Hong Kong teacher’s journey from 55kg weakling to weightlifting powerhouse

Fiona Kettlewell, originally from Britain, says she was an unlikely candidate to take part in charity team event that set a new record by lifting 1.6 million kilograms in 24 hours

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 May, 2016, 12:31pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 May, 2016, 12:30pm

A quest to discover her limits has taken an English teacher on a journey from weakling to weightlifting powerhouse: in one day, Fiona Kettlewell dead-lifted 44,500 kilograms – 809 times her body weight.

She was part of a team of 24 in the “Pinnacle Million”, a weightlifting challenge staged in March to collectively lift one million kilograms in 24 hours for charity.

Not only did the team reach their goal in 12 hours, they almost doubled it, lifting 1,607,500kg in total – a new Asian record. The numbers are still perplexing for 32-year-old Kettlewell. Slight at only 55kg and with a small frame, she hardly seemed the candidate to take part in a weightlifting record.

“I had never really pushed myself to the limit, so I just wanted to see what I could do if I tried,” says Kettlewell, originally from Britain. “I’ve always been a sporty and active person, but I’ve never been ‘strong’.”

The Pinnacle Million was the inaugural fundraising event for the Pinnacle Foundation, a newly launched charity by local fitness facility Pinnacle Performance to develop underprivileged teens’ health and well-being by encouraging them to take up a sport.

Kettlewell, who heads the foundation, knew she and the team had to do something “bold” to gain attention for their plight. Director of Pinnacle Performance and head strength and conditioning coach Tom Summers came up with the torturous idea.

“It’s something he knew would test him, his coaches, and anyone else who had the guts to sign up,” says Kettlewell. “I wasn’t an obvious candidate to take part. But it was a personal challenge, physically and mentally for me, to see what my body and mind could do and there was never any question about doing what it would take to raise much needed funds for the foundation.”

The change in regime, she says, has stuck for good. “Before joining Pinnace Performance I never used to regularly incorporate weights into my gym sessions. The two-hour sessions have now gone, but I still work out with weights because I want to keep pushing myself. You never want to stop, you just want to keep going and get better.”

What does weight training bring to your life?

Routine, a sense of achievement and a stronger body and mind. I like that I’m challenged on a daily basis.

How do you train to lift a million kilograms?

The training was like nothing I’ve ever done before. Usually, I’m a three-times-a-week kind of gym goer: for the challenge we were working out at least four times a week, and one of those sessions was for two hours on a Saturday morning at 7am – needless to say that took a lot of getting used to.

During my workout I think about how much it hurts, and [about] ... chocolate

What’s the hardest part of heavy weight training?

It’s not the weight – it’s the mental battle that happens every time. During training for the challenge we would have tests in the week, and we would find out on the Monday before what was in store. I would have sleepless nights in anticipation. One particular fear was the “prowler/rowing” challenge: having to push my bodyweight 50 metres then follow that with an 800 metre row in under eight minutes. Every muscle in your body wants to give up and take the easy route; it’s exhausting sticking to it, let alone doing it. But the feeling on completion is the best ever, and satisfies my competitive side.

What was your experience during the epic challenge?

There were two challenges that day: staying awake for 24 hours – which is not easy, especially when you’re exhausted – and then hitting the lift target. Any rest time you had allowed for a shower, a feed, a massage and a quick nap. As the hours wore on, the aches and pains got worse, along with the tiredness. But I never stopped feeling an enormous sense of pride and achievement. All the blood, sweat and tears were worth it.

What I like about my strength training workout at Pinnacle Performance is that it’s always tailored to me personally. I can follow my progress on the iPads around the facility, and get great satisfaction when I can see that I’m increasing my targets each week.

Weight training is the best thing a woman can do, as long as you have a coach who knows what they are doing

During my workout I think about how much it hurts, and if it doesn’t, then I’m not working hard enough. And chocolate, I’m always thinking about my next meal.

After my workout I feel like I can do anything, and that I’m in need of a shower.

What are your thoughts on naysayers on women and weights?

Weight training is the best thing a woman can do, as long as you have a coach who knows what they are doing. It’s the best way to get toned and being strong benefits your body in so many ways. I am living proof that if you weight train you won’t get bigger, just more toned. Women, if you have not tried weight training, do it and you will never look back.