What is that?
I did not know what the word meant, or that the sport existed, until the summer of 2017 when I was introduced to it by the charity Lift4Life. Since then, powerlifting has brought so much emotion and growth to my life. It has changed me both physically and mentally.
As a woman living in Zimbabwe, powerlifting has changed my life.
Zimbabwe is a difficult place to be.
In Zimbabwe, opportunities for an education are very limited. Education is the only way to a better life in our communities. Without academic qualifications, you are doomed.
Life has become more difficult as we have experienced increasing political unrest, an economic meltdown that has led to cash shortages, sanctions, an unemployment rate of over 95%, and elevated crime rates, to only name a few. Persisting hardships have led to high levels of promiscuity, and there are high rates of drug and substance abuse by youth, due to the fact that parents are always absent and always away trying to make ends meet.
I live my life by what I once heard Nelson Mandela say. “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived, it is what difference we have made in the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
I saw the sport of powerlifting and Lift4Life as an opportunity to make my difference for change, and my chance to help combat some of the problems in my country. Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love, as we dare to reach our hand into the darkness in order to pull another one into the light.
If anyone had told me before that I would be lifting weights, I would have thought them to be mad.
I had never envisioned myself doing anything of the sort.
But, I attended a small powerlifting course in my community conducted by Lift4Life, and I was inspired watching those involved lift heavy weights. This could be me too, I thought, and from there I have never looked back. I had never lifted a barbell in my life prior to this, but I was willing to learn in order to help others.
Following my introduction to powerlifting, I began volunteering my time teaching powerlifting in my community to youth on behalf of Lift4Life, and with the support of Lift4Life. My powerlifting workshops became very popular and have since expanded, and I now teach powerlifting to multiple communities in Harare. I am additionally now involved in growing the Zimbabwe Powerlifting Federation, with hopes we will one day be under the International Powerlifting Federation allowing my country more opportunities within the sport and the ability to formally compete. However, right now it is difficult as we cannot afford the fees.
Being able to give to the community through powerlifting fills me with great joy and has provided me new perspectives on life. In February, I organized the first local meet in Zimbabwe with great success. I am still learning, and everything I learn in my own lifting and training, I share it with the powerlifting classes I run. There is now so much love going around as a result of powerlifting.
I have met many people through powerlifting. Some I haven’t met in person, but I feel I know them already as the powerlifting community is wonderful and around the world continues to encourage me and support me. The powerlifting community has shaped me into the person I am today. The support from people that donate, take and interest, and encourage my own lifting, as well as support those in my community motivates me and keeps me going. Always striving to do more.
Many young boys have joined the powerlifting family, and teaching the kids especially fills me with so much joy. Powerlifting has given many of these kids a second chance in life, to be a better version of themselves. The smiles on their faces makes it all worthwhile, something so simple in life that too often we take for granted. In my own life I have never really had too much difficulty, and spending time with all these people that I teach powerlifting to makes me realize how lucky I am. It further allows me to appreciate the opportunities I have been given.
This powerlifting journey hasn’t been without its challenges.
My biggest obstacle has been getting females to join powerlifting, as strength sports here are deemed to be a male sport. For females that do express interest, few are comfortable in a gym with a male presence and as a result they end up not pursuing the sport.
Why are you doing this if you are not getting paid?
This is a common question many people ask me here, and they think I am crazy for powerlifting.
The answer is simple. I do it for the internal joy I experience, as there is truly nothing better than that.
Despite the challenges we face in Zimbabwe, nothing can shake my resolve to get other ladies as empowered to lift as I have been. I hope to lead by example so that we can create change. I know it will not happen overnight, but every journey starts with only one step. And if I see only just one more lady lifting, it is a ray of hope in Zimbabwe that all shall be well.
Audrey Svongwa is a 31-year-old single mother with a special zest for life and all things powerlifting. Audrey lives in the high density suburb of Glen Norah in Zimbabwe’s capital city of Harare. “Hustling” is how she make ends meet as she has no formal employment, working on various contract jobs that present themselves in the area of accounting and tutoring. Audrey is currently working together with Lift4Life to uplift lives through powerlifting, and is a dedicated 72kg female lifter aspiring to compete for her country one day.