The Women of Powerlifting: Afterburn Barbell
by Christine Castro
Powerlifting is a sport that we all know and love but did you realize the growth in women competing in the sport? Amazing.
I am blessed to be surrounded with women who are accomplished athletes on and off the platform. This is something I wanted to share because their stories inspire me to be a better lifter every day and I’m hoping to do the same to you. This article is the beginning to a series talking about the Women in Powerlifting and I am going to start it off with none other, than my supportive team and family, Afterburn Barbell.
“Don’t be afraid to sway from the norm. Especially with social media these days, there is a lot of pressure on females to portray a certain “fit” look and do certain types of workouts but, in reality, when it comes to lifting there is no reason we have to be any different from the guys. If you enjoy hours of cardio, then great, go for it, but there’s no reason you can’t lift all the heavy weight and “get too big for a girl” if that’s what makes you happy. Regardless of what your goals are, there will always be people that try to shut them down but if you base your fitness goals on what makes YOU happy, exercise will always be one of the biggest sources of enjoyment in your life.”
Alicia MacDougall (@aliciaamac) is a 63kg/72kg powerlifter in the in the open division.
She has been in the sport for over a year and her best lifts are a 142.5kg/314lb squat, 80kg/176lb bench and a 155kg/341lb deadlift.
After 6 concussions, Alicia had to give up hockey and soccer and got into bodybuilding. She competed in bodybuilding for 3.5 years but after years of restrictive dieting and excessive cardio, it started to impact her health. Her friends from undergrad had been trying to convince her to give powerlifting a shot since she was strong “for a bodybuilder”. The very same day she dropped out of her last bodybuilding prep, hired a powerlifting coach, ordered all her equipment, and signed up for her first meet. She hasn’t looked back since! Powerlifting allowed her to chase goals and keep more balance in her life. It gave her a competitive outlet, relieved stress while she is in school and, enabled her to meet so many amazing people that she never could have met otherwise.
Her third attempt deadlift at the Ryerson meet in March is a memory she will never forget. Deadlifts have always been her struggle and she had no idea what to expect walking out to the bar. She also had no clue how much weight was on the bar. A big difference she found with powerlifting vs bodybuilding is the support system. There was only a few people that she knew at that meet yet there was so much energy in the room with everyone cheering for her and genuinely wanting her to make the lift. She felt confident as she picked up the bar and there was no way she was giving up. She grinded through it with so many people cheering her on.
Alicia is currently entering her third year of school for naturopathic medicine and surviving the first two years of this program has been the most difficult obstacles she has taken on. She is looking forward to it all paying off when she is a naturopathic doctor in 2020.
“Be patient. Patience comes with consistency and consistency brings results - both tangible and intangible. There are days when you don’t want to train, when you just want to stay at home, eat ice cream, and watch movies, which I totally get because I’m the same way sometimes, but you always have to keep your goals in mind. Even when you have bad training days, keep in mind that this is all part of the process. You will have days when you feel super bloated and everything feels like an rpe10, but just trust your coach and follow your RPEs. My coach, Teresa (Hi Mama T), once told me that there are highs and lows in training. So be patient. RPE is not supposed to be linear. Life is not linear. As long as you know how to ride the wave, you will make it through.”
Klarizze Montemayor (@klarizze.fm) is a 52kg powerlifter in the open division. She has been powerlifting for less than one year but she has been a big fan of heavy lifting for more than 3 years. She is currently one of the top lifters in the 52kg open division!
Her best lifts are a 120kg/264lb squat, a 65kg/143lb bench and a 140kg/308lb deadlift.
During the summer of Klarizze’s 3rd year university at McMaster is when her powerlifting journey started. During her time on the treadmill, a girl Olympic lifting caught her eyes. She was so amazed at her strength! She didn’t know kilo plate conversions at the time but she does recall seeing her do a snatch with yellow plates. She thought, “wow, I can’t even do that with just the bar! That’s amazing.” She then asked her boyfriend at the time to teach her the basics and that is when she started to learn how to squat, bench, and deadlift. She still recalls squatting 95lbs for the very first time and feeling happy because before this she could barely squat the bar. She felt empowered and motivated. She knew that with time and dedication, she is capable of anything. Her mindset changed from wanting to look skinny to wanting to be strong; from what her body looks to what her body can do. This changed her whole outlook of being “fit.” Being raised in an Asian culture, it was embedded in her mind that being thin was imperative. She never felt like she fit to this stereotype because she had thicker legs. Powerlifting taught her self-love, flaws and all. Also that there is so much more to beauty than just looking a certain way. It stopped her from comparing herself to others because when the weight is in front of you, it’s only you and the bar. Nothing else matters. The feeling of finally hitting that weight you’ve been chasing for months, having the confidence even when you’ve put on weight, finding happiness within yourself… that, is what she considers “beauty.”
