Oneida Elder Ray Fougnier (Wolf Clan) continues to rewrite the powerlifting record books. He returned to the world stage earlier in April to showcase his exceptional talent at the 2024 Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) North American Championships held just outside Las Vegas in Loughlin, Nevada. This event also marked a decade of competing in AAU championships, which Ray credits for his improved health throughout his post-retirement life.

For many years, the Oneida Indian Nation has sponsored Ray’s participation at powerlifting events across the country where he has served as an ambassador and advocate for promoting healthy living and exercise for Nation Members and all Native people.

On April 5, the day of his 81st birthday, Ray set 13 new world records and earned four gold medals. He also earned the AAU Powerlifting Best Overall Male Lifter Award and the Best Squat Award – two awards that name the best athlete of all competitors, regardless of age.

Powerlifting didn’t immediately come to mind when Ray thought of ways to stay fit and healthy after retirement.

“I retired at 62 and I wanted to be able to enjoy it and also stay healthy,” Ray recalled. “At the same time, I researched different types of training and conditioning. Strength training had a lot of benefits of fending off disease and staying healthy.”

Ray only started powerlifting at the age of 70, but he wasn’t a stranger to the weight room either. Ray was a natural athlete and lifted throughout high school when he was playing sports more consistently.

The primary reason for powerlifting later in life was seeing both of his parents struggle with their health. His father was diagnosed with cancer and passed at the age of 66 shortly after retiring. His mother developed diabetes in her 40s and struggled with managing that disease up until she passed at the age of 72.

“I tried to learn a lesson from that and made a commitment earlier in my life. I wanted to be healthy for my family,” Ray said. “Weightlifting was part of that, and at 70, just by chance I got into powerlifting.”

Ray has spent the last ten years as a World Champion, and now having entered his third age group in competition, he knows his success supports the correlation between strength training and disease prevention.

“Over the years, my story has reached others and has made a difference,” Ray said. “I have three family members in their 60s and 70s who are taking powerlifting or distance training and all are doing really well so far. If I can inspire people like that, that’s great.”

In an effort to promote outreach to Native groups, Ray is leading a committee with the AAU that will also aim to get Native children interested in strength sports and educate them on the extraordinary health benefits of those sports. A healthy lifestyle is paramount for all Native people to live longer lives and Ray is happy to be a leader in raising that voice.

“I didn’t do this by myself – there are people who helped me get to where I am now,” he said. “I want to thank the Oneida Indian Nation for what they’re doing to support me.”