Pulling her own weight

Pulling her own weight

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RABIA Shahzad’s mother knows which of her children to call out to when she needs help with lifting heavy stuff.

So there she is, her 19-year-old daughter, carrying heavy boxes or 19-litre bottles full of drinking water up the stairs. It may seem like a thankless job except that when it comes to lifting heavy weights, Rabia has made a name for herself.

Recently, the names of Saniha Ghafoor and Twinkle Sohail, who won four gold medals each in the Oceania Pacific Powerlifting Champion­ship in Singapore, turned people’s attention to this sport where women are doing as well as the men, if not better.

Saniha bagged four gold medals in the 57kg category for squat, bench press, dead-lift, and total weight. She lifted an aggregate weight of 280kg; 115kg during squat, 55kg during bench press, 110kg during dead-lift. And Twinkle secured four gold medals in the 72kg category.

Rabia, who lives in Karachi, has also clinched gold in the Singapore Powerlifting Championship, though before them, in August last year. It was her first international tournament. The lean Rabia, a student of BBA at the Institute of Business Administration, hails from a family of sportspersons. Her older sister, Mahnoor, is the country’s top woman badminton player and their father Mohammad Shahzad is into rowing and running.

“As a little child, I wanted to become a wrestler,” Rabia laughs at the memory. “But then I heard about powerlifting and started reading up on it,” she says. “There is a lot of material about it on the internet. I often find myself searching for articles which also guide me in my training,” she says.

Her parents help as well. “While lifting you need someone to watch your back. You also need an extra pair of hands to take the bar from you and place it back on the rack,” she says. “My father helps me here,” Rabia says. “But when he is not there, my mother fills in for him, although she is not much of a help in lifting. She stands behind me reciting the Ayatul Kursi and other verses from the Quran in the hope of keeping me out of harm’s way,” the girl smiles.

Other than that, her mother is a big help when it comes to her diet. There is no eating a full goat for breakfast or gulping down 12 pints of milk. “I avoid white rice and have whole wheat. If I have chicken, I will have it grilled rather than fried. And milk will have to be skimmed rather than full cream or half cream. A good portion of my diet comprises vegetables,” she says.

With still very little known about power lifting for girls in Pakistan, Rabia finds herself fending for herself mostly. All the weightlifting equipment she needs she had to get herself. Since the rack for holding the bar with weights on either side is not easily available in sports equipment shops here, her father had to have one specially made.

A tripod stands in the corner of her gym. “Oh that’s for filming myself during training to make sure my stance is correct,” says the powerlifter, who is also her own coach most of the time.

For taking part in competitions abroad, too, she has had to pay from her own pocket. The weight plates she uses, she says, are also not the normal ones used by weightlifters. “Normal, Olympic-standard, weight plates such as Eleiko weights are not easily available here,” she says.

But she is hopeful of getting them soon through the Sindh chapter of the Pakistan Weightlifting Federation.

About other powerlifters she might look up to, Rabia says she admires Alyssa Ritchey of the US. “She maintains her weight at 52kg and cuts it down to 48kg for competitions,” she says. “It means she trains with more muscle mass and then reduces it for competitions. It takes a lot of hard work to be able to do that,” she points out.

Since February of this year, Rabia has turned her attention to Olympic weightlifting. How is it different from powerlifting? “Powerlifting is not an Olympic sport,” Rabia explains. “Olympic weightlifting concentrates on clean and jerk and snatch techniques whereas powerlifting includes many more variations requiring the wearing of belts and knee supports,” she says.

Listening to her speak about her sport, special diets and training equipment, one may think her to be quite different from other girls her age. What about clothes, jewellery, parties? Rabia laughs. “Why can’t we do all together?”

courtesy Dawn, December 26th, 2017

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