One of Klarizze’s most memorable powerlifting experience did not come from her highest point in training but one of her lowest. It was during her prep for her first powerlifting meet, Clarington 2018. She was 4 weeks out and she was programmed to do a light deadlift single. She was warming up and got up to around 105kg, hoping to hit at least 115kg that day, when she felt pain that she was scared of. She felt frustration and disappointment come over her. Tears came over her. She had to stop and go to a corner to let it out. “You know that moment when you do everything you can, the best you can, yet you still fail? That’s how I felt. I ate well, rested well and, did my mobility and yet, this was how my body repaid me? I was putting so much pressure on myself, and I was not meeting my own expectations.”, Klarizze mentions. Shortly after, she felt Natalie Hui, one of her good friends and teammate, came over to comfort her. This was one of the purest and kindest actions anyone has ever done for her. Natalie told her how sometimes, we get so caught up with our end goal that we forget to look back and see where we came from. We don’t give ourselves enough credit on what we’ve accomplished. We want to win. We want to PR. We fight for the podium but in the end, is it really worth it if you’re hurting yourself in the process just because you want to hit this weight today? If you don’t hit it this time, hit it next time. There is nothing wrong with setting a goal but she reminded her that long-term goals are so much more important than short-term goals. This meet she was prepping for will not be her last.
Nothing came to find at first when I asked Klarizze about one of her biggest accomplishments outside of powerlifting. After collecting her thoughts, she thought of her growth, recovering from loss of a loved one, graduating, moving out, rebuilding from heartbreaks, buying a car, work. She then realized that her biggest accomplishment is the life she is living right now. Being able to balance everything that is going on, and learning the lessons of adulthood, is a big accomplishment.
“Stop comparing yourself to others! I know it’s an easy thing to say, and a hard thing to do. Just remember, it’s you vs. you and no one else. Just focus on yourself and your own journey and the pieces will fall into place.”
Leanna Tran (@leannalifts) is a 72kg powerlifter in the junior division.
She has been in the sport for 1 year and her best lifts are a 147.5kg/325lb squat, 87.5kg/192lb bench and a 165kg/363lb deadlift.
Leanna got inspired to start powerlifting after watching her friends get into it. She seen how positive powerlifting was for them and they inspired her to start as well. Powerlifting has been a positive experience for her because it didn’t only just help her get stronger physically, but also mentally. She is now more attuned and accepting of her body. “Bodies come in all shapes and sizes and through powerlifting, I’ve come to love myself for who I am.”, Leanna mentions. She also believe that one of the best aspects of powerlifting is being able to meet many people with the same love for the sport. She is glad to say that through Afterburn Barbell, and powerlifting, she has made some lifelong friends.
Overcoming months of injury and squatting over 300lbs at a meet is one of her biggest accomplishments in the sport. She did not let it stop her from going in to a meet, training smart and reaching one of her biggest goals. Another big accomplishment of her is recently graduating with an Honours Bachelors of Arts in History from Western. She is now pursuing her Masters of Arts in Public History. Leanna recently got a chance to curate her own exhibition at the Woodstock Art Gallery!
“Be cognizant, be informed, be educated, and reflect on the way you interpret the information that is given on social media platforms. It’s easy to get lost in trying to maintain this “healthy active lifestyle” that everyone appears to have, but unfortunately a lot of what is being seen on social media is people trying trying to uphold to the status quo (i.e - if you are a powerlifter, you have to eat a certain way, train a certain way, look a certain way). Stop reaffirming messages that support diet culture. If you want to eat, eat your heart out. Practice self-compassion and self-acceptance. Love yourself, even on those ‘fluffy’ days. Don’t be afraid to lift heavy. Create process-oriented goals and surround yourself with a great support system. Most importantly, live in the moment and enjoy the process!”
Lorraine Yeung (@yeunglorraine) is a 63kg lifter in the junior division. She has been competing in the sport for over 2 years and her best lifts are a 150kg/330lb squat, a 75kg/165lb bench and a 182.5kg/402lb deadlift. Lorraine also represented Team Canada and it was one of her best meets to date!
Lorraine was on her university’s varsity wrestling team where she took up weight training during her off-season. She ended up meeting friends who introduced her to powerlifting and fell in love with the sport. Powerlifting has taught her discipline, mental fortitude and resilience. Through the sport she have also come to make lifelong friendships. With Afterburn, she gets to surround herself with like-minded, driven individuals. She is inspired by the team to be better everyday.
