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Featured Powerlifter Of The Month

December 2011: Rhonda Heaslip

Rhonda Heaslip Canadian PowerlifterRhonda Heaslip is the kind of person who believes you can’t push yourself forward by patting yourself on the back. That’s why the 53-year-old champion weightlifter and Nanaimo, B.C. sales rep relies on hard work, perseverance and the 3 d’s to get ahead: desire, discipline and drive.

She could easily rest on her laurels and congratulate herself on the accomplishments she has already racked up, including a seven-year stint as a search and rescue airframe technician in the Canadian Armed Forces; a journeyman carpenter working in commercial concrete and steel; a successful sales rep for the past six years with Re/Max of Nanaimo; and one of her crowning achievements to date: multiple national champion powerlifter in her class and ranked among the top five in the world.

It’s the latter hobby that could raise her profile to international status on Tuesday, Sept. 27 when she competes in the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) Masters Women’s and Men’s World Powerlifting Championships in St. Catharines, Ont. “It’s the first time in my life that I can compete in my own country, so I am ready for this,” says Heaslip. “I’m going after some records.”

Her interest in this uplifting sport began in 1979 when her Air Force colleagues noticed the 21-year-old woman lifting some very heavy weights. She was noticed by the president of the Canadian Powerlifting Association, who encouraged her to compete in the 1980 Canadian Championships in Belle River, Ont. He predicted she would break records. The prophecy was accurate: six months after she first started lifting barbells she held two Canadian records, and two months after that she won a bronze medal at the IPF Women’s World Powerlifting Championships in Boston.

She competed in the World Championships in Tokyo in 1995 and set new Canadian records. Ranked fifth on the planet in her class, Heaslip decided to retire from the sport. “I was 36-years-old and busy raising three children,” she says. “It takes a lot of devotion, love and hard work to be among the best in your field. You have to want it and then go after it. I call it dream, believe, achieve.”

She adds that you have to have a passion to be among the best, noting that her sport requires intense training and commitment of the highest order. “If you don’t love what you do, you’re not going to get the results.”

Heaslip certainly loved what she did and she was achieving enviable results, but she said it was a family decision that she would initially train at the national and international level and it was a family decision to put down the weights and focus on other aspects of her life. “I had my hands full,” she says. Two children are from her husband Rob’s former marriage (Jennifer, now 30, and Jeff, 27) and Desiree, now 19-years-old and a second year undergraduate law student. She is Heaslip’s “little miracle” who was nearly lost during a difficult birth. Heaslip credits the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital for saving the infant’s life, and the sales rep is currently fundraising on behalf of the hospital (more info).

Heaslip, who has lived on Vancouver Island since 1986 and in Nanaimo for the past 13 years, had no intention of returning to her sport. However, in 2009 a friend whom she had competed with in the 1980 World Championships and who’d won gold visited Heaslip for a week. The pair worked out together that week – mostly lifting weights – and her companion noticed that Heaslip was lifting some pretty heavy weights. They looked up the Canadian Powerlifting records and realized she was breaking Canadian records at the gym.

“I got the bug again,” Heaslip says. In November 2010, she competed in the Western Canadian Powerlifting & Bench Press Championships in Vancouver and broke eight records, including squat, bench and deadlift.

The sales rep by day and powerlifter by night has also competed in 2011 Canadian National Powerlifting Championships in PEI since her return, and she says the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board has been “highly supportive.” It paid her airfare and hotel accommodation for the Canadian Championships in Charlottetown in March. “All I had to do was lift,” she says.

Now the woman who holds 10 Canadian Powerlifting records (over two age categories) in her class (63 kg.) prepares for the World Championships, where she will lift in the squat, bench press and deadlift events. The 5-foot, 2-inch, 53-year-old 139 lb. athlete says she feels fantastic. “I’m lifting what I did at age 36,” she says. “It keeps me physically youthful and mentally sharp, like nothing else can. This sport also teaches you to focus and it teaches you to believe in yourself. The only person who can limit yourself is yourself.”

Among the Canadian records she holds is in the deadlift event. She lifted 360 lbs. to achieve that record and plans “a 375-lb. pull at the world’s.” She is also this country’s current record-holder in the bench press at 187.5 lbs. “I have lifted 205 lbs. two in a row in practice, so I am looking forward to setting new national records at the World Championships.” She also has her sights set on a world bench record. She needs to press 242.5 lbs. and if her recent training is any indication, she is close to attaining that goal. If successful it would be her first-ever world record. If you’re in the St. Catharines area during the World Championships, be sure to go out and cheer for her when her weight class starts lifting at 5 pm on Sept. 27.

“The local real estate agents, real estate board and brokerage agencies have been very supportive,” she says. Often Heaslip is asked to speak to groups of Realtors, including those with whom she competes in the business.

Heaslip says she wants to be as successful a Realtor as an athlete. Applying the principals of weightlifting to her work, she believes “you are only capable of what you think you believe you’re capable of.”

When asked how she balances work with her hobby, Heaslip says weightlifting is a de-stressor. “Lifting weights helps me to keep a balance and it’s a positive influence in my career,” she says. “It’s a dovetail fit,” says the former journeyman carpenter.

-Article written by Dennis McCloskey

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