Making a mark with muscles
by Geraldine Panapasa
ANY talk of power-lifting automatically draws out a picture of a muscular man. Although Eliesa Irava may seem like that man, his road to becoming one of Fiji's top power-lifting sportsman was not easy.
Despite being the president of the Fiji Power-lifting Association, Eliesa, 42, had a simple upbringing. Born and bred on the island of Rotuma, his parents Kepone and Kijiana Irava were farmers. Originally from Losa, Itu'ti'u, Eliesa always loved sports.
However, the thought of powerlifting was never on his mind. When his father left for Fiji in 1972, Eliesa said his family struggled to survive.
"I was born in Ahau, Rotuma and my parents were simple farmers. We lived a normal village life. My father left for Fiji to find employment. We struggled because our father was not there but we still managed to survive. I came to Suva in 1975 when I was in Class Five. I attended Upu Catholic Mission School in Rotuma then finished my primary education at Samabula Government Boys school (now Suva Primary school). I continued my education at Cathedral Secondary school. I was always interested in sports. But never thought I would eventually take up powerlifting seriously."
After completing secondary school in 1983, he did odd jobs just to help his family. And used to do weightlifting just as a hobby to shape up.
"In secondary school, I tried to be a high jumper but my built and weight did not make that successful. I also took up javelin and realized that I was actually good at it. In 1982 at the Juicy Games (now Coca-Cola Games), I held the record for the Intermediate Boys javelin. That memory and that achievement was one of the greatest because I did not realise that a simple boy from the island could succeed especially in high school.
"I joined Kelton Group in 1988. In 1994, I returned to Fiji from Papua New Guinea and the late Tifere Ravai introduced me to powerlifting. I was inspired by his dedication and commitment to form a powerlifting team for the South Pacific Games in Tahiti. The following year in 1995, I represented Fiji in powerlifting in Tahiti but I did not take it seriously. I just wanted to wear the suit but after the games, I realised I did not win anything and when I looked at all the other lifters who had medals, I wanted to train harder to win like them."
At the Mini SPG in 1997, he won his first gold medal and never looked back.
Eliesa then knew he could win if he set his mind to it. He said the fact that his first gold medal was the last gold medal for Fiji at the mini SPG, was something that has always pushed him to excel further in the sport.
"I have continued to improve my form at every game or competition. In 1998, I won a silver medal at the Oceania Games in Napier, New Zealand and the following year at the South Pacific Challenge and Australia Open powerlifting competition, I won the best overall trophy. It was this placing that I qualified for the World Open Bench Press in 1999 in Finland. Even though I was placed 12th at this competition, the mere fact that I reached a competition where I faced the world's best is amazing," he said.
"The sport has taken me to places I never thought I would go. For most islanders, our physical structure makes us good for sports like this.
"One of the best memories that I have is participating in the 2003 SPG in Fiji. I participated in front of my family and was ecstatic and proud to perform in front of them despite the competition being so intense.
"Winning a gold medal in the 100kg category in front of my family and the home crowd was another bonus."
The father of four said family support was his strength.
He draws inspiration from his father and believes that anyone with the right built and mind can succeed in the sport.
His advice to those thinking of making a name for themselves in powerlifting
is there is no easy way to it, just work hard and stay committed.