One of her most memorable powerlifting moment was attending IPF Worlds this past June. The atmosphere is unlike any sport competition she has ever attended. “The competition in the 63kg junior division was neck and neck and there was very little room for error on the world stage. It’s extremely different than local meets, in a sense, that you have to work with a head coach (who you may only meet for the first time before you compete), in addition to a personal handler, not to mention having to adhere to very strict standards of international judges. Every kilo to your total matters, every decision by you and your coach matters, and the outcome really comes down to your execution and performance on game day.”, Lorraine mentions. She also loved the socializing aspect, meeting lifters who she looks up to, and lifters from different cultural backgrounds from countries all around the world.
Lorraine also graduated with a Bachelor’s in Kinesiology and Health Sciences. Since graduation she has been working towards pursuing a career in policing. To her, this phase of professional development has very critical in terms of development of leadership and character, along with her mental and physical growth. She is also working to improve her aerobic fitness and cardiovascular health, which is an important component in police fitness training. Besides working full-time, she is involved with three different volunteer organizations, and is training 4 time a week for provincials this Fall. She is surrounded by a great support system, and is a contributing member to society. She believes in diversity in hobbies and experiences, because it assist with mitigating the stress of being in “competition mode” all the time.
“Pursue it because you love the process of it, and not because, you merely love the result.
Natalie Hui (@natarieee__) is a 52kg powerlifter in the junior division. She has been powerlifting for 3 years and also holds a national record in the bench press. Her best lifts are a 112.5kg/248lb squat, a 75.5kg/166lb bench and a 140kg/308lb deadlift.
She got into powerlifting while attending university. She joined a dragon boat team that introduced her to the weight room and strength training. At the time, she primarily trained bench and pull ups, which were two exercises that she was most confident in. Eventually she started squatting because some Olympic lifters and powerlifters around her, suggested to start incorporating some legs exercises in her workouts. Powerlifting has challenged her to love and embrace the process — the injuries, losses, and changes with her body weight, the cutting weight, and counting macros.
One of her most memorable powerlifting moments is when she achieved the national record bench at 75.5kg! Natalie also competes internationally with her dragonboat team and the 2018 Club Crew World Championships in Szeged, Hungary is one for her to always remember. The most rewarding part of it was her team receiving podium at every distance and it was great to see their efforts come to be when it counted after spending two years preparing for it.
“Don’t be afraid to get as big as you want…it’s a good look.“
Neeki Motabar (@electriclarryy) is a 57kg powerlifter in the junior division.
She has been powerlifting for 2 years and her best lifts are a 115kg/253lb squat, 65kg/143lb bench and a 130kg/286lb deadlift.
She got into powerlifting because she likes doing things that are stereotypically “taboo” for women. She felt like she was breaking the rules and setting herself apart from the average girl. In return, the sport has given her a lot of mental fortitude. “In training, we’re pushing ourselves into situations that make us uncomfortable or nervous, and can sometimes even put us in pain. Accepting those challenges and the occasional hurdles that accompany them have taught me a lot about myself and the way I can conquer difficulties, especially when life wants to throw things at me. I always have a sense of “I can do this.”, Neeki mentions.
One of her most memorable powerlifting moments is benching 135lb for a 5 reps! Benching one plate on each side is a big goal for every women and being able to do it for multiple reps is tremendous progress for Neeki. Another accomplishment of her’s is also being nominated by her university to become a Rhodes Scholar.
“Your mind is your greatest strength. Find a place in your head you can always count on, whether its self-affirmation quotes, something you heard, read, or zone in to create mental clarity/silence, I encourage you to find it. It is this place in your head that you perform, feel and grow the most effectively and efficiently. “
Roselle Lucero (@illbeyourlighthouse) is 63kg powerlifter in the junior division.
She has been competing for 3 years and her best lifts are a 137.5kg/303lb squat, a 65kg/143lb bench and a 150kg/330lb deadlift.
Back when she was in her college gym, a complete stranger (at the time) approached her and noticed that she was “pretty strong”. He was trying to build an extramural powerlifting team and she had never even heard of the sport. She was up for a new challenge, to try something new since up until then she had spent most of her athletic career in a dojo, doing taekwondo, not in a conventional gym - lifting weights. He put her on a beginner powerlifting program for 12 weeks and then she competed at her first powerlifting meet at Seneca in 2016.
