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Out-lifting the competition

Local powerlifters Janine Hebert and Carole Vachon returned from CPU Nationals with hardware after placing first and second in their weight class.

BONNYVILLE - "Feeling strong is beautiful and empowering."

For every woman, strength takes on a different meaning, but for local powerlifter Janine Hebert, it's a sense of accomplishment.

“We earn this. It’s not just getting our hair and make-up done, while those things are fun, we have to put the work in to be where we are, no one is handing this to us."

Hebert and fellow powerlifter Carole Vachon sit comfortably surrounded by weights and gym equipment at the Bonnyville Centennial Centre, as they open up about their recent success at the Canadian Powerlifting Union (CPU) Nationals in Winnipeg, MB on March 3.

With a final lift of 442.5-kilograms, Hebert out-lifted the competition, earning the title of national champion in the M1, or the level for those between the ages of 40 to 49, 84-kg-plus class.

Vachon placed second in the M1, 72 to 84-kg group with a total of 412.5-kg lifted.

Hebert stressed the pair, who have been training together for the past two years, don't compete in the same category.

“Anyone who weighs over 84-kg would be lifting with me, and anyone over 72-kg but under 84-kg are in Carole’s category,” she outlined.

Leading up to nationals, Hebert and Vachon spent months preparing, working with their coach Jessica Brennan on a 12-week program.

According to Brennan, the first phase focuses on building volume, followed by month two, which is all about strength.

The final step of the process is power.

“That’s where all of the frustration and emotions (come out) because people are tired after training for that long,” Brennan described.

There's more to training than just building strength. Brennan explained how every lifter experiences each one of these stages differently, not only physically, but also emotionally.

“For some people, like Janine, it’s very emotional, while for Carole it’s not as much, but she also has to take care of herself otherwise she gets sick all of the time."

Hebert agreed.

“Powerlifting is physical, but I would also say it’s mental, just because of how you prepare and how you focus on recovery. The training is really important, but what you do after, like eating properly, hot baths, and deep tissue massages, that’s huge."

For example, post nationals Hebert and Vachon both struggle to come back to reality.

“That whole day is such a high, your just forcing yourself and then it’s done and you’re trying to calm down,” described Vachon.

Hebert laughed as she shared the story of her post-competition meal.

“We were too tired to really eat, so I brought my leftovers back to the room and I had my tray on my chest and I was just eating my lobster at 10 p.m. because I was hungry by then."

Although they train together, Hebert said the way they cope with major events differs. While Vachon's nerves get to her, Hebert always cries.

"That's just what I do," she told the Nouvelle.

Now that the weight of competing on a national stage is off of their shoulders, the pair can put one competition behind them, at least for a few days.

Hebert said even though the Canada-wide competition has come and gone, their training and hard work is far from over.

"Everyone keeps asking ‘are you still on your lifting high?’ And I’m thinking ‘that was done 48 hours after I won,’ because as a powerlifter you’re never really done. We take a week off from the gym after we compete… and then we start back getting back into it," Hebert exclaimed. “If you’re wanting to have longevity in the sport, you’re never done. We’re already looking at provincials, which are in July. You don’t just stop for six months."

When asked why they love a sport that is growing in popularity among Canadian women, Vachon said it's the challenge of always trying to beat your own personal best.

“There are always goals to set, there’s no ceiling."

Hebert said, “We do it because we love it."

Brennan encourages anyone interested in giving the sport a try to reach out by contacting the Centennial Centre and asking for her personally.

"It's for all ages, all weights, all genders. That's one thing that's really amazing about powerlifting is it's for everyone and you can start at any fitness level. A lot of people think that in order to compete you have to be in some vision of shape that they have in their head, but it's really for everybody."

Meagan MacEachern, Bonnyville Nouvell