Super Sarah, as some friends have dubbed the Renfrew powerlifter, wasn’t so super when she competed in her first world championships.
Sarah Leighton stretches before one of her powerlifting workouts. Preparations continue for her second world championship, scheduled for next month in Puerto Rico.
Steve Newman, Renfrew Mercury
They took place last year in the Czech Republic, where officials didn’t give Sarah Leighton a green lift on her three squats, leaving her with a did-not-finish. She went on to finish an unofficial seventh in bench press and ninth in the deadlift. But, with no recorded lift in the squat, she finished last in the field.
Not this time, says the Cobden native and co-owner of Ultimate Fitness Gyms.
Husband-coach Paul Vaillancourt, who owns several national and provincial strongman titles, says she’s a much-improved lifter. The evidence is in the heavier weights she’s lifting since last year and the consistency she’s having in training and competition after hiring an American coach and world-class lifter, Mike Tuchscherer, to design her program.
She’s doing more lifting in her four weekly training sessions (other than aerobic work done on so-called off days), and that’s paying off.
She’s also unlikely to be sideswiped by a massive case of jet lag, as was the case when she travelled to Europe for the 2011 International Powerlifting Federation’s world championships.
“It was tough on me. I lost weight,” said Leighton. “It wasn’t until the second week that I could get up in the morning and function normally.
“It was a lot greater than we expected. We went three days ahead of time and that wasn’t close to appropriate.”
Another mistake was spending too much time at the championship watching the competitors in other divisions, instead of resting up.
“This was just experience,” admitted Vaillancourt. “The bling and awe has all passed.”
She knew she was in real trouble on her second of two squats, when she had trouble just squatting, before even trying to extend from the squat. “Normally, I should be able to squat in any circumstance,” she said.
But that’s in the past now, as Leighton heads to the 2012 worlds to again compete in the 72-kg. class. The other Canadian in that class will be past world junior champion Rhaea Stinn of Moose Jaw who competed in the 84-kg. division in 2011.
“I’m still very much a beginner internationally,” says Leighton, 33.
“But before I compete at the world masters (for those 40 or older), I would like to finish in the top five in the worlds.”
Wherever she places, Leighton says, “I would like to finish the competition satisfied with my lifts, whatever they are.
“I wouldn’t say I’m intimidated,” adds Leighton, before heading to only her second event outside of the U.S. or Canada. “I like being around lifters who are better than me. That helps me to strive to be better.
“It’s more self-talk that really has the effect on one’s performance. Someone can tell you something (motivating), but it’s what’s in your head that’s going to make the difference. You have to have confidence in your mind that you’re going to do well, and I do.”
The defending champion in Leighton’s class is American Priscilla Ribic of the United States, while other major contenders are expected to come from Brazil and Russia.
Leighton is thinking her opening weights for squad, bench and deadlift will be, in order, 187 kilograms (414 pounds), 120 kg. (265 lbs.) and 170 kg. (375 lbs.).
At the 2011 world champs, she had no recorded weight in the squat, while she finished with a 120-kilogram bench press and 175 kilograms in the deadlift. If she lifted her current competition personal bests of 210, 127.5 and 185, Vaillancourt estimates she’d finish 12th in a projected field of more than 20 entries.
“The improvements have been massive,” he says. “There’s always the risk of a miss, but she’s one more year experienced and a far-stronger lifter than she was in 2011.”
Leighton and Vaillancourt are co-owners of Ultimate Fitness, which has locations in Arnprior and Renfrew.