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WINNERS ALL. Ruby Gan, second from left, with her silver medal, poses with fellow lifters, from left, Michelle Cruz, Paul Simon Tan and Bettina Bordeos.



My love affair with powerlifting

By Ruby Gan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:09:00 01/05/2009

Filed Under: Lifestyle & Leisure, Sport

IT was Dec. 4, early Thursday morning, and I was already on my way to the airport for my first international powerlifting competition outside the Philippines.

As I waited to board the plane to Hong Kong, in between excitement and anxiety, my mind wandered off to my boys, the new shop due to open in a few weeks? time, the new designers? collection, the photo shoot and a million other things. On top of that, I kept visualizing the right form to ensure a good lift.

Funny but whenever I rehearse the sequence in my mind, my back automatically tightens, as if I were lying down on the bench, back arched, the grip tight around the bar and elbows locked.

My first international competition was two years ago, when the country hosted the Asian Bench Press Championships. I was the newest member of the Philippine team and yet I was brave enough to join the Asian competition. I had recently won a medal from a local competition and when asked if I wanted to join, I grabbed the chance.

Why not? There is something fulfilling in wearing the team jacket emblazoned with the Philippine flag, something that makes me wear it with pride.

Why powerlifting? I have been asked the same question so many times. Why not?

I have been into weight-training for over 10 years and there came a point when I just got very bored with the routine, even when my trainer varied the exercises to raise my interest. I just knew the routine through and through. I needed a new goal, a new challenge.

That is how my love affair with powerlifting began. In this sport, I can continuously challenge myself and improve my record. When I injured my knee squats and dead lifts became out of the question, I concentrated on bench press.

Was I scared I?d bulk up? With my long-standing affair with weight-training, I did not bulk even when I lifted heavy. Everything has to do with body type and I am lucky in that aspect. My upper body will be more developed as the training gets more intense but that?s about it. Muscles will still go back to its original form when you do not lift heavy anymore.

Little secret

That is also how I managed to keep my little ?secret? from others. In the fashion and retail circle, no one knew of this passion, and the people in gym didn?t know of my ?other world? either. It amuses me no end that I could marry the two even though they are worlds apart.

People often confuse powerlifting with bodybuilding. When friends learn I am a powerlifter, their gaze automatically goes to my arms. Some even go as far as touching my biceps! But the two are very different from each other. While the former is a test of strength, the latter is all about maximizing muscle hypertrophy. This is also not the same as the clean-and-press competition in the Olympics. Clean-and-press is officially known as weightlifting, as opposed to weight-training, which is what everyone does in the gym.

But let?s get back to powerlifting. Before I left for HK, my trainer made sure I?d eat a lot. No dieting was his strict order. Forget the weight gain; we will take care of that after the competition, so he said.

My normal weight is 55 kg; my target was to hit 59 kg. I balked at the mere thought of it! Vanity naturally kicked in. It?s almost Christmas, how will I fit into my clothes? What about my waistline?

But being the good girl that I am, I started eating. Even my sons were amused because they never saw me eat that much. By the time I landed in HK and went straight to the apartment where all team members were staying, the first task was to weigh myself. I was only 57 kg?still not enough. Shucks!

Our coach ordered me to take oatmeal?a big cup of oatmeal! And wolf down bagels and load them up with peanut butter. I tell you, this is no joke! Then I was told to weigh in myself again. I never thought the day would come when I?d dread stepping on that weighing scale, but that night I did! I was still below 59 kg.

The target was for me to be between 56 and 60 kg. That way the team could move me to either of the two weight class, and therefore, have better chances of winning. By midnight I was already panicking. Despite the cups of rice consumed every hour, my weight seemed to stick to a little over 57 kg. And the competition was already the following day.

Competition day

Come competition day, all lifters went to the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Wanchai with paraphernalia in tow, including bags of food and sports drinks. Up to the last moment, I was still hoping to gain weight. Anxiety crept in. There were the other lifters from different Asian countries; some were warming up while others greeted familiar faces.

The time came when I had to weigh in, which would make everything official. Unfortunately, my weight stuck to 57.45 kg?not much different from last night?s. So much for those cups of rice.

And then the official list of lifters was flashed on the screen and there I was, with the same lifter from HK I was up against back in 2006! She broke her own record by lifting 70 kg and I came in second with my measly 45 kg then. Apparently, she went down to my weight class division because she was initially in the higher weight class.

Today would be different, I told myself. I ran the sequence again in my mind, making sure to pay extra attention to the common mistakes I often commit when training.

My first attempt was 52.5, a sure lift for me. We all wanted to play safe and ensure that my first one was good. Indeed it was! My competitor started at 67.5, which was also good.

Second attempt was 57.5, already my personal best. Again it was a good lift. I was elated because although we were aiming for 60 kg this time, it was part of the strategy to inch slowly and to watch the next step of the other lifter. My opponent?s second was 77.5 but that one failed. Soon it was my third. My coach decided to put my last attempt at 67.5 kg to match that of the HK lifter. That added pressure on me. I was able to lift 70 kg in the gym but that was just once and we were not aiming for that.

From the corner of my eye, I saw the HK girl eyeing me. Her third attempt at 82.5 also bombed. If I get this last attempt right, I would snatch the gold from her. It was a terrifying few minutes and I could feel my head throbbing.

Alas, it was not yet my time to win the gold. My third attempt failed.

There were mixed emotions after that. I was sad because I really wanted the gold plus the Yoshi doll they gave the winners. But then again, 57.5 kg was a new personal record for me so I should not be complaining at all.

So what?s next for me? I shall lose these unwanted kilos and train harder because the third time?s the charm and it would be mine.

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