Weightlifting – It’s a girl’s sport

Keely Dakin
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Renee Bell will be going to Mississauga, Ont. to compete in the 2013 Junior Canadian Weightlifting Championships.

Bell, 14, has been lifting for less than four months, yet she has already gotten, not only a taste for heavy lifting, but the chops and skills to compete nationaly.

“I’m doing Olympic lifting. I do two different lifts, the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk,” she said.

Her weight group is 58 kilos (127.6 lbs.).

“Whoever lifts the most in the class wins, so you try and lift as much as you can,” she said.

“My goal in two weeks at Junior Nationals is to be able to snatch about 45 kilos and clean and jerk about 58,” she said.

This will be her third competition. She won both of the previous two, however, as there are very few young women in the sport, she didn’t have a lot of competition. She was the youngest at both competitions.

“The only girl I’ve seen close to my age was 16 and she’s been doing it for about three years.”

Ken Trofimuk has been Bell’s coach for about three months and is very pleased with her progress.

The fact that she is already entering the nationals is unusual, he said.

 “It usually takes a year or more before an athlete has the rudimentary skills that they can, you know, not look out of place at a provincial competition,” he said.

However with Bell, things have gone quickly.

“Within three or four workouts she was to the point where, her technique wasn’t perfect … but it was really exceptional, and she’s really easy to coach,” Trofimuk said.

Part of her adaptability is due to her athletic history.

“She plays hockey, she plays volleyball … She’s an athlete. It’s easy for her to transition from whatever she’s doing to a different sport,” he said.

Weightlifting was not the goal.

“At first I just started it because I played hockey before this, I thought it would help me with my hockey, and then I started getting into it and I started really liking it and I quit hockey and kept going with this,” she said.

Despite the fact that she has been weightlifting less than four months and that she has been playing hockey for five and half years, Bell chose to drop hockey this year so she could focus more fully on her new sport.

“It makes me reflect on myself more as an individual and it helps me become a better person. And I like it because you try more when you’re by yourself. On a team it’s kind of like you have to be aware of everybody’s emotions and if they’re down you have to help them up, but if you’re just individual you just have to focus on yourself instead of others,” she said.

She enjoys the pressure and the challenge of depending on only herself.

“It makes me see how my emotions work under pressure and if I get stressed or if I get mad if I don’t try my best and then I work on it when I’m done and I try and better myself at the next competition,” she said.

Weightlifting has had an impact on the rest of her life.

“At school I’ve become more easy going and not so stressed out. Like, I can let things go easer and just focus on what I need to focus,” she said.

As a young First Nations woman, Bell knows her success or lack there of will be noticed by those around her.

 “I think about it quite a bit. And like the teenagers my age, people think that all teenagers my age that are First Nations go out and they drink and they party and stuff, but the majority of them don’t. It would be awesome if I could show a lot of people how they see First Nations is completely wrong. Like, I’m very spiritual, I guess, and it’s a big part of what I do. And I’m always on the reserve visiting family and driving around looking at the kids. Everyone expects them to be bad, so they start being bad, so it’s like ‘oh I have to do this or I’m not accepted,’ you know? It gets me frustrated because more young teens are starting to do it,” Bell said.

“Our strongest (weightlifting) athletes are the women, compared to other athletes in the world. Our men are good, but our women are far superior … we had three women go to the (2012) Olympics, we had no men." Coach Ken Trofimuk

She hopes she might be somebody’s role model some day, by having an impact on the young people in her First Nations community, by being an example of success and strength.

While her first national competition is just a couple weeks away, she hasn’t lost sight of her long-term goals.

 “In a year, I’m hoping to be lifting … maybe about 10 kilos above my body weight,” Bell said.

Trofimuk says Bell has what he’s looking for in an athlete.

“What I’m looking for is I think a number of things. First is an interest in the sport itself.  Our sport is really -- it’s a difficult sport -- because you train for yourself. You only progress as far as you will push yourself. You have to be very dedicated … like if you’re playing a team sport and you miss a practice, it’s not a big deal … whereas if you don’t train, or you make a mistake, you’re the only one responsible for it. So what I look for in an athlete is someone who is interested, is willing to put in the time. And also that realizes that if you want to be good, it doesn’t happen overnight,” he said.

“She’s so easy to coach … If she misses it, she’ll sigh and say ‘well, maybe next time,’ She’s very focused. For a 14-year-old girl she’s very focused,” he said.

“Her parents, they are very grounded and very supportive of what she does,” he said.

He wants to see more young women entering the sport.

“I’ve got lots of guys I’m coaching. It’s very difficult to find female athletes because they think weightlifting is not for them, but as soon as they try it and get involved, they’re some of the most dedicated athletes,” Trofimuk said.

“Our strongest (weightlifting) athletes are the women, compared to other athletes in the world. Our men are good, but our women are far superior … we had three women go to the (2012) Olympics, we had no men,” he said.

He pointed to the past Summer Olympics when Christine Girard, 27, won a bronze medal.

“She won a bronze medal for Canada. The first-ever Olympic medal for weightlifting for women. So that was pretty special for Canada,” he said.

That was the first medal a Canadian – woman or man -- has one in weightlifting in 28 years, and the third Canadian to bring a medal home since the Olympics were revived more than 100 years ago.

The two previous victors won silver and were Jacques Demer, 24, in 1984 and Gerald A. Gratton, 24 in 1952.

Olympic Weightlifting opened its ranks to women only 12 years ago, in the year 2000.

Weightlifting is still not considered to be a women’s sport, but Bell is unconcerned about other’s opinions of what she is doing.

“This is what I like to do and this is me living and if people don’t like it, it doesn’t really bother me.”

Organizations: First Nations

Geographic location: Canada

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