health

Sport on Saturday: Meet the woman who lifts. Really lifts.

Women and weightlifting: Two things not commonly seen in the same sentence. But this woman will defy your expectations.

Parisa Haeri can squat the weight of an average man and then some. Despite being five feet tall with a warm smile, she’s got the strength of She-Hulk and abs you can grate cheese on.

With the title of State Champion under her belt, she’s inspiring  women every day as a gym coach — and now she’s training for the National Weightlifting Championship.

Image: Supplied.
Image: Supplied.

After nine years as an accountant, Parisa made a daring move when she first walked through the doors of the Revolute Movement Academy three years ago. It was here she discovered her passion for weightlifting and made the bold move to become a full-time athlete, coach and business owner.

“Before joining RMA I always found weight training too intimidating and thought it was a ‘guy’ thing,” she says.

With no background as a competitive athlete, she entered a domain filled with stereotypes about women — the most common being the impact strength training has on physical appearance.

“Unfortunately there’s still that idea that girls shouldn’t lift heavy weights because they will look too bulky,” she tells me.

“Despite increasing evidence of health benefits for strength training and Crossfit bringing weightlifting into the mainstream, the focus still remains around image when it comes to female weightlifters.”

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But those stereotypes weren’t going to hold her back.

In April, after three years of lifting under her coach and mentor Kaveh Arya, Parisa decided to compete in her first weightlifting competition with only three months to prepare.

Even though she was already lifting the numbers required to qualify, the thought of entering an official competition meant the pressure was on.

At this point Kaveh brought in the expertise of friend and commonwealth weightlifter Ricky Gulyamov for what was the beginning of Parisa’s competing journey.

“With the help of my coaches I followed a heavy six week program, training five days a week for two hours a day, preparing myself physically and mentally,” Parisa says.

Regardless of the lack of attention female weightlifting receives and the stigma associated with muscular women being ‘too much’, Parisa pursued her goal, pushing physical and mental limits, at times even to breaking point.

Image via @parisahayeri Instagram.

She attributes a lot of her succes to the values instilled in her at RMA, where weightlifting is viewed as gender neutral and the culture embraces a strong sense of kinship.

“I’ve been lucky enough to train and coach at a facility with some of the strongest men and women I’ve ever met,” she says. “No one judges you. Hard work is respected and encouraged, regardless of your gender”.

Image: Supplied.
Image: Supplied.
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Training alongside girls as young as 10 years old, full-time mums, full-time mums with full-time jobs and teenagers, Parisa says she’s inspired to stay focused and reminded of why ‘we do what we do’.

“They come in, work hard and get stronger day by day,” she says. “They’ve written up their goals on our board and you see how hard they work towards achieving them. It’s empowering, refreshing and inspiring”.

This way of thinking stems from the ethos of the Head Coach Kaveh Arya, and his belief in bringing people together beyond their differences.

“When you look up and your fellow athlete is training just as hard as you, there is a level of egalitarianism which is spread across this place,” Parisa says. “It’s strength through struggle, passion through pain and athletics before aesthetics.”

 Image via @parisahayeri Instagram.

Earlier this year, the UK Women’s Weightlifting Championship used viral campaigns like #ThisGirlCan and #LiftLikeAGirl to encourage girls into sport with realistic portrayals of women exercising.

While Parisa admits weighlifting is a technical sport that takes a lot of time and dedication, she also enjoys the journey — although she admits there will always be good and bad days.

“I know my body isn’t what is considered aesthetically pleasing to many people, but I have never been more confident in myself,” she says. “I’m the strongest I’ve ever been, not only physically but mentally too.”

Bringing the State Championship home brought a sense of pride to the girls of RMA.

Now, as Parisa trains for the National Championship, she continues to serve as a role model with her patience, perseverance and can-do attitude.

This winter, RMA is taking part in a homeless drive to provide clothes and other essentials for the less fortunate on our streets. Check out how you can get involved and donate to Lift.Love.Give.

Have you ever tried heavy weight lifting? What was your experience like?

Like this? Why not try…

Julie Bishop: Why we need to celebrate women in sport.

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