More masters memories to be made in Montreal
by Randy Pascal
Combined, the weightlifting tandem of Liisa Vuorensyrja Burk (51) and Mairi Campbell-Runia (41) are still almost a decade shy of hitting
the century mark in age.
That, however, is not the combined number that means anything, at all, to this local pair.
The totals that speak to them involve moreso the aggregate lifts that combine their Olympic style clean and jerk attempts, added to the weights that are
thrust above their heads using the snatch lifting technique, in competition.
Those are the numbers that have allowed both of these women, who have worked closely with long-time weightlifting coach Alex Fera in recent years, to qualify for
the Pan American Masters Weightlifting Championships in Montreal in 2019.
An avid participant in ringette, hockey and broomball over several decades in the Massey and Espanola region, Vuoransyrja Burk was first drawn to weighlifting,
of any kind, via an attraction to Cross-Fit, first and foremost, almost twenty years ago now.
"Cross Fit is a full body workout," she said, completing another session of reps at the New Sudbury venue of True North Cross Fit, just off
Lasalle Boulevard, tucked in the assembly of buildings across the road from Place Hurtibise.
"It's cardio, it's eating right, it's weightlifting for strength, but also weightlifting for resilience. It touches on every different kind of strength
you can have." While Vuorensyrja Burk enjoyed the team aspect of the Cross Fit competitions, and certainly appreciated the wide spectrum of physical growth
from which she benefitted, she would eventually narrow down her scope three to four years ago.
"There is no cardio in this (Olympic lifting), you simply focus on the two lifts: the snatch and the clean and jerk," she explained. "In Cross Fit, you would take lighter
weights, but do multiple reps. Instead of having one perfect lift, you are doing multiple "just get 'em done" lifts."
"The gains here are so small, but when you make those small gains, it's huge," she added. "It makes you feel really good, a real sense of
accomplishment." While Vuorensyrja Burk clearly had a foundation of power that had accumulated from a decade or more of Cross Fit training, Olympic style
lifting presented other challenges altogether.
"It was a matter of starting from square one and getting rid of all of the bad habits that I had in lifting techniques, so that I could end up lifting
heavier weights," she said. "If not, I would have been stuck."
"I needed to start bringing the bar in closer to my body and not muscling it up, using the legs and hips, more than just the arms." Then there are the
more subtle differences, the atmosphere of the respective competitions, for instance.
"At the Cross Fit competitions, everyone is yelling, cheering, everyone is doing something at the same time," noted the life-long resident of Massey.
"At the lifting competitions, everything is quiet. You could hear a pin drop. Everyone is looking at you."
Extremely soft-spoken by nature, Vuorensyrja Burk will be the first to suggest that she is not in her element while standing, all alone, on stage,
preparing for her lifts. "For me, it's still a matter of getting over the stage fright," she said.
"I don't look at anybody in the crowd, I look over their heads. We are trained to pick a spot before we even start that we are going to focus on when
we do our lift." Mairi Campbell-Runia has long overcome those fears. Years of figure skating competition in her formative years in Vancouver would rid her
of any anxiety regarding sets of eyes in the crowd, fixated in her direction.
Her challenge, and one that continues today, is more physical. "The free skate part was tough for me because I am so tall," noted the 5'10" trained
personal trainer. "I always seem to pick the wrong sport," she added with a laugh.
"For weightlifting, you're better off to be built with short legs and a long body. I have long legs and a short body. I think I just like to challenge
myself." For the mother of two athletic young boys, the initiation of her involvement in her current passion was as much professional development as
"I took a course in Olympic weightlifting when I was still in Vancouver and caught the bug," she said. "When I came to Sudbury (some six years ago), I
found a job in a gym and one of my co-workers had been coached by Alex (Fera)."
A true fan of multi-sport training for one and all, Campbell-Runia was quickly convinced of the dividends that Olymic style lifting could yield. "I think
that every young athlete coming into a sport should be using cleans and back squats and what-not to help with power and speed," she said.
On a more personal basis, she understands the balancing act that she faces, moving forward. "Every contest, I try and do a little bit better," she said.
"But as a master (aged) athlete, it's not like every day I'm pushing more weight, more weight, more weight."
"We're not spring chickens, so we need to be careful of our joints and body and stuff. We'll keep lifting, but that's because we're not maxing out
everything." For Campbell-Runia, the Pan Am Masters are becoming old hat. The 2019 edition of the event will mark her third appearance.
"It's definitely a way for me to see the world," she stated. "I brought my family to Gaspé, we made it a holiday. I don't think I would have ever gone to
Puerto Rico, if not for the weightlifting."
"Every time I go, I am more and more comfortable in these contests."