(YKS Media @yksmedia)

(YKS Media @yksmedia)

Two Kelowna lifters represent the country in Colombia

Mike Bencsik and Kayla Shepard brought home medals and personal bests from the Pan-Am championships

Kelowna weightlifters made history at the Pan American Championships.

Mike Bencsik and Kayla Shepard represented the Okanagan and held their own among some of the world’s strongest at the international competition in Bogotá, Colombia from July 24 to 29.

The championships were Shepard’s first out of country Olympic weightlifting event and the first time a female lifter from the Okanagan has competed at an international event.

She previously competed at the international level in snowboarding during her youth, but this was completely different, said Shepard.

After a few days spent acclimatizing to the high altitude of Columbia with some training sessions, and weighing in at her competition weight of 59kn, it was go-time.

Nervous in a new environment, Shepard missed her first lift, the snatch, at a weight that is usually easy for her.

After a brief pause, she stepped up to try again… and missed. Now, the pressure was on. In order to continue in the competition she had to make the third and final snatch.

“Unfortunately I have put myself in this situation before,” said Shepard. She used the confidence built during hard training sessions over the past few years to step up to the bar and execute a textbook snatch at 77kg.

“It doesn’t matter about before, you have to approach each lift like a new lift.”

She did well in the next session, the clean and jerk, and lifted 101kg.

Shepard said that as soon as she sat down, she was motivated for more. She knows that she is capable of bigger lifts and is already looking to her next competition, in September, where she will be looking to improve on her personal bests. She has only been in the sport for a few years, and after celebrating her 24 birthday in Columbia, has many years of high-level lifting to come.

A veteran of Olympic lifting in Kelowna, Mike Bencsik, was also competing and won Canada’s only medal at the event. The medal was also the Okanagan’s first Olympic weightlifting medal at an international competition.

Despite being only 33 years old, Bencsik has been lifting for many years and is largely responsible for the growth and development of lifting in Kelowna.

He overcame a wrist injury to qualify for the event, and then once in Columbia, became ill with altitude sickness.

Bencsik suffered with “lightheadedness” (sic) and felt short of breath in the low-oxygen environment of Bogotá, which is certainly not ideal when attempting to lift more than 200kg overhead.

At one point, his oxygen saturation was measured at only 89 percent.

However, when it came time to compete he flipped the switch and let his training take over.

“I just wanted to smash it,” said Bencsik.

After “smashing” the 208kg, silver medal winning, clean and jerk, Bencsik said he looked over at his coach and said “we did it.”

Despite the fact that weightlifting is an individual sport, Bencsik said that it is really his whole team that got him to where he is now. His coach, Guy Greavette, the Vikings weightlifting club, and the West Kelowna Integrated Health Center have all been instrumental in the silver medal, said Bencsik.


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