I'm not gonna lie. I don't know much about the powerlifting sport. I get exposed to the sport nowadays through the customers that walk into my showroom gym. I can confidently say that almost 95% of them are powerlifters, including Nick.
Nick has been with us since March this year after the gym that he used to go to closed down. Nowadays he spends an inordinate amount of time at the gym, usually coming in at about 3pm then grabs one of the bean bags and crashes on top of it. He'll watch something on his phone and sometimes laughs by himself. He starts training when some of our members come in right after work and finishes close to closing time.
I enjoy his company, sometimes, when he's not overzealous with his opinions. Nick has a strong character and faith in his own abilities. He believes in hard work and sometimes offer his help pro bono. It's no surprise to me that within a few short years he was able to win gold in deadlift at IPF Worlds for Sub-Junior under-59kg category, representing Malaysia - the first of his kind.
I sat down with Nick for an episode of our podcast (Barbell Junction) and we talked about his experience at Worlds. If you want to listen to the whole thing, click here but what I wanted to share is the sacrifice that one has to go through to be a champion, regardless of the sport.
I've seen some really strong lifters at the gym like Hariz (IG: howmuchibench) and Faris (IG: farissenpai), serious lifters, who, as far as I can tell, are always lifting heavy even if it's their "off season", but to be at the world stage, with so much more at stake, the dedication and sacrifice can only be prescribed to someone who is actually, and I mean this very respectfully, insane.
Here's my reasoning. Put aside training pressures, because I believe the best lifters always give 110% to their training, there are so many other external pressures involved when one competes internationally.
One is the cabin pressure You need to fly to the competition destination. In Nick's case, probably a 20 hour flight. That'll screw with anyone's body clock. But that's not it, is it? According to Nick, it took him less than 5 days to acclimatize. In all probability, the time difference can be managed unless somehow your flight gets delayed or worse, cancelled.
What I am talking about is the financial pressure. At the point of writing, a return trip to Calgary, Canada (where the Worlds was held) costs USD1,000 (MYR4,100). A 6-night stay would set you back MYR3,000. Lets say food costs MYR120 per day that's MYR720. That's almost MYR8,000. From the podcast, Nick mentioned he needed MYR10,000!
Unfortunately, in Malaysia, we don't have a proper support system for our powerlifting athletes, which makes sending anyone for international competition that much harder. The community is relatively small and exposure, as compared to body building or physique competitions here, is rather limited. This means there will be a lack of sponsorship, which means money is scarce. Even our local politics played a part in the federation not receiving government funding it was promised.
If you listened to the podcast, you'll notice that Nick got his sponsorship for the trip from his parents and some from the local federation. This, to just bring the gold medal back for ONE event only. I am certain that there is a reason behind this that I'm not privy to. I'm not questioning the intent, but it's like putting a whole lotta eggs in one basket. The burden of expectations. That's pressure.
Maybe as an outsider, I just don't or can't understand the thought process behind competing in international meets for a Malaysian powerlifter. The reason I hear most about why someone does powerlifting is passion. A close second is the chase for that elusive PR. I can understand both reasons, but when these reasons are underlined by the need to cough up MYR10k just for the price of admission that's when I cannot brain.
Nick was lucky to have such supportive parents (eventually) and a federation that works for him while he concentrates on training. This may not be the case for most and it bodes well for these athlete to understand what it takes to be World Champion. It's not enough to just have passion and train hard, but you need the financial support from everyone - family, federation, and a fraternity of sponsors. And I would argue... a little bit of insanity.