Most of the lifters here tonight are men. The exception is Gaudreau's wife, Jennifer, described lovingly by a male gym member as "one of the strongest chicks in Colorado." Despite the grunting and shouting — "Come on, Tom! Don't lift it with the back! Drive the hips forward! Hips, Tom!" — the gym is not a testosterone-fest. It's more of a family affair. The Gaudreaus' five-year-old son, Logan, whose finger paintings decorate Dan's office, is there most nights, driving his toy cars on the gym equipment while his parents work out. Other members bring their kids, too.

Wheat got in touch with Gaudreau because he'd heard that the strongman had an idea that fit perfectly with his vision for Aurora tourism.

"My philosophy has always been that tourism starts in your own community," Wheat says. "One of the things I like to do is meet with groups, or speak to groups, or network with people and find out about what associations they belong to; what things do they do? A lot of times, it's never even occurred to them to host something in their own city."

But it had occurred to the Gaudreaus. Both are champions in the sport of powerlifting, which consists of three events: the bench press, the squat and the deadlift. Think Arnold Schwarzenegger, only better. Dan Gaudreau can squat 840 pounds and bench 725, which is way more than the Governator ever could. At 320 pounds himself, Gaudreau wears his head bald and his chin scruffy. His body resembles that of a shark walking upright: belly sticking out, shoulders pulled back, feet widely planted.

Jennifer is petite. Short, with curly brown hair and a cheery disposition, it's hard to tell that she can squat 397 pounds until you see her in gym clothes. Her thighs are made of sculpted muscle and her arms have zero fat on them. An Aurora middle-school teacher, she often arrives at the gym still wearing mascara, eyeliner and earrings. Her nails are manicured, but her knees are scarred from sports-related surgery.

"Dan and I had talked about putting on a world championship before, for a couple years," Jennifer says. The two had been hosting national meets for a while, but, as Dan explains, putting on an international meet is different. "It's very important to have a partnership with communities," Dan explains. He'd tried before, inquiring with the Metro Denver Sports Commission about supporting a bid, but he got nowhere.

"To be honest, Denver is looking at bigger fish to fry," Dan says. "Denver's got four major-league sports teams. They look at NBA All-Star games, Major League Baseball — so they're not looking at, we're going to have 200 athletes from around the world come here to compete in powerlifting."

But Aurora was. Wheat and his staff of two jumped at the chance to lure the world's strongest men and women to their city. They began talking to local hotels big enough to house the event and, together with Aurora Channel 8, put together a two-minute video that splices scenic shots of Aurora with footage from Gaudreau's gym. In November, Visit Aurora sent a representative to the Czech Republic with Gaudreau to present a bid to the International Powerlifting Federation. The Gaudreaus were after the 2014 Men's and Women's Open World Championships, the big kahuna of powerlifting tournaments. But at the last minute, they also bid on the 2012 World Masters Bench Press Championships, a competition for athletes over forty years old. Aurora was granted both tournaments.

They were the first big events that Visit Aurora helped land, and they'll be the first world championships of any kind hosted in the city. Having representatives from Aurora in the Czech Republic to support the bid sealed the deal, the Gaudreaus say.

"When the IPF saw the presentation they put on about Aurora...," Dan starts.

"And that Aurora paid to have them to go out there to do it...," Jennifer interjects.

"They were impressed," Dan finishes.

Wheat says it was an easy call. Visit Aurora's budget is about $550,000 a year, most of it revenue from the lodgers' tax. By comparison, the budget for neighboring Visit Denver, which was established in 1909, was $17.5 million last year. Given Visit Aurora's limited resources, Wheat says, "we have to prioritize and get the most bang for our buck." And the cost of a plane ticket to the Czech Republic promised to bring a lot of bang to the city: as many as 2,000 international fans and competitors could attend the 2014 championship, and Wheat estimates they might spend up to $3 million during their short stay. "They come and stay in the hotels and compete," Wheat says, "and they like to eat, because they're big, strong people, so the restaurants like them."

So do the bars. On a chilly Wednesday afternoon, Wheat, Gaudreau and Visit Aurora marketing director Briley Peters meet with John Fenstermacher, manager of the Stampede, an enormous country bar on the edge of town. Sunlight streams through the dance hall's big windows, illuminating the deflated mechanical bull and the circular dance floor. The clinking of beer bottles echoes as bartenders stock up for the night, and the smell of cooking grease hangs in the air. Fenstermacher leads the Visit Aurora contingent to a table on the second floor, which overlooks the dance floor.

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8 comments
Payton_vege
Payton_vege

Amazing write-up! This could aid plenty of people find out more about this particular issue. Are you keen to integrate video clips coupled with these? It would absolutely help out. Your conclusion was spot on and thanks to you; I probably won’t have to describe everything to my pals. I can simply direct them here!

Cécile Elliott
Cécile Elliott

Instead of trying to make Aurora a tourist destination they should think about making it bearable for its residents to live there. I live a mile from the City Center and I wouldn't recommend a tourist let alone residents to walk around the Aurora City Center at night. Aurora is Denver's ghetto. Their economic development board is WAY off if they think bringing powerlifting tournaments and tropical fish conventions to Aurora is the best way to help.

calhounp
calhounp

i'd like to publish some of these comments in our print edition, ideally with the author's full name and town. If that's okay, e-mail me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com

lunkwill
lunkwill

You know, Aurora may not be exotic, but at least our street names are ... here's lookin' at you, Monaco, Quebec, Havana, Jamaica, Lima and Paris St...

Sabrina D'Agosta
Sabrina D'Agosta

I grew up in Aurora and about the only reason I'd even consider visiting nowadays is for the Fox Theater or if my kid needed emergency treatment at the new Children's Hospital. Good luck with that marketing campaign.

Krlkwil
Krlkwil

I also am a lifelong resident of Aurora Colorado it is an okay place to live but if I want entertainment of any kind generally I go to Denver. The city is definitely not a place to make as a destination for recreation. What a waste of tax dollars. Sad but true, If you do come to visit bring your bullet proof vest and pack a 9mm or better because the cops are completely worthless and run from the gangs not to them.

lunkwill
lunkwill

I'm an Aurora native, have spent decades living in every corner of the city, and have love and best wishes for this city as such... but I just made the mistake of trying to swallow my coffee at the same time I got to the part about Aurora "making sense" as a "destination city". Perhaps 'Visit Aurora' has yet to 'visit Aurora'.

If I ever get on Wheel of Fortune and win an exotic vacation to Aurora, I'll be pissed.

 
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