She has represented her province at national competitions in Toronto, St. John’s and Regina and won medals for Canada at world events in South Africa and Finland. In June, Janessa Ward, 19, of the Goulds, will don Canada’s colours again, this time at the World Powerlifting Championships in Texas.
Ward qualified for that tournament by winning a gold medal in the Junior women’s category at the Canadian national powerlifting championships in Regina, Saskatchewan last month.
She manages to schedule four training sessions a week around her second year studies at Memorial University and a job at the Shea Heights Community Centre where she has worked the past two years. Ward trains with the NL Kettlebells at Heavyweights Training Centre in Mount Pearl with coach Kevin Farrell.
Ward says she wouldn’t be where she is in the sport without Farrell’s coaching and the support of her family and friends. Her friendly and outgoing personality belies the determination it takes to succeed in what is an intensively physical sport.
The difference between weightlifting and power lifting is basically in the moves, Ward explains. In weightlifting, competitors perform what are called the clean and press and snatch positions where you take the weight off the ground and flip it high over your head. Powerlifting has three lifts, the squat, bench press and dead lift.
Ward got into weightlifting almost three years ago when she joined Heavyweights gym. At first it was just for fun. After she graduated high school, she got more serious about it. Before that, Ward says, she played pretty much all the sports available to her in the Goulds, including basketball, soccer, softball and ice hockey. She is also a cheerleader with Memorial University’s cheerleading team.
Ward says she has a lot of fun training. "And it makes things in everyday life a lot easier," she adds, even shopping when you happen to come across a heavy item. "And it’s also very technical. People think you just pick it up and put it down, but you actually have to think about the motions, which is kind of cool, and to see how much you can actually lift amazes people. It’s hard work, but it’s fun."
During training, lifters work out using anywhere from 70 to 90 per cent of the maximum weight they can manage, "which could be anywhere from 200 to almost 400 pounds," says Ward, who can deadlift 380 pounds and one time managed to squat 390 pounds.
"So I’m working towards 400," she says.
That’s a long way from where she started. "I could squat 150 pounds and it was really difficult and really ugly to look at," Ward says of her first efforts. "People thought I was going to get hurt because it was so non-technical."
The travel that comes with elite competition is right up Ward’s alley. She likes to travel and says the weightlifting tournaments give her a good excuse to do it. Her first world championship event was in South Africa, the second in Finland. She has won two silver and now a gold medal at national events and at her first world competition she won four gold medals. "I was in a younger age category, so it was a little bit easier then," she says. "Now I’ve moved up to the junior age category, which is 19 to 23."
But she is still winning medals. At the world’s last year, Ward captured a bronze medal in deadlifting.
Ward has never injured herself at the weights, but she does have a couple of old injuries that makes lifting a bit complicated, at least for the judges watching her. "I broke my elbow when I was eight and it is still bent," she says, explaining she has only 17 per cent of the regular movement available in that part of her arm. "So when I bench press, it causes a lot of problems, because people say the elbow is not locked," she says. "In competitions I’ve almost been disqualified for it."
Ward brings a doctor’s letter with her to events, in case she has to appear before a jury to explain her restricted elbow movement.
Ward admits to being surprised by the lack of attention paid to her sport. She points out that her fellow Goulds power lifter Gail Johnson owns a couple of national records and many powerlifters in Newfoundland have not been recognized in the media.
But she likes the sense of fraternity that the powerlifting community shares. Ward and some of the lifters she has met at competitions stay in touch throughout the year and even share training videos.
Ward is looking forward to her next big tournament, the world competition in Texas this summer.
Performance, she allows, can depend as much on an athlete’s mental and emotional state as her physical one.
"It is definitely nerve wracking," she says. "I find that if I have a good day in the warm-ups, I don’t get as nervous. But if the warm-ups are moving slow or I feel a little bit stiff, say because your hips can get a little bit tight because of flying, I tend to focus on the people watching then because I’m not as focused overall. It’s a mental game for sure."
Ward figures the combination of travel and competition will keep her in the sport for a while yet. She is thinking about possibly attending world competitions slated for Belarus in two years’ time and another one in Australia.
"I kind of put a star next to the ones I want to go to, because of the places, and let it go from there," she says.