Pakistani weightlifter Rabia Shahzad wins gold in Glasgow

Pakistani weightlifter Rabia Shahzad, after winning a gold medal at the Glasgow Open Weightlifting Championship (Courtesy: Rabia Shahzad)
Pakistani weightlifter Rabia Shahzad, after winning a gold medal at the Glasgow Open Weightlifting Championship (Courtesy: Rabia Shahzad)

PAKISTANI prodigy Rabia Shahzad has clinched a gold medal in Glasgow Open Classic Weightlifting Championship 2020.

What makes Shahzad’s feat outstanding is that she is self-trained, and travelled from Karachi to Glasgow on her own, with no coach or aide.

The BBA student at Institute of Business Administration, Karachi, took up her passion for weightlifting seriously only a couple of years ago.

Thereon, she has been displaying impressive performances in the 49kg category—silver at Asian Benchpress Championship (Dubai, 2018); gold at Ralph Cashman Open (Sydney, 2018), silver at Singapore Open (2019); silver at Welsh Open (UK, 2019); and gold at Hampshire Weightlifting Championship (UK, 2019).

And when she lifts those bars, it is not just the weight plates that go up. Her aspirations, too, rise high.

She said: “The journey has been tough, and there have been many obstacles, but I have just been steadfast because weightlifting is my passion and I love it.”

Recalling the challenges at Glasgow, the young lifter says she found the hotel she had booked in “really scary”, as there was a pub on the ground floor.

“I saw a pub environment for the first time, and got worried thinking about crime against women,” she says. 

Shahzad, 21, hails from a sporting family. Her father, Mohammad Shahzad, is a rower and her sister, Mahoor, is a top badminton player.
Before fixing on weightlifting, Shahzad tried eight sporting fields.

“As a little child, I wanted to become a wrestler,” she once told a Pakistani newspaper.

She used to wrestle with her father, and could chase brats away while in Class 4. She then dabbled with swimming, rowing, badminton and running, too.

But Shahzad, eventually, found her calling in weightlifting.

She delved into deep research on weightlifting, as she turned, in her words, “my own coach” because she found no professional support in Karachi.

Shahzad trains at a makeshift gym at her home. She films herself and analyses the videos to correct her stance and technique.

“Back in Karachi, there is no weightlifting facility or coach… I have been coaching myself,” says Shahzad. (Courtesy: Rabia Shahzad)

“Back in Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city, there is no weightlifting facility or coach,” she rues. “I have made a gym inside my home’s dining room, and I have been coaching myself.”

Her father helps her whenever he’s around, and her mother takes care of her diet plans and recites “verses from the Quran in the hope of keeping me out of harm’s way”.

There were reservations from various quarters, including sports bodies, when she started training in powerlifting, recalls Shahzad.

“There are myths associated with women lifting weights in Pakistan; it’s considered unhealthy for a woman to lift weights,” she says. 

“Also, there are people who speak extremely negative about women getting into such fields, especially by raising the issue of pardah (veil).”

Shahzad is grateful for the solid support from her family, especially her father. “In Pakistan, it is very important,” she says. 

What next? First, a shot at the Asian Games, and then the Olympics, says Shahzad.