Bhavna Bhave Tokekar, a 47-year-old woman from Pune, won 4 gold medals in powerlifting at the Open Asian Championships held in Chelyabinsk, Russia. The Open Asian Powerlifting Championships, organized by the World Powerlifting Congress (WPF), aims to provide a platform for athletes around the world to participate in the competition and showcase their talent. The competition had over 500 participants, of which 14 were from India.
In her first competition ever, Bhavna Tokekar competed in the U67.5 Masters2 Category and won the gold in full powerlifting raw and bench. Her best lifts were Squat – 85kg, Bench – 62.5kg and Deadlifts – 120kg.
Her Powerlifting Journey
A mother of two, Tokekar is married to an Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot and started weight training after being introduced to it by the members of the IAF bodybuilding team. The training, which initially began as an effort to combat the side effects of the medicine that she took for skin inflammation, later inspired her to compete at the Open Asian Powerlifting Championships.
Gyms are seen as places predominantly occupied by men. Women are often discouraged from taking up intensive exercises and are forced to limit themselves to exercises requiring lesser physical effort.
Tokekar had started researching about powerlifting training on social media platforms such as YouTube and Instagram. She was inspired by Indian powerlifter and World Powerlifting Congress (WPC) Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh state head, Mohammed Azmat, to compete at the championships and received guidance from him for the same. After attending the trials in Bengaluru earlier this year, she qualified for the Masters2 category (age group of 40-45 years).
“There are many myths surrounding body building, weight lifting and other strength sports, especially related to women, like it is meant only for young people and that it makes the body bulky. I started training initially when I was 41, but I wanted to be sure of it since I didn’t want to injure myself or do the wrong technique since weight lifting is not popular here,” she told Hindustan Times.
“Taking part in competitions was a far cry for me, as I didn’t know if I could participate in events at this age, or if I would be able to match up to the standards,” she said about the competition. “I wish there is more awareness about strength sports in the country.”
Also read: Historic Gold Win For Dutee Chand: India’s First Openly Lesbian Athlete
Stereotyping Female Bodies
Women’s participation in sports and athletics is greatly influenced by the belief that they should have a certain kind of body, usually curvy and petite. Having muscular bodies is somehow not considered ‘feminine’ enough, with women often being shamed and criticized for not complying with the traditional standards.
There are many myths surrounding body building, weight lifting and other strength sports, especially related to women, like it is meant only for young people and that it makes the body bulky.
Discussing this existing stigma and how she moved past it, Tokekar posted on a fitness blog,
“Initially I did have inhibitions about bulking up, looking overly muscular and masculine, but I soon rubbished these misconceptions after I read and saw videos about the benefits of weight training by renowned weight trainers, lifters and bodybuilders on the internet and YouTube.”
Sports as Predominantly Masculine
Even with women excelling in sports, there is a notion that sports of all kinds are essentially masculine. Gyms are seen as places predominantly occupied by men. Women are often discouraged from taking up intensive exercises, and are forced to limit themselves to exercises requiring lesser physical effort. There is also a dearth of female trainers in gyms and fitness centres in the country.
Also read: Navigating Through Masculine Spaces: Women In The Gym
Even in Bhavna Tokekar’s case, there is a greater focus on her as a mother of two than as an athlete. Instead of seeing her as just any regular person excelling in powerlifting, her position as a housewife and mother is constantly romanticized – as if it is unimaginable that she could achieve what she did, given her social position.
Featured Image Source: Hindustan Times