Mona Pretorius is petite, blonde and 22. She’s also an Olympic weight-lifter and a woman of deceptive physical strength. This weekend she’s representing South Africa at the 2011 Reebok CrossFit Games in California for the first time.
Mona began Olympic weightlifting nine years ago – at the age of 13. She says she initially got involved with it to help develop and improve ‘explosive power and speed’ in her karate.
At this stage she was already headed for glory as a six-time world champ in karate, so a future in competitive sport was clearly on the cards.
Yet, as a slim woman barely tipping the scale at 60kg and with no obvious bulges of muscles or masculine tendencies as goes the prescribed stereotype for female bodybuilders, what’s it like being a young woman in such a competitive, male-dominated sport?
“In the beginning I got a lot of negative comments because of the stereotype people put on the sport without having any outside knowledge of it, but now perceptions are beginning to change. I’m getting a lot more positive feedback from everyone as they can see that even though you can do this ‘hard-core’ sport it’s still possible keep your femininity. I mean, I’ve been doing it for years, but yet I still like girly things like shopping and spending time with my friends,” she says.
The girl behind the weight-lifter
But who is this quiet and ambitious young woman when she’s not weight-lifting and setting herself new records and goals?
Click to watch this video of Mona preparing for the 2011 CrossFit Games.
Mona works as a strength and conditioning trainer at Transfit Gym in Cape Town where she does boot-camp style type training, as well as individual and specialised training. She also trains at Cape CrossFit, which is where she began her journey to the CrossFit Games in February.
However, she’s also just a girl at heart though, and says she loves nothing more than “hanging out with my friends or going to my home town (Port Elizabeth) to visit family and friends ...I might just add I love shopping.”
Achievements so far
While she might only be a tender 22 years of age, Mona has already racked up a very impressive list of achievements including being a six-time world champion in karate, the first South African weightlifter to ever win a medal at a world championships event (2009 Greece), she’s also a youth senior and junior Gold Medallist in weightlifting and an SA senior and Junior record holder .
She has so far competed twice at the Commonwealth Games and recently won the Crossfit Regional African Championships women’s division after only three months of training in crossfit. This weekend she is competing in California at the international CrossFit Games representing South Africa.
Behind the numbers
Looking at Mona you’d never guess that such a small frame could be quite so powerful, but once you see her in action you realise that perceptions are indeed very misleading.
When it comes to weightlifting her numbers are staggering, and would impress most hardened gym-goers.
Her maximum snatch weight is 82kg , her clean-and-jerk sits at 102kg, she recently deadlifted a new PR of 160kg , and she comfortably squats a whopping 180kg.
"Its my love for sport that keeps me reaching for higher goals, and I'm determined to always give my best in everything that I do. I always set myself small goals, and then bigger ones so I know once I achieve the smaller ones, I'm one step closer to my biggest ones."
Big dreams and future plans
As a first time competitor in the CrossFit Games, Mona says she’s very excited to not only be competing in such an event, but also to be representing her country yet again.
She says her strategy is to make sure she has had sufficient training “to be the best I can be on the day, and to just go out there and improve my personal bests”.
You can watch Mona competing at the CrossFit Games here.
Other long-term goals include the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games and she has her eye set on winning the Crossfit World Championships in 2012-2013.
Tips for aspiring female weight-lifters
“If you are interested in weight-lifting and it’s a passion of yours, don’t let anyone stop you from going out there and doing it. There aren’t a lot of girls doing it at the moment and there are very few coaches in this country – but to me it’s a way of expressing how strong women can actually be,” she says.
We wish Mona and the other South African competitors at the CrossFit Games this weekend the best of luck. Follow the Team Cape CrossFit's journey to the Games on their blog here.
(Amy Froneman, Health24, July 2011)