October 2017

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As a female powerlifter in Trinidad and Tobago, Syanna Andrews has encountered a considerable amount of negativity. It has not stopped her one bit.

She was introduced to powerlifting in 2015 and in that short time, Andrews has already represented T&T twice internationally. The first was at the North American Championships in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands in 2016. In July this year, Andrews competed at the Pan American Championships in Orlando, Florida. She topped her class and earned T&T a gold medal.

It was a welcome surprise for Andrews, a second-year UWI, St. Augustine linguistics and languages student, who said she expected to do her best, but not to win.

“I’m still shocked because I didn’t expect it. In the moment it was about doing what I had to do, focusing on lifting, remembering everything my coach said. I was in my own world. It took a while to sink in, but when I think about all the work that I put in and where I came from in terms of injury and all the times I thought about quitting, it was worth it,” she said. “To hear my national anthem being played in front of all these international athletes and experiencing that sense of national pride was great.”

Competing at the international level was an encouraging experience for her. “Internationally, being a woman is not an issue and it’s super inspirational to see other women compete and to witness the kind of weight they can move,” said the 24-year-old athlete.

The local arena has been slightly less motivating. Of the 20 members on the national team, only eight are women. In addition to low female participation, Andrews also faced some opposition to her involvement in the sport.

“In smaller communities we’re more focused on physique and not wanting girls to look like men, but with powerlifting it’s not so much about the aesthetic, it’s about the function of the body. A lot of people look at me and don’t think I lift the amount of weight that I lift because I’m not very muscular and I don’t look like a bodybuilder,” she said.

“That’s the most challenging thing about being a woman in this sport: people expect me to remain feminine. They’ll say things like ‘Don’t look like a man, and don’t lift too much.’ My family at the beginning used to make jokes and say things like you’re not going to have any children or you’ll get a hernia. People assume certain things and think that you’re not supposed to be doing that as a woman. So it’s nice to be able to dispel those myths.”

Another challenge Andrews faces is maintaining a balance between training and school. Andrews has to manage studying and gym sessions, sometimes driving straight from class to training with her coach, Sanjeev Teelucksingh, at Evolution Gym in Chaguanas.

The rigorous training required for national and international competing is also new territory for Andrews, who was not active in sports during secondary school.

“Being active is not new to me as I was always involved in a lot of things, but more arts-related: choir and dance. I played football and swam for school but not competitively,” she said.

“The level of training needed to represent the country takes a lot of time and dedication. A minimum gym session for me is three hours. It’s not easy, but anything you want to do you have to give to it.”

Andrews is hoping that this balancing act will help her become an ambassador for both her country and the sport.

“What I really want to do is be a translator or interpreter and the good thing with powerlifting is that you get exposed to a lot of different athletes and cultures. You can travel the world with this sport when you’re good enough. I feel like making these connections and friends will broaden my horizons and I really want to bring that knowledge back home,” she said.

On a larger scale, Andrews would also like to be an ambassador for female powerlifters. She has a poignant message for women within and outside of the sporting community.

“Powerlifting is a sport that forces you to meet yourself and learn who you are. It gives you back so much more than you put in, even when you’re putting in a lot, the rewards are inexplicable. It’s the type of sport where you’re always trying to beat your best lift. I want women to know that this is not a sport for men only. The women who compete in this sport are incredibly strong mentally and physically and those are the type of women we need more in society: women who know how to be strong and who are not ashamed or afraid of that.”