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How Hidilyn Diaz inspired me on my powerlifting journey

By KATHY MORAN, The Philippine STAR Published Aug 01, 2021 6:00 am

Hidilyn Diaz and I, we have something in common. We’re both 4’11, stocky — and lift weights. That’s why she’s always been my idol.

But while stories have it that she started showing interest in weightlifting when she was 11 years old — because her cousin, Allen Diaz, was then a regional weightlifting coach — I started as a powerlifter in my 30s, and was busy lifting printers and newspaper bundles in between deadlines at The STAR.

That’s why when on July 26, Hidilyn made history when she became the first athlete from the Philippines to win an Olympic gold medal, I was ecstatic.

 Hidilyn Diaz (top) prepares to do a clean and jerk. Below, author Kathy Moran does a deadlift.

The 30-year-old Rio 2016 silver medalist from Zamboanga achieved that feat in the women’s 55kg class at the Tokyo International Forum, lifting her personal best to beat the world record-holder Liao Qiuyun of China.

With Liao setting a target of 223kg (97kg snatch and 126 kg clean and press), just four kilograms shy of her own world record, Diaz, who had a 97 kg snatch, was faced with a final clean and jerk of 127kg to win — 5kg more than she had ever done in competition.

  China's Liao Qiuyun competes in the women's 55kg weightlifting competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. (AFP photo/Vincenzo Pinto)

With a massive effort, she hoisted the huge Olympic-record weight and the tears of joy began to flow even before she dropped the bar to the floor after a triumphant effort.

The news got me thinking about the first time I saw Hidilyn as a young weightlifting athlete training at Rizal Memorial in the mid-2000s.  Yes, she was strong and I watched her in awe, as she was able to lift so much, and she is just as small as I am.

I was interested in anything weights because I too had started on my powerlifting journey at the age of 30 — the age she is today as an Olympic champion.

Can a vegetarian lift weights?

Back in the day, around 1999, I started working out in the gym regularly. I was chubby and wanted to get rid of the excess weight. I was already a vegetarian at the time, so fixing my diet with all-meat protein was out of the question.

Rene Dio, a long-time Mr. Philippines and champion powerlifter, was looking for people to form a team to compete in powerlifting — and I looked stocky enough to fit the bill.

I tried out for the Intercon powerlifting team. It was funny that at the time I had gym mates like Gloria Diaz and Margie Moran. I guess being a bodybuilder and having a beautiful, Miss Universe-worthy body was just not in my future.

I tried out for the Intercon powerlifting team. It was funny that at the time I had gym mates like Gloria Diaz and Margie Moran. I guess being a bodybuilder and having a beautiful, Miss Universe-worthy body was just not in my future.

I joined many local competitions for powerlifting and there was a time in the late ’90s to early 2000s that I held the novice record for all three powerlifting events.

Weightlifting is for more powerful and speedy athletes like Hidilyn, who snatched 99 kg and clean-and-jerked 127. For a powerlifter, the lifting events are squat, bench press, and deadlift — which are not Olympic sports — but there are international powerlifting events as well.

Like the one I joined in India in 2002, where I got the silver in the Asian Benchpress open. I was 39 years old at the time and working as part of the staff of The Philippine STAR’s Lifestyle section.

Trophies and medals from the author’s last competitions (bench press and powerlifting) in 2017. (Photo by Geremy Pintolo)

Coworkers would always ask me to carry all the heavy stuff since they knew I was a powerlifter — as a joke. After that India competition, I continued to powerlift but I stopped joining competitions locally.

In 2015, I returned to powerlifting as a Master 2 powerlifter. Master 2 are lifters aged 50 to 55. It seemed there was a renewed challenge, as Hidilyn Diaz was making a name for herself.  She had become an idol of sorts, even if much younger than I am. She gave the sport of weightlifting the face of a woman who could succeed.

  Sweet victory: Hidilyn Diaz wins the first Olympic Gold for the Philippines in weightlifting at the Tokyo Olympics 2020.
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Author wins as Best Lifter in the Asian Bench Press Open 2017

In 2017, I began to train for the Asian Benchpress Open, which was to be held at a hotel in Quezon City. The journey to reaching powerlifting goals was not easy, more so because we had much work in the Lifestyle section (of course, that was the priority). I would train (as in, buhat ng bakal) four times a week with Rene Dio, who was preparing me to lift some records for my weight class.

The year before, Hidilyn won silver in the Rio Olympics — another cause for celebration — helping me train harder to reach my own powerlifting goals.

  Diaz won the silver medal during the competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. (AP/Mike Groll)

“Ang lakas niya,” was a constant phrase in Gold’s Gym, where we trained as we spoke about Diaz’s achievement. Inspired by Hidilyn, I did reach my goals and even won best lifter in my Master 2 class at the age of 54.

Since then, my life was overtaken by the death of my mother in 2019, and then the pandemic closed the gyms where I did my training.

So I watched with mouth agape and heart pounding that fateful July night when Hidilyn brought home the gold. She truly has a champion’s heart. Thanks to her, I look forward to the day I can return to the gym, see my trainer… and start training for Master 3 class 56-60.

For now, I watch Hidilyn and jump for joy.