Nicola Paviglianiti knows first-hand that seeing is believing. Although few could imagine that the 5.1’ 115-pound Alberta woman can lift over 350lbs, she does, and often, and has international competition medals to prove it.
“At this point I don’t have a goal weight to lift, I want to lift all the weights,” says the 24-year-old Team Canada power lifter.
“There is no end point. Anything is possible.”
Defying expectations has given her the confidence to take every opportunity and run with it. After hearing a friend talk about how powerlifting has a small following in Zimbabwe through the charity Lift4Life, she decided to see how she could support the fledgling community there and explore how sports can create positive change.
Grassroots weightlifting in Zimbabwe
Paviglianiti’s thesis for a Masters in International Humanitarian Action from University College Dublin, allowed her to go to Zimbabwe and research how grassroots weightlifting activities can be used to create positive impact on marginalized communities.
A big part of her work has been raising funds for gym equipment and getting them built. Hiring local welders creates livelihood and employment opportunities and the equipment is donated to a community gym open to all. Then, Paviglianiti facilitates programming to help them use the equipment.
“Weightlifting is empowering, especially for women, and addresses many health issues, including substance abuse and nutrition,” she says.
Nicola met Audrey her first time in Zimbabwe in 2017. The 34-year-old single mother, who lives in a marginalized community with a lack of running water and electricity, saw Nicola power lift and was inspired to get involved. Audrey has now competed internationally twice, was the first female in Zimbabwe to compete internationally, and is currently running the Zimbabwe Powerlifting Federation.
“It’s definitely changed her life. She’s taking coaching courses and has been able to create a livelihood out of it,” says Paviglianiti, who is proud to now call Audrey a friend. “She’s changed her health and inspired her daughter and the rest of the community. She’s broken a lot of barriers and become a leader in her community.”
If you can see it, you can be it
Seeing women take leadership roles in the community has been one of the biggest changes Nicola has seen as a result of her programming.
“Young girls see Audrey and realize they could be them one day and also be leaders,” she says. “It also becomes acceptable for men to see women taking leadership positions and succeeding. They begin working together to create that positive change.”
Building leaders in the community is one of Nicola’s primary goals, allowing her programs to grow and become sustainable. Having local coaches carry on the programming allows Nicola to continue her work elsewhere. She just won a global grant to open power lifting gyms in Kenya.
Support in Alberta
Nicola feels very privileged to have grown up in Alberta. One of her dreams is to eventually start local free gyms in her own community as a hub to offer resources, helping to build connections and a network for those who need it.
“Female mentors and role models are so important everywhere in the world and seeing more female leaders in Alberta has been really inspiring,” she says. “That kind of encouragement means a lot.”
Determined to succeed
Paviglianiti attributes her success in and out of the gym to a lot of hard work and dedication.
“People don’t see the behind-the-scenes training hours at the gym every day. Just as in life, I have a lot of bad days too, with injuries and setbacks but you have to overcome them,” she says.
“It’s the same with international development work. There are so many things that can throw you off, -like delays or theft. Powerlifting has taught me that you just keep going and working hard, and ultimately it pays off in so many ways."
Nicola’s four tips for creating sustainable initiatives:
- Get to know the community. Understand their needs, strengths and opportunities.
- Identify leaders. Find allies with similar goals and dreams to work with you.
- Focus on strengths. Build on what’s working and try not to focus on what’s not.
- Learn from failure. Learn from your mistakes instead of dwelling on them. If you figure out what went wrong and fix it, you will succeed. Look at it as an opportunity to be better and stronger for next time.