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'I just looked on Instagram and YouTube on how to do things with proper form'

Leah Cheung on getting into power lifting, managing her type 1 diabetes and targeting national records.

LEAH CHEUNG IS a young woman from Wexford who has been used to routine and careful processes from a young age.

Cheung was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 11 years of age. From very early on, she was determined that although it was critical for her to manage her condition very carefully on a daily basis, it wasn’t something she was ever going to allow to have any effect on her goals or aspirations; including those she had in sport.

Leah Cheung 1

Powerlifting is the sport of choice for Cheung and one which she only began to show a real interest in a few years ago. It started with lifting regular weights as part of her gym routine and then as she naturally started to lift more and more with heavier weights she decided to put what she had learnt into powerlifting and see what she could achieve.

“Powerlifting is just lifting as much weight as possible from the ground, onto your back and then off your chest”, Cheung explains.

“I got into powerlifting about two years ago. I was about 16 or 17 when I started to lift weights. I just looked on Instagram and YouTube on how to do things with proper form but eventually I had just learnt to do proper form the more I lifted weights.

“I had started to lift heavier each month and thought ‘oh this is cool, I wonder how much I can lift next time’ and it just went on from there.

My friend PJ who I had met through the gym along with many other friends had wanted me to do a competition for about two years because they saw potential in me. My boyfriend was very supportive in wanting me to compete too because he knew how much I loved the sport.

“I was always nervous because I didn’t want to become buff or manly but that’s absolutely the wrong approach that I had towards it. Lifting weights doesn’t make you manly, it helps lower your body fat. I had quite a high body fat percentage but looking back on photos of then and now I can see such a difference.

“I just love powerlifting because it makes me feel strong and I love that feeling of being able to constantly progress in strength and being able to be more toned the more I work. I think that powerlifting is still yet to be properly recognised in Ireland but there are a lot of gyms and people who are into the sport that genuinely become a community in some way which I really like

“Anytime I get anyone asking me what it is, I get really excited because I go into such detail about it. It’s fun to explain to other people who don’t understand what it is so that they can genuinely start to get an idea of why some people love the sport so much.”

Two years on from when Leah stepped up to lift her first weight and she has just recently taken part in her first competition.

Battle of the Barbells in Limerick was an event organised by the AIPO IPO federation with this one being a women’s only event.
When asked about her first competition experience Leah said “Everyone was just so nice and easy to talk to because we were all on the same page as regards to just wanting to lift heavy weights and beat our own records! I went up there not to beat anyone else but to beat my own records and set goals for future competitions for myself.

“If I didn’t push myself at that competition then there wouldn’t be much drive for me to want to do another competition and beat myself again! Overall it was an amazing first tournament and I’m really proud at my achievements at it.”

Only two years on from taking up the sport Leah left Limerick having broken three national records and with a real excitement within herself that things are only getting started.

Leah Cheung 2 Cheung has had plenty of competitive success. Source: PatShanahan

“I do try to take it day by day because powerlifting is a sport where you need patience in order to progress,” she says. “It’s important that you know it’s something that takes time. You won’t be able to squat 150 by next week if you’re only squatting 100 at the moment.

“Your body will eventually progress in strength once you’re doing the constant work but also giving yourself rest days. It’s important to rest and recover. I try set goals now for competitions in the future and try beat myself every time.

“With being diabetic, I do still struggle some days when my bloods go too low or too high. If I go too low when training I’d have to take about 10 minutes to rest and eat or drink something sugary in order for my bloods to go back to normal. I would feel weak and shaky so I wouldn’t lift anything just in case.

“If I go high it’s not too bad because I can just take insulin and do exercise to help bring it down again. Overall though I don’t let it affect me and how I perform. It’s something that I have to live with day by day so I’m not letting it stop me achieve every dream I have.

“My next plan is to do the charity competition in October and to squat 120kg by then, bench 50kg and get 120kg deadlift. It’ll be tough but with constant training I know I can get there

“At that stage, I’ll be hopefully be going to nationals in the early months of next year. I’ve a goal of squatting 130kg by nationals so we’ll just have to wait and see. The ultimate goal is to qualify for the European Championships next year.”

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About the author:

Brendan Graham

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