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Northwest B.C.’s Cynthia Leighton bags gold at world bench press championship

Canada’s Cynthia Leighton grabbed gold at the 2024 IPF World Bench Press Championship in Austin, Texas May 24. Niina Koninki from Finland stood second, followed by Great Britain’s Karla Evans. (Screenshot)

The 2024 IPF World Bench Press Championships are underway in Austin, Texas and Cynthia Leighton, a seasoned powerlifter hailing from Prince Rupert, has already made her mark.

Competing in the Masters 63 kg unequipped category, Leighton clinched the gold, adding another significant achievement to her decade-long powerlifting journey.

The championship running from May 21 to June 2 draws athletes from around the globe who have proven their mettle by winning national titles.

“I competed in bench only, and the selection was from all over the world,” Leighton said.

Leighton’s journey to the top, however, has not been without challenges.

Originally from Terrace, she relocated to Prince Rupert about a decade ago. Living in the northwest proved difficult, particularly due to the isolation from major powerlifting communities.

“It’s expensive for travel, most of the provincial meets are in the Lower Mainland. For many years, I was left to train alone or with one or two people,” she recalled.

Despite those hurdles Leighton found a supportive community in Rupert which has kept her motivated through the solitary nature of her training.

Leighton’s love for powerlifting traces back to her teenage years in Terrace, where she worked at North Coast Health and Fitness when she was 15. It was there she met Ernie Milhomens, a world-champion powerlifter, who became a lifelong inspiration and supporter.

“When I posted on social media about winning the gold medal, he sent me a message saying how proud he was. It was a really full-circle moment, 25 years later, to still be in touch with someone who inspired me so much,” Leighton said.

Despite intense training and competition pressures, she maintains a grounded perspective.

“During meets, I let my coaches do their jobs and remind myself that the worst-case scenario isn’t life or death. It’s normal to experience stress and nervousness, It’s a part of being an athlete,” she said.

Looking ahead, Leighton has her sights on the 2025 Nationals and hopes to defend her world title at the next World Bench Press Championships in Norway.

“The Finland coach came and talked to me afterwards. He was like, ‘We’ll see you in Norway next year. We’re coming for you,’ I just thought ‘Chill out, man. It’s just a hobby.’ But yes, I aim to defend my title.”

Cindy’s husband, Lance has been a pillar of support throughout her journey.

“He is my number one strength and support in this journey,” she emphasized.

Talking to Black Press Media while in the gym with her 13- and 15-year-olds, Leighton advised young women aspiring to be powerlifters to ‘Get in the gym, don’t be shy, and find your passion.’

“It can take years. I’ve been lifting competitively for 10 years. Just find what you love doing, and keep doing it.”

She also dismissed any concerns about stigma surrounding women in powerlifting, especially concerning pregnancies.

“I lifted while I was pregnant and have several friends who have competed while pregnant. It’s all about being safe. I’ve never faced any negative reactions about being a woman in this sport at all,” she said.

Leighton is also a strong advocate for the inclusion of powerlifting in the Olympics.

“If we have speed walking in Olympics, why not powerlifting? International Powerlifting Federation is drug tested by the World Anti-Doping Association, just like the Olympics. We are trying to be consistent, fair and stringent. I hope to see it in the next 10 years,” she said.

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Prabhnoor Kaur

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