Powerlifting has unlocked a part of her that drives her to be better in everyday life. To be accountable and honest with herself, to be consistent and build momentum, to create solid and meaningful foundations. Above all, powerlifting has given her more than a team, it has given her a family that supports each other on and off the platform.
Her most memorable powerlifting moment was during her first meet when she deadlifted 245lbs. After the attempt, she started crying and hugging everyone she knew and didn't know. She remembers one of the stronger girls asking what she lifted, with such a supporting smile on her face, and saying she did great. It was simple and genuine. Before that moment she had never felt a competitor congratulate her on a win. It was strange, refreshing and unlike her experience in taekwondo, which is also an individual sport with a team aspect. She now takes this positive experience with her to every meet while she shows support and encouragement to any lifters while they break their own personal records.
Roselle was never bothered by the 3 hour powerlifting workouts because she did taekwondo 5-7 times a week for 12 years for 3-4 hours a day. She would go right from school to the dojo and go back to back classes. She loved to compete, all across Ontario, and dreamed to be on a much bigger stage. Even though she never got to the level she wanted in taekwondo, she allowed herself to take what she had learned about discipline, timing, and consistency into other, greater aspects of her life such as graduating college, going to nationals for powerlifting and even falling in love.
“Whatever you do, do it for yourself. Do it because you love it and because it brings happiness to you. “
Teresa Yeung (@aserettt) is a 63 kg powerlifter in the open division and has been competing for over 2 years.
She is also one of the co-founders of Afterburn Barbell. Her best lifts are a 157.5kg/347lb squat, a 92.5kg/203lb bench and a 175kg/385lb deadlift.
She started competing in powerlifting because of the the powerlifters at Afterburn who convinced her to try the sport. She was already heavily involved in dragonboat at that time, but trained squat, bench and deadlifts to gain strength. She was hesitant because she didn't want to introduce a new sport that could potentially affect her performance in dragonboat negatively.
Powerlifting has shown her how to manage the ups and downs of motivation and to keep doing what she needs to do to reach her goals. Which applies to many other aspects in life, outside of powerlifting. It helped her appreciate what her body is capable of doing and also taught her to take care of it. It has made her feel more confident and has presented her opportunities to share her experience with others, to inspire others.
Teresa always finds it so memorable each time Afterburn Barbell Club goes to a meet together, cheers for each other, handle each other, motivate and push each other in training and on the platform. Another big accomplishment of her’s is paddling for Team Canada at the 2015 Dragonboat World Championships and the team winning the Nations Cup. Teresa also passed the UFE for her CPA designation. She was recently featured in an article by the Chartered Professional Accountants Canada where she talks about her journey as a powerlifter.
“Don’t compare yourself to your “competition”. It isn’t worth it! It drains your energy, when you could simply be putting that energy into yourself - your training. Show up, come ready, yes you’ll have down days, YOU’RE NOT ALONE and always remember, you’ll always feel so good, after you put the work into what you set out to do? xo.”
Silvia Yoo (@fitlife_silvia) is an 84kg/84kg+ lifter in the open division.
She has been powerlifting for a year and her best lifts are a 160kg/352lb squat, 80kg/176lb bench and a 170kg/374lb deadlift.
“I’ve always been overweight and thought that I would get happiness by looking a certain way. This led me to compete in Women’s Physique. I had such low self esteem, then competed year after year in order to “look good”. This was so toxic for me, thanks goodness I shook myself out of it and realized this didn’t bring be joy at all. “, Silvia mentions. She then started to train with no goal in mind but to get stronger simply because she enjoyed lifting heavy. This was when she realized how good lifting heavy made her feel. Walter, one of the co-founders of Afterburn Barbell, then gave Silvia guidance to sign up for her meet along with her team. She had so much anxiety, fear and doubt that she wouldn’t perform “well enough” but she proved herself wrong and had the best time of her life! She is very thankful to have Walter pushing her to give Powerlifting a try because it definitely gave her training another meaning.
Powerlifting has taught her be patient with multiple areas in her life. It also has brought her some solid friendships. “Don’t do life alone” is a saying she lives by and she truly believe that with the support from her teammates from Afterburn, she can be successful as any meet she goes for.
Her last deadlift from her first meet is one that Silvia will never forget. She had about 6 of her teammates backstage with her, along with my boyfriend getting her pumped up. The emotions that were running through her were indescribable. She had no idea what was on the bar but she committed, and held that bar as if she had no other choice! “You know those thoughts that run in your head, when the bar is just so, so heavy? ‘Oh my gosh, is this even going up? HOLY COOOW!’, yeah, that’s what went on in my head, through the grind, I saw some people in the crowd (strangers too) stand up and literally, I felt like the whole audience was cheering and yelling at me to hype me up! This was when the bar kept creeping up! I felt so, so amazing JUST from the support alone! I then calmed myself down to shake the judges hands, and just started to cry and hugged all my friends who were jumping up and down. To this day, I replay that moment in my head (or watch the videos again, thanks to technology), and just tear up a little bit”, Silvia mentions.
