It is a beautiful evening in Lahore and it is even more meaningful as Pakistan’s top women powerlifters and weightlifters are training. Among them is the 17-year-old Saiqa Nadeem, a very bright, stubborn and extremely precocious girl, who got the gold-medal at the first Quaid-e-Azam Inter-Divisional Women Powerlifting championship last week.
For Saiqa, powerlifting is her life right now. “All I think about is powerlifting. I think I’ll powerlift as long as I’m alive, I know that, it just means that much to me. As long as I am alive, I’ll powerlift, and try to win all the competitions too, in fact that is the only thing I want right now,” Saiqa told The Express Tribune, as we wished her on International Women’s Day.
She got the gold medal with a total of 180 kg, lifting 85 in squats and 95 in deadlift.
For her, she is a part of a movement, more so for herself and even for her mother, Zahida Nadeem, who one has to talk to first, if you want to talk to Saiqa.
Her dream for her daughter is to become a champion, the kind that makes everyone proud, and she is least concerned about Saiqa being the only child with three older sisters and a brother to pick up sports. “I know my daughter is very capable. She has been very bright from a very young age, and no I don’t think powerlifting or anything is gender-defined like that. I’m very proud of my daughter. I’m very confident too, because she is very keen on powerlifting. She has been so interested in it so we encourage her. When I saw her win the gold medal at the championship, I knew I wanted to see her as a champion always, in other events too.”
“I can only say that when I watched her compete, my heart was full. I saw other women too and the change is coming. All I want to instil in my daughters is that we are proud of them. We as a family, I as a mother, we don’t ever stop the girls from doing what they want to,” said Zahida, who is a bold and a very confident lady health worker herself and understands the intricacies of Pakistani society better than most.
Saiqa said that she became interested in powerlifting and weightlifting through her friends at school who were none other than star athletes Sybil Sohail and Veronika Sohail, sisters of Twinkle Sohail, who has won medals for Pakistan internationally and has been leading the way in the sport for the women and the country.
“I saw Veronika and Sybil and I came to the gym here and I wanted to train,” said Saiqa. “I’m very passionate about this and I train every morning. I start with ground work and more field in terms of running, and then in the evening we train at the gym where we all also help each other. My aim is to better my weight. My best has been 95kgs in powerlifting so far, and I need to improve on my weightlifting too.”
She added that for her powerlifting is more fun as she finds it to be less technical than weightlifting.
At this age she is probably not aware of the change she is making for others to follow, but her record in the inaugural Inter-Divisional Championship, where 72 women took part in total, with competitions in eight categories having one athlete from each of the nine divisions made a big impact in how competitive the sport can be.
She explained that powerlifting is a very demanding sport that needs all the focus, but to her it comes easily because she is just that in love with it.
“It is easier, because anything one is passionate about becomes easy. I just know that there are women who are competing and they are all so good,” said Saiqa, but the youngster is aware of the fact that powerlifting, or any other sport in Pakistan, besides cricket, does not get the same appreciation.
“I think things are changing, but there is not much scope. I know that very well. Everyone appreciates cricket and cricketers, but there is no recognition for other sports. So I know there is a difference, there is not much scope right now. So I keep my focus on one competition at a time, and train regularly,” said Saiqa.
She shared the podium with another weightlifter from Faisalabad in the championship. She weighs in at 57kgs, but she was competing in open category.
For her, the inspiration comes from other women she watches, like the Sohail sisters, and fellow lifters. In the championship among 72 women, the women from Sargodha, Faisalabad, Bahawalpur, DG Khan and Gujranwala shined through, while Saiqa is based in Lahore.
Their coach at the Punjab University Women Powerlifting/Weightlifting Academy located in the Punjab University Women’s Sports Complex, the gym and also the Pakistan Powerlifting and Weightlifting Federation official Rashed Malik believes that there is a rise in the number of women athletes in powerlifting and weightlifting especially. He said that Saiqa is certainly an emerging talent despite being young.
“Saiqa is very determined. When she came to us, her father brought her and told me that she absolutely wants to lift the weights and take this sport. At that time she was small and skinny and I had to tell her to be strong, much like I tell my other athletes and even my granddaughters, who train here at the academy. But she is very determined, she never misses any session,” said Malik.