Odell Manuel was Australia’s strongest man until he suffered a horrific quadricep injury that put him out of action for two years.
That may have been the end for most people.
But the central Queenslander reclaimed his title when he dipped his toe back into competition at ProRaw, one of Australia’s biggest powerlifting competitions last weekend, and smashed the Australian all-time powerlifting record.
“She proved to be pretty good on the day,” said Mr Manuel, who lifted a total of 1,090kg, breaking the previous record by 12.5kg at the Melbourne competition.
“We were going in there to get 1,080kg. The ultimate would have been to get 1,100kg, but it didn’t happen.”
He also broke the squat record of 435kg with his 440kg squat and broke his own deadlift record of 400kg with a 405kg lift, and bench-pressed 245kg.
Mr Manuel was Australia’s powerlifting champion for five years in a row until he attended a meet-and-greet in Western Australia.
“I just had to tell them my story and they wanted to watch me train, and I was supposed to do just a few squats.”
He made it to 340kg when disaster struck and he ruptured the tendon in his quadricep.
“It was more embarrassing because I was trying to teach people how to squat and I fell on my face.”
Mr Manuel underwent surgery as soon as he returned to his hometown of Rockhampton, and the long road to recovery began.
“The doctor told me it was going to take 18 months and I laughed at him, because normally I recover from injuries quite well, even the major ones.
“But this time I think he was right.”
It took Mr Manuel a year to get back on track physically, but the mental scars have taken a lot longer to heal.
“Even when I did that 440kg swat on the weekend and I was in the hole, I was thinking about it, which you shouldn’t when you’re doing that.
“I was thinking, ‘Geez, please don’t blow,’ and I pushed it up and it was good.”
He was worried even when walking up and down stairs that he could have another rupture.
This didn’t stop Mr Manuel from training, and even three months after his operation he was back into doing what he describes as “reasonable” weights.
“Not heavy, but enough to scare the doctors, but I didn’t tell them what I was doing.”
He took it day by day, week by week, and within a year he started to get better and made the decision to begin extremely heavy weights — 400kg plus.
While recovering, Mr Manuel had his title and record snatched away by Alex Simon, who lifted 1,077.5kg.
So when the ProRaw competition approached this year, it was time to dip his toe back into competition waters.
“Originally the goal was just to get back on the platform,” he said.
“But as we started prepping, I realised it’s starting to come back again, so I had the goal on the record to take a number one spot.”
The aim was to get 1,080kg and reclaim the number one spot, and he did.
The physical toll
Powerlifting does take its toll, and this is not the first time Mr Manuel has been injured.
Three years ago, he tore the tendon from his bicep during a deadlift and it cost him that particular competition.
“I tried to keep going but I could feel my bicep up around my shoulder and I thought, ‘Nah, I’d better drop it’.”
“That’s the only time I’ve lost.”
It also puts pressure on the joints, and this is even more of an issue considering Mr Manuel has osteoarthritis.
This condition is why he ended an NRL career that saw him play for the Warriors, NZ Maori and the Canberra Raiders.
“It does get painful at times, but as long as you’re taking your fish oils and joint formulas and all that, and that’s why we use wraps.
“Even though it doesn’t stop the joint from clinging together, I think with the wraps it helps me too.
“Sometimes it gets sore. I get weeks where I can’t walk.”
Considering powerlifting has caused more injuries than league, what drives Mr Manuel?
“I think this is a calling for me.
“I believe I was born to lift.”
Although he played in the NRL, Mr Manuel said he was not a natural player and had to work hard.
“When it came to lifting, that was different and later on I knew if I pursued it, I would not be too bad at it.”
The focus now is on the biggest powerlifting competition in the country, the international Big Dog, in October.
“If we can get 1,100kg there, that will be really good.
“Who knows, we might get more — but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”