for the Holland Hurricanes since 2010. Wyatt loves strength training and absolutely believes that participation in strength training profoundly improves the success of any athlete. He began as a kinesiologist with the Atlantic Police Academy, and in 2000 became the co-ordinator of the Sport and Leisure Management diploma program.