Photo/Courtesy of Keisha Abrigo
Eight years ago, Keisha Abrigo embarked on her physical fitness journey, starting with CrossFit. Like many young women, she aimed to maintain an active lifestyle, keep her body in peak condition, sharpen her mind, and improve her overall quality of life. Five years into her journey, a fellow gym enthusiast invited Keisha to try powerlifting, and that's when her journey took an unexpected turn towards becoming a competitive powerlifter. Despite never considering sports a focal point of her life growing up, Keisha never imagined she would amass so many accolades including the 2023 Guyana Amateur Powerlifting Federation (GAPLF) Raw Nationals Best Female Overall Lifter.
Seeking Inspiration and Role Models
Keisha's initial knowledge of powerlifting was limited to observing muscular men lifting weights at the gym. It wasn't something she saw many women doing. However, when she started her training, the idea of getting stronger, pushing her body's limits, and achieving a fit physique appealed to her.
Given the scarcity of female powerlifters in Guyana, Keisha had to seek inspiration online. As she watched various national competitions on the internet and witnessed women of different weight classes competing for their countries, she told herself, "One day, I want to be one of these women representing my country." Some of her inspirations include powerlifting champion Tamara Wilcox, also known as the Plus Size Fitness Queen, Prescilla Bavoil from the French team, and Jessica Buettner. Keisha firmly believes that if they can achieve greatness, so can she.
In March 2021, Keisha participated in her first powerlifting competition, the Guyana Amateur Powerlifting Federation (GAPLF)'s National Novice Junior Championship and Qualifier at St. Stanislaus College. Competing in the women's open raw category, she emerged as the overall female winner for her weight class, lifting a total of 337.5 kg. Her impressive lifts included a 125 kg squat, a 42.5 kg bench press, and a 160 kg deadlift. Keisha later transitioned to intermediate and then national competitions when she joined the Guyana national team.
Keisha Abrigo emerges as overall female winner at her first powerlifting competition.
"Leading up to a competition and accomplishing lifts that are considered exceptional for a female is a tremendous feeling," Keisha expressed. She is well aware of the misconception that lifting heavy weights may lead to a more masculine appearance, but she firmly disagrees, stating, "As a female powerlifter, I can be strong and still maintain my feminine look."
A Triumph in Peru
Most recently, Keisha Abrigo represented Guyana at the 2023 FESUPO South America Women's Classic Powerlifting Championship in Lima, Peru, in September. She competed in the 76 kg Open category. Although she lagged behind her competitors, particularly Iolanda Costa of Brazil, the number one ranked athlete entering the competition, Keisha made a remarkable comeback. With unwavering determination, in the third and final lift, she hoisted 202.5 kg, securing the Gold overall medal. Abrigo also claimed the South American Women's Classic Bronze medal for bench press.
Keisha Abrigo lifting 202.5 kg at the Women's Powerlifting Championship in Peru.
Winning her last competition in Peru, Keisha felt "emotional." It was a significant achievement, considering her recent recovery from a hip injury, which had affected her squatting abilities. Keisha had hesitated to compete, fearing she might not perform at her best.
"No matter how many times I compete, I still get nervous," she explained. Keisha often finds herself battling self-doubt, but she remains focused on staying calm, enjoying the process, and using disappointments as learning opportunities.
The Road Ahead
When she isn't powerlifting, Keisha works as an administrator at the Guyana Ministry of Education, within the Health and Family Life Unit, and also serves as a trainer at her gym. She expects to complete her master's degree in public policy and administration this year at Jain University in India, aiming to transition into a career in sport education at the primary grade level. Keisha envisions formalizing sports education in Guyana, as the current structure is lacking. She believes this change can help produce well-rounded athletes at an earlier age than the high school or post-high school level.
In the coming year, Keisha aspires to achieve a 400 lb squat and a 500 lb deadlift, obtain certification as a powerlifting coach, and compete in the International Powerlifting Worlds Competition. Her advice for young individuals interested in the sport is to find a gym community with like-minded individuals who can offer the encouragement and support needed to excel. She also encourages them not to fear testing their limits, push themselves, and, above all, have fun.
Keisha advocates for more attention to be paid to physiotherapy and recovery, as well as more support from Guyana's private sector to make powerlifting a more lucrative sport in her country. Recovery and proper training are costly, and private sector backing could go a long way in developing the sport.