Blind Victoria woman overcomes obstacles to become gold medal-winning weightlifter
VICTORIA -- Lisa is walking quickly down the street. As she ventures into the new year — she’s considering this past one.
“Oh my goodness!” she says, obviously smiling behind her mask. “You’re going to faint!”
I’m going to faint — the 39-year-old says — after she shows me pictures of the Halloween costume she made a few months ago. It’s a hand-painted sculpted hat, featuring a grimacing zombie face on the front and a spiky COVID-19 molecule on the back.
“I’d like it on the news,” she beams. “Because [the virus] is a famous thing right now!”
Lisa’s enthusiasm is also contagious. It always has been, her mom says.
“She was cute. Lovely baby,” Johanna smiles, before showing me one of her daughter’s beaming baby pictures. “But we soon realized she wasn’t seeing things.”
Johanna and her husband adopted Lisa when she was three months old, while they were living in the Philippines, before the baby was diagnosed as legally blind.
“You’re concerned whether she would be independent enough to get around,” Johanna says.
So, they moved to Canada when Lisa was a teenager, where the girl developed a passion for sports, if not an aptitude.
“She couldn’t follow a ball, couldn’t play soccer. She couldn’t see the hockey puck,” Johanna recalls. “It was a challenge.”
But then, one of Lisa’s coach’s suggested that you don’t need to see things to lift weights.
“I felt like, ‘I can’t do this,’” Lisa frowns, recalling her first attempts at benchpressing and power lifting. “Then I did my best and I did it!”
Lisa’s ‘best’ ended up winning dozens of gold and silver Special Olympic medals at the local, provincial and national level.
When I ask how it felt to deadlift her record of 265 pounds, she smiles: “Great!”
But then the pandemic hit and Lisa found herself feeling anything but.
“Oh my goodness!” she exclaims. “It made me feel devastated!”
Not only was she concerned about the wellbeing of her neighbours, she missed training with her friends.
But then Lisa was invited to join a virtual workout group on Zoom with fellow Special Olympians, led by coach Susan Simmons.
They were challenged to do 200 squats in a row, which proved to be a struggle.
“My muscles were sore and stiff,” Lisa says, before laughing. “I felt like an old senior!”
But Lisa applied her enthusiasm and medal-winning work ethic. After months of training, she not only achieved the goal — she doubled it — and did 500 squats in one session.
“It’s very good,” Johanna smiles. “We’re very proud of her.”
And perhaps most proud of not what their daughter does, but how she does it. Lisa faces her fears with fun. Despite not being able to see, she always looks on the bright side, say her parents.
“She shows us that everybody has an opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons.” Johanna says.