This 26-Year-Old Pharmacist Is Asia’s Champion Powerlifter

Her foray into the sport was incidental.

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Farhanna Farid, 26, Powerlifter

Farhanna is a powerlifter. If you’re looking at her photo and thinking, “Sure or not?”, you’re not alone. She says most people don’t believe her when she reveals that fact about herself. “I think it’s generally because of my size. I’m just this tiny, short, little thing,” she laughs.

The 26-year-old made headlines last year when she bagged three gold medals at the Asian Classic Powerlifting Championship—her first international competition.

Her foray into powerlifting was casual and incidental—she had been accompanying her powerlifter boyfriend for training at the gym for five years when he realised that she had been breaking national records just by lifting leisurely. “He decided we should do something out of this. [He said,] ‘You can’t just train and shadow me for nothing. Let’s get you a proper coach and smash some records.’”

She only started proper training a year-and-a-half ago

Spurred on, she decided to give competitive powerlifting a go because she wanted to work towards a goal. Before she accompanied her boyfriend in powerlifting, she had started gymming without an end goal in mind—she simply wanted to correct imbalances in her body she had developed as a runner. “I felt that I had nothing to lose and this was something fresh. Knowing I had this untapped potential, I was curious about how much more I could grow as a person from that.” She was also inspired watching powerlifters as a spectator at competitions. She recalls thinking, “I wanna do that. I want to be part of this thing.” She started training under a coach in early 2018.

While most athletes start training when they’re younger, she doesn’t think being a late bloomer is to her disadvantage—instead, she saw it as an edge. “Powerlifting is not just a physical game, it’s a mental game as well. I felt that as a mature athlete, I’m more responsible for my own lifts and I took ownership [of my progress].”

Within a month of training, she was on her way to her first competition, Singapore Powerlifting Open 2018—and it was only then that her parents found out about her side hustle. “I didn’t tell them much. Before they knew it, I told them, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m competing in this powerlifting competition. Feel free to come (laughs).”

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Printed fur coat, Moschino. Velvet dress, Balenciaga at Yoox. Leather booties, Manolo Blahnik.

She kept her hobby a secret from almost everyone

However, her parents had a few concerns about her new hobby. They weren’t just worried about the risk of injuries, but they were concerned she would end up looking too muscular and that the tough training might affect her fertility in the future. “My parents are very traditional and conservative. They don’t expect a girl to look muscular.” However, she explained to them that it takes more than just lifting to actually put on the bulk.

She also clarifies that powerlifting is good for her health when they brought up concerns about her “reproductive future”. She says, “I think it’s a new concept to them. I’m just slowly feeding them little bits and pieces of information about how powerlifting is actually healthy.”

It wasn’t just her parents who were kept in the dark. She also kept her powerlifting hobby a secret from her friends and colleague—her boss only found out right before the competition when she applied for leave of absence to represent Singapore, while her colleagues found out after one of them spotted her on someone’s Instagram feed and spread the word. “My bosses and directors all found out. And now they can’t see me in the same way. They always ask me about it. It’s actually quite sweet.”

Her friends, on the other hand, were surprised when they found out. “They were like, ‘You used to hate the 2.4km runs!’” She adds, “They were all very surprised but they told me what I was doing was great.” Some of them got curious and even joined her at the gym… but didn’t stick around long enough to join the team.

And we don’t blame them because her schedule is intense. When asked how often she trains, she laughs and says, “My parents will say ‘too often’.” She trains four days a week—including Saturdays—despite juggling a full-time job. After she ends her pharmacist day job at Jurong Polyclinic at around 5pm to 6pm, she heads to the gym at Ngee Ann City. She starts warming up at the gym at 6.30pm, begins proper training an hour later and ends after 11pm—sometimes midnight. “I have my other teammates there so it’s kind of a social thing. So we kind of take our time with it.”

Another way they socialise? By drinking bubble tea. “We all have a bubble tea diet,” she jokes. We train at Ngee Ann City and downstairs, there’s LiHo and everything, so it’s so bad. We’ve been drinking too much bubble tea. But it’s OK, we need the carbs, right? That’s what we keep telling ourselves.”

 

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She trained through injuries for two weeks

It may sound like a social meet but when she trains, she trains hard. In fact, she even sustained injuries while preparing for the Asian championships. She had been using her teammate’s belt to train “but because my torso was so short, the belt was actually kind of crushing on my rib to a point where I couldn’t even breathe. On bad days, I couldn’t even sneeze without being in pain. I couldn’t laugh.” She had initially thought the bruises she sustained were just “teething issues” or that she had her stance wrong until she realised she couldn’t even inhale when she had it on. “I loved it so much, it really gave me good support, but on the downside, it was really rib-crushing.”

Her coach had to adjust her training regime while she let her injury heal. “As an athlete, it was very demoralising. You know you’re not performing to your full potential and you’re not hitting what was originally planned for.”

She continued to train through the pain but eventually decided to ditch the belt and trained belt-less. Belts are supposed to protect a powerlifter’s back and prevent back injuries, but she says once you get the proper techniques down-pat, you don’t have to rely on equipment. During the Asian championship, she wore the belt for the last time before getting a customised one done.

Does this mean she’s ready to go full-time and quit her day job? The National University of Singapore graduate clarified that she will not be hanging up her lab coat any time soon because her passion still lies in medicine and caring for people’s health. “The thought has crossed my mind several times but I felt that pharmacy is where my other passion lies.” She adds, “And it’s helping to fund my powerlifting. Pharmacist by day, powerlifter by night, you know?”

However, she doesn’t rule out the possibility of giving up pharmacy one day to be a powerlifting coach. “Maybe when I’ve gained mastery of the sport, when I’m confident enough to coach people and write up programmes… maybe I’ll venture into that, [as a coach or] to do this as a full-time athlete rather than a sideline kind of thing. Then at least I can pump my everything into it.”

CLEO Change Makers 2019

Read more about the CLEO Change Makers here. For more career advice, money tips, and general guides to adulting, check out our Change Makers digital issue.

 

Photography: Brendan Zhang
Styling: Cheryl Chan
Hair: Ash Loi 
Hair and makeup: 
Zoel Tee

Styling Assistant: Melissa Lee

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