Iñaki Perurena Gartziarena, arguably the most emblematic of all contemporary harri-jasotzaileak or Basque stone lifters, was born in Leitza, Nafarroa, on September 23, 1956. Despite making his name in the world of traditional Basque sports, though, Perurena is also an all-round cultural icon in the Basque Country, having been an actor, poet, sculptor, and bertsolari or improvised oral versifier as well as vociferous defender of the Basque language and culture. Despite all this activity, he still runs his family butcher shop in Leitza, and if that were not enough, in 2009 he opened the Peru-Harri Museum, a site devoted to the material of stone itself and traditional Basque sports as well as Basque culture and history in general.

Stone lifting remains one one of the most iconic of traditional Basque sports (check out a previous post here with a video showing just what it entails).  Its roots lie in the grueling work of quarries, and the challenges that emerged out of such work as to who could lift the heaviest stones (for gambling purposes of course). These challenges eventually became more organized affairs, often taking place during annual village festivals, with locals cheering on different competitors and betting on their own particular favorites. By the late twentieth century such sports were televised in the Basque Country and the participants became major public figures.

Perurena’s own personal best in the straight two-handed weight-lifting category is 320 kg (just over 705 pounds), which was a world record mark when he established it in 1994 and is still the second best ever mark today. He is also the world record-holder for the best one-handed lift, at 267 kg (just under 589 pounds). When it comes to stone lifting nowadays, however, he limits himself to carrying out exhibitions.

In many ways, Perurena has been the most media savvy exponent of traditional Basque sports. A natural showman comfortable in front of the camera, he appeared in the role of “Imanol” in Basque TV’s long-running soap opera Goenkale. And he even made a memorable appearance demonstrating stone lifting on the hit US show LIve with Regis and Kathie Lee (if you search online you may even find some images of Regis Philbin wearing a Basque beret!).

He was awarded the gold medal for sporting merit by the Government of Nafarroa in 1999 and in 2011 received the Manuel Irujo Award by the Irujo Etxea Elkartea foundation.

Check out a fascinating report by The New York Times on Iñaki Perurena and Basque stone lifting here.