Profile: Kayla Sua ’13

Pamela London

Tackling opponents, pushing through scrums and running through the mud on Ankeny Field, senior Kayla Sua looks like any other hard-nosed rugby player. But underneath that exterior, this Motherrucker is an international record-holding weightlifter who has recently come back into the sport to compete at the 2012 World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters World Championships. Two weeks ago, Sua traveled from Walla Walla to Las Vegas, Nev. to test herself at worlds in a sport in which she had not been competitive since she was 17 years old. The day before leaving for worlds, Sua spoke with The Pioneer about her experience with the sport, her expectations for future competitions and her relationship with her dad, also a competitive weightlifter.

Photo by Faith Bernstein.

When did weightlifting start getting serious for you?

When I first started when I was 13 it wasn’t that serious. I actually went in because I was really shy when I was in middle school and I wanted something to get me out of my shell, and being able to compete in front of lots of people … In my mind it would help me be more confident. So I went just to work out and have fun with the team, and I ended up actually being kind of good and I really liked it so I kept doing it. So I got really serious when I was in high school, and I actually started competing to go to nationals and worlds and stuff, and then I stopped in college because it was too hard to commute back and forth … When I was in high school I went to three world championships and my last one I finished with, it was when I was 17 and I ranked first in teens and third overall women. And that was the last one I did. Now this is the first one I’ve done in three years.

What prompted you to get back into serious weightlifting and go to worlds again?

I missed it. I missed it since I stopped freshman year. But I knew that I didn’t have time … My dad still does it. Just this past summer I went and watched him compete and he did fairly well but he was like, I don’t think I’m going to go, because it was kind of like our thing that we did together and he just felt weird doing it just by himself and I jokingly was like, oh I’ll do it with you, and he was like, really? And after that it was like, oh I’m doing it and it’s still weird because it was a joke and now I’m going!

Your dad is also a weightlifter. How did he get into the sport?

My dad started after me. He used to drop me off and wait in the car and my coach saw him and was like, that’s a big guy––do you know if he would want to try lifting? And my dad got really into it.

Sua and her father. Photo courtesy of Kayla Sua.

How do you like competing alongside your dad?

I love it. It’s the thing that made me want to go back, honestly. Me and my dad have always been really close … There’s not really that many father-daughter pairs in the sport in general and we kind of push each other. When I’m up on stage the only [voices] I hear [are] him and my coach, and I don’t think I’d still be as into it as I am now without him.

What does a typical training week look like for you?

I do cardio every day in order to stay strong and keep my weight down. But I do bench on Mondays, which is just like a chest and a back workout. And then I’ll do cardio and abs on Tuesday to break between the two. And on Wednesday I’ll do legs. Thursday’s cardio and abs. Friday’s shoulders and arms and then Saturday is dead lifts. And Sunday I just break because I burn out. They’re fairly long workouts. My trainer just made a huge book for me and I follow it.

Photo courtesy of Kayla Sua.

How did you qualify for the world championships?

Well, I still have records standing right now so I did a small [competition], but if I didn’t have them still standing then I wouldn’t have been able to just go. But I still have world records and state records so I’m still allowed to [compete].

What will the level of competition be like?

It’s going to be a lot more serious. I’m nervous because as a team, our bodies are still developing so it’s not as serious. I mean, you get pretty serious but I’m going to compete against 20- to 25 year-old women and … a lot of these women have been hardcore training for years in order to do this and I just jumped back into this and I haven’t been training [as much]. I go back home every other weekend to train with my team, but I’ve been training here by myself and its different. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. I also tore my sternum muscle like three weeks ago so it’s still recovering.

Do you think playing rugby has helped your lifting and vice versa, having that relationship between the two?

Yeah, I think that in rugby having the conditioning with weight training has helped me play better and be able to get through drills better, and then when it comes to lifting, rugby builds a lot of leg strength, so especially in dead lift, I’ve noticed that I bounced back and was able to lift just as much as I did before really quickly and I definitely would put that towards rugby. And also in the long workouts, I didn’t get as tired as I thought I would because I had the endurance from 80-minute games. So it definitely helped. And I did a bunch of other random stuff on campus. Like yoga definitely helped a lot.

Do you imagine yourself doing more competitions like this in the future, now that you’ve gotten back into it?

Definitely. It’s exciting. I’m the type of person who likes to work towards goals and every single time, my mom doesn’t like that I do lifting all the time, but every single time I do. Like when I first started I was like, I want to be able to bench 200 pounds and dead lift 380, and then once I got there I was like, but now I want to do 250 and 410 and it’s just, I don’t see myself stopping because it’s exciting to see how far I can go. Eventually I want to be able to do a 500 dead lift; that’d be cool.

So weightlifting will become more full-time once you graduate?

Yeah, I’ll be back at home and I’ll be able to actually train with [my team at our local gym] and see how far I can push myself.