Putting the “Power” in Powerlifting

by Rhaea Stinn

A Squatting Scholar seeking to understand the strength of the sport within the humanitarian community.

by Nicola Paviglianiti

(this blog was originally posted on the Lift 4 Life website)

Zimbabwe community center gyms. Lift4Life powerlifting. A little Canadian lifter taking a leap of faith and off to learn. That’s me!

 Rhaea Stinn Preparing to Lift Competitively                     

Introducing “me”. My name is Nicola Paviglianiti, and I am a Team Canada powerlifter in the female junior 52kg weight class. I balance being under the bar with the books, and I am currently pursuing my Masters degree in International Humanitarian Action based out of University College Dublin in Ireland. One thing has led to another this past year, and I am finding myself travelling off to Zimbabwe to write my thesis on powerlifting. I am very excited for this opportunity, and I am feeling very fortunate to be able to write the biggest paper of my life on something I am passionate about - combining my love for lifting, learning, and my desire to make the world a better place.

When I first came across Lift4Life (by accident on instagram) I was incredibly inspired and intrigued. What impact is the donated equipment having on the communities? How can powerlifting be used in other parts of the world within the humanitarian sector?  I have personally experienced the power of sports for positive change and to connect people across the globe, and I am very interested in studying and exploring further the initiatives unfolding in Zimbabwe. To say I am intimidated would be an understatement! Despite having lots of experience travelling and training I have never been to this particular country before, and skype calls are never enough to truly comprehend the context. But already I am overwhelmed by the support from my university program, people in Zimbabwe, Ben, Helen, John, Taurai, Shredded by Science, and many others that have helped make this project possible.

Female Powerlifter - Benchpress Powerlifting Championship - Top 3          
Snapshots of my travelling and training around the world, where I have been able to connect with powerlifters at gyms around the world. A love for lifting is truly a universal language.

The focus of my research is to understand, in an evidence-based way, how weightlifting activities are ultimately affecting the lives and livelihoods of participants in Zimbabwe. In particular, an emphasis will be placed on the impact in relation to previously identified humanitarian needs of the Glen Norah community in Harare, where Lift4Life is working. The Glen Norah community has had grassroots lifting for a number of years, and most recently Lift4Life has been present to provide equipment support and some structured powerlifting sport programming and workshops.

What’s with the country of Zimbabwe?

Humanitarian concerns in Zimbabwe are dire, and over the last decade, Zimbabwe has experienced a number of unprecedented economic, environmental and political shocks and stresses, many of which will have long-lasting impacts. Poverty, food insecurity, malnutrition, and environmental degradation are serious challenges in Zimbabwe (particularly in the community in focus) and basic commodities and services are beyond reach for much of the population. According to the most recent Humanitarian Assistance Report conducted by UNICEF, 72 percent of the population live on less than US$1.25 per day “struggling to meet their most basic requirements.” This situation provides a unique opportunity for innovation to address needs.


A squat and bench rack along with plates made by a local welder in Zimbabwe.

Within the humanitarian sector in the past decade, considerable attention has been given to what has come to be defined as the international ‘Sport for Development and Peace’ movement. This was especially evident in 2005, declared by the UN as the International Year of Sport and Physical Education, recognizing sport to be a cost-effective and functional tool to achieve humanitarian objectives. Participation in the initiative has grown substantially to include intergovernmental bodies such as the UN and the World Bank, national governments worldwide, as well as non-governmental and civil society organizations. These actors, mostly from the Global North, in different ways are involved in funding, policy development, implementation and evaluation of various thematic areas such as health, education, and resilience. Under this umbrella, Zimbabwe has a number of sports initiatives and organizations; however, lifting weights is a very new concept. In fact, I have yet to come across anywhere in the world where any sort of weight lifting /powerlifting has been utilized, making Lift4life and the community gyms in Zimbabwe a unique opportunity to understand the role, impact, and utility this particular sport may play.

The grassroots existence and growing engagement of local initiatives in relation to lifting in the Glen Norah community, as well as the joint Zimbabwe-America powerlifting initiatives, illustrates the motivation and desire to use powerlifting to address needs within the community. Based on my preliminary skype discussions with stakeholders and participants involved, lifting weights is providing a means to address public health issues, educate youth who are not in school, provide safety, as well as address drug usage and abuse due to the fact that it is a drug-tested sport. Furthermore, there is evidence that the initiative is creating income and livelihood opportunities including coach positions, employment of locals to build equipment, as well as events in the community that facilitate income and critical dialogue. A key limitation of this research is that it is very specific to a particular community in Zimbabwe, and it is important to not make generalizations. However, by documenting the types of activities that are having an effect on people’s lives, I hope to be able to provide a framework for others who wish to be involved or implement similar projects around the world.

But I don’t want to bore you with all my Nicola nerdiness right from the start!

I am hoping to share more of my 3 weeks in Zimbabwe, as well as after as I piece together my research and findings. I invite you to follow along in all the lifting and learning! Feel free to also connect or reach out with any comments, ideas, questions along the way. You can follow me on Instagram at @storiesnotselfies or shoot me a message on facebook or email at nickip.np@gmail.com

Forever #LiftingAndLearning and #TravellingAndTraining