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Visually impaired powerlifter from Burin enters first weightlifting competition

After three months of training Kelly Picco can deadlift 155 pounds.
After three months of training Kelly Picco can deadlift 155 pounds. - Submitted

Kelly Picco inspired by a visionary trainer

BURIN, N.L. — It’s a gift to discover a passion for a new activity.

Just three months ago, Burin native Kelly Picco, 25, discovered she had a passion for weightlifting, a sport she enjoys and feels she can excel in regardless of having a visual impairment.

When she was seven years old Picco learned she has optic atrophy. By 16 her eyesight degenerated to where she can only see light and hand movement. She went on to graduate from Memorial University with a double major in sociology and folklore. Picco works at engaging and inspiring others with vision loss through the Canadian National Center for the Blind.

Her boyfriend, who started lifting weights at Heavyweights Training Center in St. John’s last February, piqued her interest in the sport. 

Heavyweight personal trainer Darren Hann. - Submitted
Heavyweight personal trainer Darren Hann. - Submitted

“He used to come home and tell me all about it, I said, ‘Man that would be so cool, I wonder if I could do it,’” Picco recalled. “He said, ‘I know you can do it’, but he said I couldn’t do the group programs because in the group programs you are in amongst 20 people and could be doing slam balls, sledges and things like smashing tires and stuff just to gain your muscle.

“It’s too active to do it in a group setting when you can’t see, but his trainer told Jordan that I could come out and he could do a couple of workouts with me, just to see if I’d be interested.”

Personal trainer Darren Hann figured out a way to work with Picco using words instead of visual references.

“I think I might be Darren’s first visually impaired client,” Picco said. “Instead of saying, you need to spread your feet apart six inches, I’m not able to see six inches so instead he would say spread your feet shoulder width apart.

“What he did, on his own time, he closed his eyes and imagined how he would need to be told how to do a certain work out without being able to see it. He put himself in my shoes in order to help me learn.”

Hann’s method was so effective that Picco hasn’t experienced many obstacles in learning the new discipline.

“I haven’t come across many challenges,” she stated. “He’s done such a good job verbally explaining how to do it.”

Picco is intrigued by the sport and how instinctive and relatable she finds it.

“It’s not like you are walking on a treadmill and doing cardio exercises,” she said. “You learn something different about weightlifting every day.

“It’s not just as simple as bending down and picking up a bar with a hundred pounds on it. It’s more about the form of your body and they way you have to put your shoulders back and the way you have to fill your chest with air and hold it in. You learn something every day and it’s different.”

Next step

Always up for a new challenge, Picco is experimenting with going competitive. She displayed her new skills in a non-competitive event at the Paul Reynolds Centre on Friday, June 22.

Picco entered in the 70-pound squat bar and bench as well as the 155-pound deadlift categories.

“I’m just doing it for the experience,” she said. “I’m not up in the weight class, but I may get to that level and in order to get there, you have to do so many non-competitive competitions first.

“Darren and several of the coaches at heavyweights feel that I can do the workout at a high enough level to do the non-competitive competitions and get the experience to eventually build myself up to do the competitive ones.”

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