A former Terrace resident has earned a spot on Team Canada following her gold-medal win at the National Power-lifting championships in Winnipeg last week.
Cynthia Leighton (known as Cindy Peck prior to her marriage) beat out more than 420 competitors at the national competition by breaking three national records and five provincial records in the open and masters classes at the weight lifting event. It was her first year qualifying for the Master’s level in the bikini division. Masters is for athletes aged 39 to 49 years old. She broke the national squat record with 130 kilos lifted, the bench press with 83.5 kilos lifted and her total was 376. Her scores and wins secured her a spot on Team Canada for international events.
“I didn’t break the dead lift record, but I’m gunning for that,” Leighton said.
The competition was moving so fast that the organizers couldn’t keep the board straight. Leighton missed the call for her first set of squat lifts. As her coach went to check on what was happening, she heard her name called for the second set of lifts. Leighton grabbed her equipment and ran as fast as she could through the hotel to make it just in time. Due of the mishap she could not compete in a third squat lift, but won nonetheless.
“I didn’t get to do my third attempt squat, so my total was lower than I wanted, but I still won. So that’s good,” Leighton said, “It’s all you want, because if you win at Nationals you are automatically on the team for international events.”
Leighton’s family moved to Terrace when she was four years old. At 17 she started working for a local gym, surrounded by power lifters, body builders and other “super athletic” people.
“I remember opening up the fitness magazines and seeing the women body builders and just thinking OMG I would just love to do that, and just looking up to them so much.”
At the age of 20 Leighton started competing in figure, a class of physique-exhibition for women and men with an emphasis on muscle definition, not size.
After she met her husband, Lance, she continued lifting weights while pregnant, which she credits to helping her endure the labour process, and to bounce back quickly to her regular routine.
She made a small gym in her Terrace basement and could often be seen on the city streets running with her kids in a double stroller.
In 2013 the Leightons moved to Prince Rupert where her focus shifted to power lifting. Figure competitions had given way to a bikini class, but the diets and emphasis on slimmer figures wasn’t appealing.
She competed in and won her first power lift in 2014 at Terrace’s North Coast Health and Fitness before moving onto her first sanctioned event.
“I just totally fell in love with the sport I was like ‘this it, this is what I’m meant to do,’” she said. “I just loved it. The people, the atmosphere the training, the excitement — everything.”
Leighton’s win this month is the result of six years of competition, including nine contests, which include multiple provincials, Western Canadians and two nationals, as well as other amateur meets.
Leighton’s coach, Alfred Jong, is also a former Northwesterner. The Prince Rupert native now lives and trains in Edmonton.
For this year’s nationals Leighton was dead lifting twice a week, three or four sets of doubles at 160 kilograms followed by a day of lighter lifts.
Leighton said she is looking forward to a long off-season to prepare herself for Team Canada.
“In the long run there is a lot of work to do. I just want to get crazy freaky strong. If you are representing your country, you want that.”
“It’s been a lot of back to back to back competitions for the last two years trying to qualify. So, now that I am qualified I can take a long off season and really work on gaining weight and getting strong. I need to work on some things. I need a bigger squat,” Leighton said.
With the emergence and popularity of cross-fit, Leighton believes Olympic lifting and power lifting are gaining acceptance with women. It has a lot to do with the way fitness is geared now, she said.
“Fitness used to be about being skinny and now it’s all bodies, just be strong…A big butt is good. Thickness is good. The fitness industry now seems to be more focused on strength. I really think is has to do with the popularity of cross fit.
“There is no better feeling as a woman than feeling strong and lifting weights. It is so empowering. It gives you confidence,” Leighton said. “Power lifting has changed me as a person. Most times after a meet, the lessons I’ve learned have not a lot to do with the weight on the bar, but who I am as a person in those moments. In those stressful moments where you are freaking out, where you could potentially bomb out, miss a lift, the weight on the bar may intimate you, the other lifters around you who are at the top of their game who are sponsored athletes, that is super intimidating. But if you are able to let that go and focus inward to find the strength, you’ll find a deeper level and get to know yourself.”