The Ignite Interview

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Leena Furtado – Undisputed Powerlifting Champion (1993 – 1999)

Leena Furtado is a quiet unassuming parishioner, a regular church-goer, fun-loving, friendly and even participated in the Parish throwball tournament last year. But to learn that she was a Powerlifting Champion in the 1990’s was a surprise and we couldn’t help but want to learn more about her. Valancio D’souza from our Media Team sat down with Leena for an interview. Read on and be inspired!

How did you first get involved into sports? What attracted you, and how did you discover your talent for it?

I have been an athlete throughout my childhood with a keen interest in sports. My brothers have been a pillar of my success. They used to take me out for practise, I used to play along with them and they used to train me in Track and Field events.

My formal introduction to competitive sports took place at my school, Divine Child, when I was in the seventh standard. This was the first time my school organized sports selections, and I was there out of curiosity. As I stood on the sidelines watching, I was noticed by Joe Crasto, a sports organizer. Seeing that I was not participating but seemed interested, Crasto encouraged me to join in. He handed me a ‘shot putt’ and asked me to throw, and I spontaneously did it. This was my initial foray into the world of sports.

I participated in National Level Athletics; but still wanted to wanted to compete in something else. So, I started playing football. I was selected for the Bombay Team, we represented the state and we were runners up that year. Later, I switched to Kabaddi and experienced similar success, with my team again finishing as runners-up. These experiences in team sports set the foundation for my future athletic achievements.

What motivated you to participate in powerlifting and compete at an international level?

So, one day, I was traveling home from work, and I happened to get down at Bombay Central for no reason at all. When I was standing on the platform, someone tapped me on my shoulder and said to me “You are Leena”. I said ‘yes’, wondering how she knew my name. She said she was going to the gym and invited me to go along with her. I was reluctant because I didn’t know her, but she replied, “But I know you”. She was none other than Smt. Sarala Shetty, an Asian Powerlifting Champion. She asked me to lift some weights which I could manage quite easily and thus began my journey as a Power Lifter and this marked my entry in the international arena.

What was the experience representing India in the Asian Powerlifting Championship in 1996 and the World Championship in 1999?

Those were hectic days, I was focused only on my sports and on my work. I would wake up at 5am and run on the steps. I would come back, lie down and then after some time I would get back to jogging.

Representing India puts a lot of pressure on you.  But it was good pressure, it did not make me nervous. In fact, I was very excited about representing India and was excited to take on the challenge.

It was an incredible experience. The atmosphere was great, with powerlifters from across Asia and the world. However, I was determined to focus only on my performance and not to worry about the rest. I needed to do my best and keep improving every time.

Looking back on your powerlifting journey, what advice would you give to aspiring athletes who wish to pursue a career in the sport? Are there any key lessons or insights you would like to share with them?

Not just in Powerlifting but in any field, you must first set the goal and then put your whole self into achieving it. For me, my goal was to compete at an international level and win.  It didn’t matter which field, I tried all sports, from football and kabaddi, to track and field events. Eventually, I became a powerlifting Champion because I developed stamina, speed and strength. For strength, you need to keep yourself healthy by eating well. My parents supported me by making sure I had everything I needed. My mother used to cook daily for me and made sure I got a proper diet. That is how I managed to keep up my strength, speed and stamina.

Any last thoughts you want to give?

Focus on what you are doing and keep practicing. Give your best in whatever you do. Do not compare yourself to anyone else. If you keep comparing, then you will not succeed. Focus on your goal. Remove negativity. Think positive.