All you beautiful women out there, are you planning to hit the gym. Take inspiration from these phenomenal sisters who have created history by becoming the first sisters in the world to compete in the same sport; not one, not two, but yes, you read that right, these four sisters are taking the world of female weightlifting and powerlifting by storm. This incredible quartet belonging to the Christian community of Lahore lets their lifting do all the talking!
Twinkle Sohail, 21, is studying BS Sports Sciences at University of Lahore. In 2015, Twinkle became the first Pakistani female powerlifter to win four gold medals in 47 kg category of Junior (Under-21) at the Asian Bench-Press Championship (ABP) held in Oman. Sybil Sohail followed her sister’s footsteps and made headlines after winning gold for squat, bench press, deadlift, and total weight at the International Oceania Pacific Powerlifting Championship held in Singapore in 2017. She graduated with a degree in BS Sports Sciences and Physical Education from Punjab University and is currently pursuing PhD. Mariyum Sohail, completed her Bachelors from Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU). She is a national champion in weightlifting and powerlifting. She won a bronze medal in ABP 2018. Last but not the least, Veronica Sohail studying at St. Anthony's College, Lahore won gold medal in the women’s Under-17, 47 kg category at the Asian Pacific Classic and Equipped Powerlifting & Bench Press Championships 2018, held in Dubai. The Sohail sisters also known as ‘Power Girls’ received international recognition for creating a unique record in 2018, at the ABP Championship held in Dubai. The Asian Powerlifting Federation (APF) in a statement said, “In the APF powerlifting history, we never had four sisters competing at any powerlifting event and all four winning medals.” ISPR acknowledged the Power Girls for making their country proud and included them in the 100 Pride of Pakistan list.
In a recent interview with Hilal for Her, the wonderful sisters shared their journey and experiences.
What motivated you to pursue an unconventional sport like weightlifting and powerlifting as a career?
Twinkle: I started weightlifting and powerlifting in 2012. Initially, my brother, Adil and I started taking interest in the sport and our first coach was our father, Sohail Javed Khokhar. My father and I wanted that I should pursue a sport that is unique and different from the rest and so I opted for weightlifting and powerlifting.
In 2015, I went to Oman and competed in powerlifting. I was 52 kg at the time and won a gold medal for Pakistan, lifting 160 kg. I became the first Pakistani female to win gold for weightlifting at an international event. We also participated and won many laurels in national powerlifting, weightlifting and Kabaddi competitions held at home.
In 2017, my sister, Sybil and I went to Singapore and participated in the International Oceania Pacific Powerlifting Championship. We won four gold medals. I participated in the 72 kg category and lifted 240 kg. In 2018, all four of us participated in ABP, held in Dubai. We broke two records in Dubai. This was the first time in history that four sisters participated in a weightlifting and powerlifting tournament and we all won medals. I won gold medals in 2015, 2017 and 2018. And, the journey continues!
Sybil: When Twinkle started weightlifting and powerlifting, I along with my younger sisters followed into her footsteps and developed a keen interest for the sport. Twinkle was our inspiration and our mentor.
Did you face any criticism from family or relatives? How did you overcome the tough road to success?
Sybil: Our grandfather and other family members did not support us at first. They discouraged our father as well. My grandfather was upset with my father when we started out. Our father and mother, however, always supported us. We were never alone in our struggle; our father has been a pillar of strength for us. Once we started winning medals, all those who were initially against us started supporting and motivating us.
We struggled a lot because this sport requires intense physical training. When we used to come back home from our training sessions, our father would drink water but would give us milkshake. We battled against the wind to reach where we are today and hard work helped us in carving a name for ourselves and making Pakistan proud.
It is extremely important to have parents believe in not only girls’ education but in sports as well. Everyone faces criticism and if your parents are by your side then overcoming all hurdles become a lot easier. I feel proud that our parents have supported us through thick and thin may it be sports or education. It was essential for us to excel in both. So my father, mother and brother took us to training camps and helped us in our studies as well. For a player, the support of their family is crucial. I feel lucky to have been born to parents who support their children’s ambitions and motivate them to purse their dreams regardless of what others say.
Our father is our biggest supporter and we have tried to turn his dream into reality. I would like to give the credit of my achievements to my parents because we would not have been here without their support. Raising and feeding a single sportsman or woman is difficult, imagine what my parents have gone through in order to raise four sportswomen. I would also like to mention my coach, Mr. Rashid Malik, because it is only a coach who makes or breaks a player. Mr. Rashid has played a pivotal role and without him we might not have been able to win medals.
