Weightlifting in New Zealand is enjoying a surge in popularity and in part it’s due to the increased involvement of Māori and Pasifika athletes.
The National Weightlifting Championships in Mt Maunganui this weekend has attracted a record number of entries, with more than 200 athletes set to test their strength and skill against the best from across the motu.
There is little doubt that the success of weightlifters like David Liti at the Commonwealth Games has given the sport a much needed boost, especially amongst the Pasifika community
The ethnicity shift has been happening for several years, helped in part by the opening of gyms in places like South Auckland.
Sam Manuela, a lecturer in Pacific identity and mental health at the University of Auckland, is competing in the Masters competition this weekend.
Manuela says Māori and Pasifika people are drawn to sports where there is a lot of strength – and it’s helped by clubs providing a community feel.
“What a weightlifting club provides is a lot of fellowship, camaraderie and teamwork.
“Even though it’s an individual sport it allows people to bring and channel their strength into it.”
Susana Nimo, who is of Tongan and Niuean heritage, only started weightlifting in Papatoetoe at the beginning of this year, after previously being involved in cross-fit.
Despite her lack of experience, the 26-year-old has been spotted by national selectors, and says her dramatic progress has surprised her.
“I didn’t see that there would be a path when I came into it, I just wanted to train and then it just flipped.
“When I started seeing the numbers (weights) increase, it made me desire more.”
Nimo works with troubled teenagers for youth justice, and says she hopes to get them involved with the sport.
She feels there are a lot of aspects of weightlifting that would be attractive to young people.
“When there’s a PB (personal best) it’s so cool when you actually get results from your training.
“It’s like anything, but when you see it physically, it’s more encouraging as there is a drive when you get results.”
Olympian Megan Signal says with so many Māori and Pasifika athletes taking up the sport, she believes New Zealand weightlifting teams will soon be dominated by those ethnicities.
“Being amongst the community and training next to young weightlifters who I can already see are going to be better than we ever were.
“It’s a really exciting thing to be a part of and I can definitely see that happening…. it’s growing and it’s a cool thing to be a part of.”
Megan Signal will be headlining this weekend’s National Championships in Mt Maunganui alongside fellow Olympian David Liti, along with a handful of Commonwealth Games lifters