Silvia assist and coach her clients to create the best version of themselves daily which is one of her top accomplishments. She holds herself to high standards to be the best trainer for them, simply because she loves to educate and get people to understand their worth at the same time. Having transformed a large number of people is not the biggest accomplishment, but the growth in clients that she gets to witness throughout the journey. She get to be a part of the good times, difficult times, times they reach milestones, and that is what she get the most satisfaction out of being a trainer.
“Keep doing what you love. Who cares about what other people think, if you like lifting heavy, then lift heavy! I know some people just don’t get it because of the amount of time and effort you put in at the gym but you’re doing it for yourself to get stronger and master your lifts. Keep doing you and keep putting in that work!”
Tiffany Sengsourigna (@tuffany) is a 52kg powerlifter in the junior division and she has been competing for over 2 years. Her best lifts are a 136.5kg/300lb squat, a 77.5kg/170lb bench and a 170kg/374lb deadlift. She also represented Team Canada and is ranked to be one of the best 52kg lifters in the world.
Tiffany started off as every typical girl in the gym. She started squatting almost every day in university. Fast forward into second year, she met her current coach Justin AKA Alfante in the gym that she trained at. Back in 2014, she was about 47kg and couldn’t gain weight. This is when she squatted her first big PR of 215lbs because Alfante loaded the weights and told her that she could do it. This she did! She remembers that moment so vividly because she was so amazed that she just squatted twice her body weight. He was the first competitive powerlifter she knew since she wasn’t aware of the sport at all. From there, she found joy in the sport but didn’t start training for it until 2016. During this time is when she signed up for her first meet. After competing for over 2 years, powerlifting has been such a crazy ride for Tiffany. She actually never meant to continue after her first meet because it was only “just for fun” but with her competitive nature, she knew that it was just the beginning. The growing powerlifting community is also one of her reasons why she wanted to continue. She made many new, strong friends and it wouldn’t be the same to her without their support.
Aside from having the honours of lifting on the world stage, one of the most memorable moments for Tiffany. would have to be hitting her last deadlift at nationals. She remembers being the last one in her flight to end the session and the atmosphere was intense. Walking out on the platform, she had tunnel vision and everything was blurry except the bar. All she heard was her teammates in the back cheering for her. She hit 375lbs, which is now the current national record. Outside of powerlifting, Tiffany also graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University with a psychology degree near the end of 2017. She is hoping to take off her career in the next chapter of her life.
“Don’t be afraid of heavy weights! Big weights honestly make you look like a badass and no one will mess with you!”
Wiane Lac (@r.u.wiwii) is a 52kg powerlifter in the junior division who was recently ranked 1st at Centrals.
She has been in the sport for a year and her best lifts are a 107.5kg/237lb squat, 60kg/132lb bench and a 142.5kg/314lb deadlift.
Wiane stopped being active after high school and it made her feel out of place. This is mostly because she played sports all throughout elementary and high school. A few of her friends started powerlifting and she kept seeing certain Instagram powerlifter’s pages pop up on her ‘explore’ page. Most of them were women too! The amount of weight some women could move inspired her. She then told her friend that she wanted to start powerlifting and he gave her some pointers. He also taught her the fundamentals of powerlifting. Still to this day, he’s still her coach and she is grateful for everything he’s helped her with. As Wiane competed and joined Afterburn, she met a lot of her Instagram inspirations and became really good friends with one of them. She enjoys how powerlifting keeps you physically active and challenged. It also rewarded her with great friends.
Her first meet is one of her most memorable powerlifting moments. She had to bench 5 times! She was able to reattempt 2 of her bench lifts because of some technical issues with the spotters and judges. It was definitely a learning experience for her. She also feels accomplished from being able to afford and give her best friend the life he deserves (her dog)! She has always wanted a big dog but her parents never supported her. She saved up enough money to bring one home without their permission and now they love him as much as she does. He is now a part of the family.
“Walk with the dreamers, the believers, the courageous, the cheerful, the planners, the doers, the successful people with their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground.”
These are just some women who I look up to and surround myself with for guidance and motivation. Our team, Afterburn Barbell, is a not just a team but. also a family. We value sportsmanship, friendship and support on and off the platform. I hope these ladies inspire you as much as they inspire me!