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AT 70, Harry Haureliuk remained an inspiration to many in Canberra across a range of age groups.
In fact, age proved to be no barrier at all as Harry dominated the world of bodybuilding for 15 years before turning his focus to powerlifting from 2013. He was still powerlifting, winning titles, up until his untimely death on August 20 following a battle with bowel obstruction.
Despite being in constant pain and unable to eat, Harry continued to push the boundaries in training and competition in the belief that he could overcome the illness through the power of positive thinking.
In effect, he was using the approach he taught others in training with the underlying theory being that it wasn’t just physical but there was a psychological battle to overcome as well.
I interviewed Harry a number of times; the first was after he quit the sport in the 1980s, fed up with the rampant use of steroids in bodybuilding.
It wasn’t an easy decision to walk away having spent much of his life lifting one form of weight or another after migrating to Queanbeyan from Austria at the age of three.
His comeback in 1999 was inspired by a campaign to rid bodybuilding of drugs. He became the face of Natural Bodybuilding competitions and went on to win 12 world titles including Mr Universe four times and Mr Olympia six times.
The International Natural Bodybuilding Association inducted Harry into its Hall of Fame in 2008, becoming the first Australian to achieve this honour.
Titles aside, Harry’s greatest contribution was his advice and guidance to those coming through in the sport. Part of the compulsion to write this tribute is because of the number of people keen to emphasise the positive influence Harry had on their lives.
His family tell me he loved being around people, he had an ability to make individuals feel welcome, appreciated and respected.
People influenced by Harry ranged from the competitive athlete to those expressing an interest in getting fit. It wasn’t just advice about training and health issues, there was often a comforting hug when it came to advice about personal issues, then it was always back to training.
Leading Canberra sports promoter Nick Boutzos was at the gym training as a 14-year-old when he met Harry. From that moment, Harry became a major influence in Nick’s life as a friendship grew.
Nick’s entry into sports promotion came at the urging of Harry who was keen to bring a Natural Bodybuilding competition to Canberra in 2001.
Nick says: “Harry was never interested in the business side of the sport, just the competition. He talked me into becoming the promoter.
“Harry was very infectious with his attitude; he almost gave you no choice at times.”
The event, featuring 20 competitors, was staged at the Canberra Workers’ Club.
He was omnipresent on the floor at the Southern Cross Health Club in his role as the physical culture consultant. Club general manager Mark Lebroy says when it became apparent Harry was ill he wanted to keep it to himself.
“In his eyes, his struggles, his pain, weren’t what was important; it was what he was doing for other people and everyone else had their own issues and he wanted to be there for them instead,” says Mark.
Many who have contacted me over the past fortnight say that Harry had the ability to “see through walls” to ensure things were being done properly.
In fact, he made great use of the mirrors in the gym to observe from afar. If an exercise wasn’t being done properly the catch-cry of: “Stop cheating, I’m always watching; do it properly” would ring across the floor.
What many who knew Harry at the gym probably didn’t realise was that he was a collector of firewood. Assisted by a virtual underground organisation of builders, tree loppers and fencers, his house was surrounded by firewood. According to Harry, you could never have enough.
His enormous legacy will be his ability to convince others to overcome any obstacle. Many will be indebted to him for the rest of their lives.