Stephen Jesso has one goal: to win gold at the world powerlifting championship next year in Sweden. Two weeks after competing there, he’ll fly to the world blind powerlifting championship in Florida and try to do the same thing.
“I’m going there to win,” he said confidently. “I’m not going just to be happy to be there.”
Jesso is a record-holding champion in the 120-kilogram-plus weight class who lives and trains in Scarborough. He lost his eyesight when he was 13. Powerlifting is his whole life. He even makes a small living off it through his quest for gold funding.
“This is what I do full-time,” he said. “I don’t have any major sponsorships yet.”
Winning in Sweden at the world able-bodied championship is his dream. He won’t settle for anything less.
“I will probably get my ass whooped,” he laughed. “These guys are phenomenally strong athletes, and powerlifting is big over there. It’s how Canadians treat hockey over here.”
Just two weeks ago Jesso nailed nine perfect lifts in St. John’s, a rarity in the sport.
“I had a perfect flawless clinical day,” he recalled.
It’s not a big sport in Canada but at 180.9 kilos, Jesso is one of the best powerlifters in the world. He admits it’s not glamorous but it has its advantages.
“It’s just a bunch of guys getting together and competing against each other,” he explained. “There’s no animosity amongst lifters.”
His biggest fan is his wife Olivia, who is a professional chef and his best spotter. As high school sweethearts, they’ve been together for 18 years.
“There are days that this is just unbelievably tough for me,” he said. “I’m sitting up in the middle of the night ready to lose my mind. Having her around keeps me calm before a competition.”
I’m an athlete and a husband and a person. The blind thing is the last thing that I am.
— Stephen Jesso
He works out at Variety Village at Danforth Avenue and Birchmount Road with a few other men but said that Olivia is his favourite training partner.
“My wife slings more plates than these guys do!” he said. “She has a particular eye for technique.”
As a blind athlete, he finds it annoying when people focus on his blindness instead of his achievements.
“Make this about me,” he said. “I’m an athlete and a husband and a person. The blind thing is the last thing that I am.”