Powerhouse in a small package

Size can be deceiving, as MARISKA MORRIS learnt at the South Africa Sports Association for People with Disabilities (SASAPD) National Championships, which was sponsored by Toyota

The gymnasium at the Coetzenburg Athletics Stadium in Stellenbosch is packed with male powerlifters ready to showcase their strength in the bench press powerlifting competition – one of the eight sports represented by the SASAPD National Championships. One after the other, the men try – and fail or succeed – to drop the bar to their chest and press it back up to the cheers of the small audience.

Then the referee calls Mbasa Qilingele to the bench. There is a flash of pink and the young Qilingele appears. She slides onto the bench, gets strapped in and grips the bar. The ref calls, “Start”, and she drops the bar to her chest. “Press,” the ref calls, and she pushes 73,5 kg into the air. She makes it look effortless! The crowd applauds and a shy smile crosses Qilingele’s face as she sits up.

She has set a personal best and South African record in the powerlifting division for women with disabilities in her age and weight category. As powerlifting is not a popular sport, Qilingele normally competes against able-bodied athletes.

“There is not a lot of competition for Mbasa among people with disabilities,” says Elisabeth Barry, Qilingele’s coach and teacher at her school. The 17-year-old did try her hand at more popular sports like archery and wheelchair tennis, but none of them stuck.

“I don’t like balls and I definitely don’t like chasing them,” Qilingele says, laughing. It was Barry who suggested she try her hand at powerlifting. When asked what aspect of powerlifting appeals most to her, Qilingele says: “I get to strengthen my upper body. I can’t exercise my legs, so I’m working double as hard on my upper body.”

In May, she participated in the World Open Sub Junior, Junior, Master Classic and Equipped Bench Press Championships in Tokyo, Japan, where she was awarded a silver medal. In October she will compete at the African Powerlifting and Bench Press Championships in Potchefstroom.

Barry also aims to send the young powerlifter to more international events for powerlifters with disabilities to get her ranked. Ultimately, the plan is to get Qilingele to the Commonwealth and Paralympic Games.

Glenn Crompton, Vice President: Marketing at Toyota South Africa Motors, says young people like Qilingele are the reason why Toyota has entered into a three-year partnership with the SASAPD to promote the sporting codes offered at Paralympic level for athletes with disabilities.

“At Toyota, we believe that movement and mobility in all its definitions is all around us. Sport has the power to connect people. This where we learn the true power of sport – it can challenge us, inspire us and, most importantly, unify us. As the Worldwide Official Mobility Partner of the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee, Toyota shares the vision to inspire people to push onward – past their finish line, past their impossible.

“Qilingele is one of many examples of people achieving the impossible at the SASAPD National Championships. Toyota believes that you can achieve great things when you move. This is why we are a proud partner of the SASAPD National Championships. We are wholeheartedly committed to unleashing human potential through the power of movement,” he concludes.

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