Newfoundlanders Alisa Cutler, Heather Unsworth and competitor turned national coach Rob King talk the benefits of powerlifting on the mind, body and soul
Is it wrong to be strong? The short answer, no. There’s benefits to the ever growing world of powerlifting and strength training outside of the muscles and mass and being able to lift more than your obnoxious pal. It’s also good for mind, body and soul, no matter if you’re teenage, middle-aged or senior.
Heather Unsworth and Alisa Cutler can attest to the merits of powerlifting. Both have been actively engaged in the practice for less than five years. Both have now medaled on a world stage while representing Canada.
Unsworth and Cutler both represented Team Canada at the World Masters Women’s Championships in Potchefstroom, South Africa this past October.
Unsworth, originally from Birmingham, England and now a proud resident of Newfoundland and Labrador, won gold in the -84kg Masters I heat, finishing with the top scores in squats, deadlifts and bench press along the way.
Cutler, who competed in the Master II 84+kg field, earned a silver medal, finishing second for squats and bench press with top scores in deadlifts.
Team Canada coach, competitor and fellow Newfoundlander and Labradorian Rob King was there for every step of the journey.
“It was good this year to watch those guys go because it was their first time representing the country, first time going to worlds,” King said during a sitdown alongside Unsworth and Cutler.
“It was different for me and a very unique perspective because my first time at worlds was 2014 in Africa. So I made the team, my first worlds experience. It was very overwhelming and I didn’t have a great experience and a great day overall. And then it came full circle five years after this to go back as coach, head coach for Team Canada. And that was also 14 months post hip replacement for me as well. So to get back there and be able to compete and represent my country and coach was quite the experience.”
“I was really excited to go,” Unsworth admits. “I’ve been dreaming about it for a couple of years, setting myself a higher and higher goal. I’ve got three kids, I work full time. I really needed the break. I came back refreshed and just feeling amazing. To get to worlds is an achievement, to win it just blew me away.”
For Daniel’s Harbour native Cutler, whose friends personally helped her reach her goal of getting to South Africa after fantastic finishes at nationals and commonwealths, the pressure of living up to expectations helped propel her to silver on a worlds stage.
“I was feeling this immense pressure for all the people who put me there that I felt like I owed it to them,” Cutler shared. “You have to go and do it. And your coach can help you and your friends can help you, but the bottom line is you got to go and do it.
“It was incredible experience, the sense of pride that you’re there amongst your peers representing your country was huge for me,” she adds. “I turned 50 when I was there. It was just a big personal goal that I never thought would happen.”
King has been a self-described gym-junkie since his teenage years. Joking that he grew up across the road from a YMCA, King has been involved in the sport of powerlifting and helping those reach their own personal goals at Heavyweights Training Centre for years. Coaching Team Canada provided a very different, yet rewarding experience.
“When you take the position of coach, everybody has to come before you,” King explains. “So being an athlete, you have to be a little bit selfish. You have to be focused on yourself. When you’re a coach, you have to kind of lay that to the side and give everything to your athletes and give it to the people you’re handling and helping. They have to become priority. So to see people from Canada do so well with it and also that people have come from Newfoundland that I’ve helped, that was really sweet.”
For Cutler, who celebrated her 50th in South Africa, and 43 year old Unsworth, powerlifting has completely changed their outlooks on life.
“It’s highly empowering,” Unsworth admits. “I think I found myself again. I’m married with three kids. Life gets busy, especially when the kids are little you have no time for yourself … I found the thing I truly love. I love it. You go when you’re sick. Whether the kids are sick, whether it’s snowing, you didn’t care. You’re always there. You got to put the work in it. I’m more focused. I’m more driven. I’m more empowered. I’m showing my daughter that you can do anything you put your mind to. It’s just a general feeling of more well-being. I’m not just a wife and a mother. I can do things for myself and I can achieve a certain level.”
“I think it’s a great escape, too,” adds Cutler. “When life is tough and we all go through waves of life and seasons of life, when life’s tough, it’s a great escape. And for me, it’s been that for sure. There’s days when you’re having the sh***est day. There’s days I’ve driven up and it’s like there’s a lump in my throat. You’d go in and within a few minutes it’s gone. You walk out feeling 100 times better.”
‘Everybody can do it’
“It’s not for everybody, but everybody can do it,” King adds, reflectively. “You know, I’ve got athletes I’ve coached that are 14 years old and I’ve got athletes, a woman named Ruby at 71, who just competed at commonwealths. That’s 71 years young. And the great thing about it is that everybody pretty much is able to do it. And come the end of the day, it’s just you against you and you trying to get better.
“I found strength training and lifting weights when I was young because I was a lost kid and didn’t know what to do with myself,” King adds. “I found my thing and it was just no matter what was going on in my life, I can always get back to that bar and it always made me feel better. It taught me discipline and taught me focus. It taught me so many things that I couldn’t learn from somewhere else. It’s just always been like a physical and mental stress relief for me. It’s always been an escape. Whenever I’m stressed the bar is my best friend and it’s my way of finding myself and making peace with myself and trying to get better underneath the barbell.”
To begin your fitness journey visit robkingfitness.com or Heavyweights Training Centre in Mount Pearl