By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Grant Higa and Alma Kimura scored victories in their respective powerlifting divisions at the World Championships in Minsk, Belarus this past June.
The two Asian Pacific Islanders from Hawaii competed for Team USA at the International Powerlifting Federation Classical World Championships, after successful competitions in Orlando, Fla. in June.
Higa, 46, competed in the M1category (ages 40–49), winning second place in his division. Competitors from all over the world came to the World Championships to compete. Higa completed squats of 683 pounds, a bench press of 446.43 pounds, and 315 pounds in the deadlift.
Higa grew up on a farm in Hawaii and described himself as “country strong,” as he never touched weights growing up.
While working for a moving company, Higa met a coworker who eventually got him into powerlifting. Higa recalled that he could bench 325 pounds when he weighed just 165 pounds. The coworker invited Higa to lift with him, which required an early wake-up call, as training sessions started at 5:30 a.m. (They had to fit in two- to three-hour training sessions prior to going to work.) Getting up early prior to work laid a foundation of commitment to powerlifting, which continues for Higa.
Higa’s first powerlifting meet was in 1992, and he has been in competition ever since.
Higa works as a trainer at the Vulcan Corporation in Seattle. He helps employees meet health goals through 30-minute workouts.
Known as the “Higa Monster,” Higa works out three times a week for three hours at a time. In addition, he stretches, does mobility drills, and uses a foam roller to work out the kinks.
In addition to powerlifting, Higa is one of only three pro strongmen in Washington state. Upon the invitation of a friend, in 1998, he started to participate in Strongman competitions. The Strongman competition, as seen on ESPN, involves lifting, pushing, or pulling a variety of heavy objects like boulders.
“I liked how unorthodox it was and how unique it was. It was something different. I was surprised how weird but cool it was.” Higa received his pro card for Strongman competitions in 2001.
He also conducts his own powerlifting competition, Washington’s Strongest Apple. This past year, it had 57 competitors.
Kimura, 62, won first place in her division at the World Championships. In winning, she set a new world record for women in her age and weight category with a deadlift of 315 pounds. The deadlift involves lifting a barbell with weight on each side. The competitor stands in the center of the barbell with weight affixed on each side. They must bend with their knees and grip the barbell palms down, hinge their hips and then explode up while thrusting the bar over their head.
Prior to this, Kimura had never lifted heavy weights. She played tennis during her college days at Vassar and recreational soccer, but never a sport that demanded lifting and squatting weights.
She was 57 years old when she started upon the encouragement of a friend. Her friend, who is 75 years old, was a competitive powerlifter at the time and trained at a gym in Seattle. “You gotta do this. You have the perfect body for it,” said Kimura’s friend.
“I walk into this gym, and she introduces me to this woman,” she recalled, “She has the same body that I do. I guess it must be true. As it turns out, yes. I was also told that Asians have advantage in this sport.”
In addition to her friend, Kimura received encouragement from former Washington State Supreme Court Justice Faith Ireland. Ireland started lifting weights in her late 50s as a result of rehabilitating from a car accident. She went on to set numerous powerlifting records.
Kimura is Japanese Hawaiian and is 4’l0” with short limbs. She stated that she has “fast twitch” muscles, which enable her to do short, explosive movements which benefits powerlifting. The movements of the sport require athletes to perform lifts of extreme weight for short periods of time.
Kimura works with coach Todd Christensen at Seattle Strength and Power. He works with women in the master’s level, which is for competitors 40 years of age and older.
She started in July 2013 and by February 2014, she had set an American record for deadlifts.
“I never realized I would be that strong,” said Kimura.
Originally from Hawaii, Kimura went to college at Vassar College in New York. She recalled it being culture shock as it was the first time that she had been away from Hawaii and was not used to the cold weather. From there, she went to law school at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. She moved to Seattle, where she practiced criminal defense at The Defender’s Association. After several years of practice, she decided to open up her own law firm, where she focuses in family, wills, and estates.
With traveling for competitions, she finds it a challenge to balance work and working out. “It’s becoming increasingly more difficult. There’s a lot of demands for traveling for out of town meets.” Among Kimura’s stops this year included Orlando, Florida, Belarus, and a competition in Sweden.
She works out three days a week after work, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. As for her diet, Kimura admittedly does not have a strict one. “Most powerlifters are encouraged to be careful about their diets, but I don’t,” Kimura added, “I love Chinese food.”
For more on Higa, follow him on Instagram, @higamonster.
Jason Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.