Fitness with focus

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75-year-old powerlifter on record-breaking pace

By David Bagdon, Publisher

Westborough’s Harmesh Sharma has made the transition from distance running to powerlifting.

The word “warrior” is used a bit too lightly these days. In the world of fitness, it is currently fashionable to participate in a “Warrior Race” which is essentially an annual mud-soaked obstacle course run that is then often proudly posted on social media.

But in some people’s world, the term warrior is reserved for those who push themselves to the brink of their body’s capabilities year in and year out, literally for decades. Harmesh Sharma is that kind of warrior.

At 75 years of age and barely 130 pounds, the Westborough resident challenges his body to improve every single day. Although he had been an avid runner for many years, his passion for the last three years has been powerlifting. And judging by his string of medals and records, his methods are proving successful.

In early June Sharma competed in the Massachusetts and Rhode Island State Powerlifting championships setting five American records in the process. In light of his age and small frame, the amounts are amazing: squat 187 lbs., bench press 127 lbs. and a deadlift of 243 lbs. and a combined total of 557 lbs.

Adding to that outstanding achievement is the fact the Sharma has been training with weights for just three years. Prior to that he was a hardcore runner having completed some 10 Boston Marathons (unofficial) and 16 half marathons. But somewhere along the line, the thrill of running was waning.

“I realized that I was not improving and in fact, my muscle strength was decreasing,” he said.

That is when Sharma packed his workout gear and headed for a local gym, Crunch Fitness in Westborough.

Harmesh Sharma with his powerlifting
mentor Mark Knowles

Striving for progress

A researcher by profession, Sharma has always maintained meticulous records of his training progress. Whether is was miles logged, amount of rest, weights lifted or foods eaten, he has recorded it all diligently for some 45 years. After running avidly for so many years, Sharma abruptly decided that he was not making satisfactory progress towards his goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon which required a time of 4 hours and 24 minutes. Always focused on a goal, he decided it was time for a change.

After reviewing his training records, he observed that his ability to do pushups during the many years he was running had declined, so he decided the best course of action was to get away from running and to start building up his strength with weight training.

He decided to join a gym in Westborough where he began training again with his trademark intensity. Before long, he caught the attention of fellow gym members, in particular established  powerlifter Mark Knowles.

Sharma competes in the deadlift at a recent competition.

“Right away I could see the intensity in his workouts but I knew he could use some guidance with his training.  Harmesh’s level of focus is very high and many times he pushes himself harder than he should to make maximum progress. We all need to modify our training as we get older …that’s not always an easy sell with Harmesh,” Knowles said.

In short order a friendship was formed, and to date, Knowles has mentored Sharma through several successful competitions with more to come. Sharma has his eyes focused on an upcoming national meet in Chicago. Should that go well, he is hoping to qualify for the USA Powerlifting Championship to be held in South Africa in April 2020.

Sharma prepares to compete in the squat at the Mass/R.I. State Championship

A career scientist

Although he recently retired in October 2018, Sharma had a distinguished career in the field of medical research. Holding a Ph.D. in biochemistry, he served on the faculty of SUNY Buffalo from 1974-1983. Following that he joined the diagnostic division at Bayer. He finished his career as the principal scientist for Massachusetts-based Genzyme.

He noted he has always applied the same intensity to his professional life as he does to his training.

“I’ve always been a hard worker whether it was in my work as a scientist or in my fitness. I want to work hard and earn everything I have,” he said.

The value of support

Sharma works on his form during a recent training session.

According to Sharma the camaraderie is one of the best things about powerlifting.

“Running is a very solitary sport. It’s often difficult to find someone who runs at your pace so many times one ends up training alone,” he said. “At Crunch Fitness, it seems people want to help and support each other, it’s like a community.”

Sharma is also quick to credit his wife of 50 years, Kanta, for her many years of support; whether it was picking him up from far flung running destinations or helping him with juicing and nutrition, she has always been a big supporter of his fitness goals. He is rigid with his diet consuming mainly chicken, salmon, vegetables and beans. However he does admit to a particular weakness for milk and cookies.

So, what is next for Sharma in his lifelong pursuit of fitness?  He says the overriding goal is to motivate others.

“The competitions are wonderful, but my ultimate goal is to inspire others to reach for their fitness goals. If someone sees that an athlete of my size and age can reach their goals, then they should know, it’s possible for them as well.”