Belonging to a minority in Pakistan, did you experience discrimination or lack of acknowledgement?
Twinkle: None at all. Let me share the story of my grand welcome when I competed in Kabbadi Championship 2013, held in India. A former MPA of Lahore, Mr Shehzad Munshi, organized a huge function for us in Lahore, where all the Bishops and other dignitaries of Christian community gathered to show support. All churches in Pakistan support us and we feel proud to belong to a Christian family. We never felt that we were different from others. We are only Pakistanis and when we compete at home or abroad, we represent the green and white. For me the best feeling is when Pakistan’s national anthem is played whenever I or my sisters win gold.
Twinkle, you started your journey as a cyclist and then switched to weightlifting and powerlifting. What inspired you to switch fields?
There are girls in Pakistan who play cricket and football but I always wanted to be different, therefore, I chose powerlifting and weightlifting. I started training for it at Qaddafi Stadium, Lahore. After two years of training, a selection committee was formed to select players for the Kabaddi World Cup 2013; the committee only selected girls who had been training in weightlifting as they needed strong women on the team. This was the first time that a women’s team for Kabaddi World Cup was formed in Pakistan. I was one of the lucky ones to have been selected for the team for the position of a stopper and was the youngest player at the tournament. I went to India to compete in the Kabaddi World Cup in 2014 as well and our team won the bronze medal. After that, I continued my weightlifting training along with my studies.
We compete more passionately against India; please share your memorable moments and achievements against them?
Twinkle: No doubt about that; all Pakistani sportsmen and women compete with a lot of passion especially against India. When I won gold against India, I felt extremely proud of myself but I also appreciated the efforts of other athletes.
How do you train and motivate each other?
Veronica: When we are training, we encourage and motivate each other a lot. Sybil competes in 49 kg category, she lifts 130 kg in weightlifting and 270 kg in powerlifting, Mariyum competes in 72 kg category, she lifts 120 kg in weightlifting and 200 kg in powerlifting. Twinkle lifts 145 kg in weightlifting and a whopping 370 kg in powerlifting. Since we compete in different categories, we maintain a friendly atmosphere at the club and at home. I believe this has strengthened our bond. Whenever or wherever I am wrong, my sisters correct me and teach me the right technique to lift. I feel elated to be one of the Sohail Sisters.
How do you maintain your fitness regime for a healthy lifestyle?
Sybil: Our mother takes special care of our diets as each one of us follows a different diet plan. Twinkle, Mariyum and Veronica mostly require a different diet plan as they have to gain weight, whereas, I need to control weight and so require a different one. Apart from this, we consume juices, fruits, eggs, mutton, beef, fish, nuts, etc. I believe my mother has the toughest job in this context as she has to look after every person’s individual needs.
What are your future plans?
Sybil: My sisters and I have won several medals and accolades for our country including the title of ‘Strongest Women’. In the future, we would like to represent Pakistan in South Asian Games, Commonwealth Games as well as Olympics but for that my sisters and I need support in terms of better facilities, opportunities and recognition.
Twinkle: We feel extremely proud that the four of us have created a record for Pakistan. It is an honour that we ‘Power Girls’ not just participate in competitions but also bring back laurels for Pakistan. For this, we train rigorously. We went through a lot of emotional and physical pain to understand the sport and let me tell you that the journey was not easy.
The equipment used in powerlifting is extremely expensive and the weights used in this sport are very costly. We need proper gear including knee grips, elbow grips and shoes. Along with this, we follow a strict diet plan that also requires a lot of money. We are recognized for our accomplishments in the world and we urge Pakistan to invest in this sport so that more like us can come forward and make a name for themselves and Pakistan.
Yes, we are in need of financial assistance and sponsorships and I believe that we have proved that we are worthy of it. My family and I hope that all kinds of sports are supported equally. I also believe that the sportsmen and women should be recognized for their achievements and be awarded for their struggle and commitment to the country. We are passionate about representing Pakistan in the future as well and are prepping for the upcoming Commonwealth Games, to be held in Singapore.
Share your thoughts for those who would like to pursue a career in women’s weightlifting and powerlifting?
Mariyum: All those who are reading this, I would like for you to come forward and pursue weightlifting and powerlifting. Sybil is currently coaching 12 to 15 girls and I want more girls to participate in this sport. But I would like to emphasise here that it is not necessary that you compete in sports to make Pakistan proud, you can pursue any field be it education, Armed Forces, media or medicine, etc. Lastly, I would also request all parents to believe in their children and support them in whatever careerthey wish to pursue. HH
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