Recently, I was lucky enough to spend a week at the OWF camp with Paul Coffa and some of the best young and senior lifters from around the Pacific.
After resigning as coach from the Australian team in the mid-90s, Paul set out to start something new. Nauru offered him a position as a coach that he couldn’t turn down. Soon after, Paul had over 200 lifters in a country of 10,000 people. Within a few years, Nauru was dominating the Oceania region across all ages.
In 2001, Paul attempted to retire. But after only a few months relaxing in Fiji, he became restless.
“I built a weightlifting gym in Sigatoka, put [in] a lot of weights from the 2000 Olympics, squat racks, platforms. It cost me a lot of money. And I put a big sign outside and I called it Oceania Weightlifting Institute,” Paul explains to The Weightlifting Platform.
Within six months, Paul had lifters from an array of countries. By 2004, he had 12 lifters heading to the Olympics. And so the institute was born.
Paul and his wife Lilly now run the institute in New Caledonia. Each year, they invite some of the best young lifters from around the Pacific to spend a week training alongside the institute’s high-performance athletes. There, they get a feel for high-level training.
These lifters range from 15 to 19 years old. They are all incredibly talented but, even so, the intensity of the twice-daily training can come as a shock. Still, it’s nothing they can’t handle, and Paul is careful to look after each athlete’s wellbeing while staying at the camp.
The focus for training is on power movements. This ensures the lifters can create good pulling mechanics, without pushing the weights too high and causing them to burn out halfway through the week.
There are very few places in the world that offer what Paul has created: the focus, the drive, the speed, the aggression. But then you also hear Paul in the middle of the room, in his soft yet authoritative voice, saying “smile! What’s training if you’re not having fun?” This from the man who’s rumoured to throw things around the room if his lifters do something stupid!
Training at the camp is not a holiday. Training with Paul is no holiday either. He is there to create world-class lifters. He’s there to create champions. His 102 medals at the Commonwealth Games speak for themselves. From the week I got to spend with him, I could see the passion that won him all those medals is stronger than ever.
The one thing the drives Paul is results. “When somebody does a PB in the championships, I’m very happy but I always say you’re not finished. What’s next?”
Talking to many of the lifters at the institute, they all say the same thing: Paul has deep passion and care for each and every one of them, and the level of respect he demands is unwavering.