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Fukuhara's journey as first-ever Concordia weightlifting national champion

By Jacob Knabel on Apr. 10, 2024 in Weightlifting

In a span of just over 13 months, Evan Fukuhara went from choosing Concordia University, Nebraska, sight unseen, to posing atop the collegiate national championship podium in Columbus, Ohio. Five years (so far) of dedication to the craft led up to this moment for the native Californian, who is making himself into a big name when it comes to the world of USA Weightlifting. Standing at 5-foot-5 and weighing in at 67 kilograms (or just under 150 pounds), Fukuhara is a mass of explosiveness.

As a youngster who grew up in Sacramento, Fukuhara tried basketball. It wasn’t his thing. He tried track and field, but “everyone else was just leagues ahead of me.” He tried wrestling and didn’t find it to his liking. Eventually, he discovered the sport for him.

As Fukuhara said, “Being able to lift monstrous weights over your head is just fun in general. I got into it for the fun and the pure artistry of it.”

His Mona Lisa may be yet to come, but Fukuhara deserves to take some satisfaction in the dominant sophomore season he enjoyed in 2023-24. He set new personal bests at the Iowa Championships with lifts of 120kg in snatch and 150kg in clean and jerk for a total of 270kg. Next came Fukuhara’s most prestigious victories yet as he captured 67kg titles at the North American Open Finals in Wilmington, N.C., in December and at the National University Championships in Columbus in late February. In doing so, Fukuhara made history as the first ever national champion for Concordia Weightlifting, which has completed two seasons of existence.

For those unaware, snatch requires the athlete to lift the barbell above the head in one singular motion while clean and jerk requires the athlete to first bring the barbell up to the chest. In the case of Fukuhara, he routinely clean and jerks more than twice his body weight in a display that showcases his extreme level of strength and athleticism.

The son of Gregg and Carol Fukuhara, Evan picked up this passion independently. His older sister Anna used to wrestle, but none of his siblings (including older brothers Matthew and Anthony), did anything like this. Evan insists he was just an ordinary child with a typical, happy childhood. Once he got hooked, his expectations and aspirations soared.

“I started off wanting to do something to improve my health and get stronger,” Fukuhara said. “I did some bodyweight exercises and progressed to weights, which eventually led to me finding my passion in Olympic weightlifting. I was your typical run-of-the-mill kid who had fun, hung out with friends and played video games. There wasn’t any natural strength. It happened with me wanting to get stronger. I had to put the work in myself.”

Fukuhara got started in competitive weightlifting in September 2019. By July of 2020, he was featured by his local gym as the “Lifter of the Week.” At that point, Fukuhara had reached 100kg in snatch and already talked of wanting to someday represent the USA in international competition, while taking inspiration from Chinese weightlifter Liao Hui.

Out of high school, Fukuhara chose to attend a community college as he kept his options open for the future. It wasn’t until the spring semester of 2023 until Fukuhara first stepped foot onto the Concordia campus. Fukuhara made a potentially life-altering decision without even a single recruiting visit. He put his trust in his hometown coach, who knew Concordia Head Coach Freddie Myles (a Penngrove, Calif., native) personally. The city dweller who had never ventured into the Midwest was about to make Seward his new home.

Said Fukuhara, “I was looking for other colleges to go to and my coach recommended me to Freddie and Concordia. It was pretty much all via text and phone calls (for recruiting). I never really had a chance to visit the campus, but I trusted my coach back home enough to go. It’s been a great decision.”

Myles knew it right away. He had found a gem who would help jumpstart a still brand-new program. Says Myles, “Evan is very diligent and attentive in training. These are key ingredients to his success this season.”

Fukuhara had barely enough time to get acquainted with his new surroundings before making his way to the 2023 National University Championships. In his first go-round, Fukuhara took fourth place in the 73kg weight class while equaling a personal best in clean and jerk.

That experience was truly just a starting point for Fukuhara, who was about to burst into stardom. His performances this season ranked him among some of the very best collegiate lifters nationally, regardless of weight class. Fukuhara’s efforts earned him an invite to the prestigious North American Open Finals and then a trip to the national championships. Now when he travels to these high-stakes competitions, Evan Fukuhara is a known commodity.

“The community is great,” Fukuhara said. “Everyone supports each other. We all realize that this sport isn’t as popular as football, basketball or baseball, so it’s great to have someone to connect with. We all want to see other succeed to the best of our abilities. In competition, we’re competing against each other but afterwards, it’s a friendship.”

With two years left as a Bulldog, Fukuhara continues to dream big. He won’t be satisfied with simply repeating this season’s achievements. Said Fukuhara, “The goal for next year is to hit a big enough total to make an international team and represent Team USA. That’s the biggest goal Freddie and I are trying to achieve. If everything goes great, I could get a new collegiate American record in snatch. That’s another goal that we’re looking at.”

No matter the results moving forward, Fukuhara will forever hold the distinction as the first national champion in the history of Concordia Lifting Sports. It’s something that will always make him prideful.

“It was a great feeling knowing that I had the opportunity to win a national title for Concordia and for Coach Myles,” Fukuhara said. “It was motivation for me to train even more and really dial in on everything. I knew I had to have a good training cycle leading up to the national championships.”

Five years ago, before competitive weightlifting entered the picture, Fukuhara never could have imagined he would have found himself chasing these dreams in Seward, Nebraska. Here he is – and he’s nowhere near finished.