Well, most people think that a weightlifter must have blunt, coarse looks and bulging biceps but Juliana Arkoh?s delicate demeanour and coy smiles hardly pull anybody?s mind to the fact she is a multi-medal winning weightlifter.
The soft-spoken lady works with the Ghana Highway Authority and is also a student in Secretarial and Management Studies at the Accra Polytechnic.
As a member of the Black Cranes, the national weightlifting team, Arkoh won an impressive eight medals at the African Weightlifting Championships held in Casablanca, Morocco, earlier this month.
That makes her the Ghanaian athlete to have won the highest number of medals in a single competition.? The Black Cranes got an overall haul of 16 medals at Casablanca and that is also an all-time record for a Ghanaian team in an international contest.
That achievement, to the young lady, signifies what heights any fellow can reach with dedication and hard work.
Until the middle of 2010, she did not even know of the existence of an athletic discipline called weightlifting.
Now she can eloquently discuss the intricacies of the sport and the deep love she has developed for it over the last few years.
She often wears a sort of sullen look but her face lights up whenever the conversation drifts to appropriate training regimes, dietary requirements for weightlifters and why there must be better governmental and private support for weightlifting in this country.
?When it?s not about football, nobody wants to listen. There are as many talented athletes as there are good footballers in this country. All the different types of sporting disciplines need support. As for weightlifters, we are like despised orphans,? Arkoh stated.
The Casablanca championships was Arkoh?s second international tournament. The first for her was in Kenya last year where the Black Cranes tried to secure a slot for the London Olympics. They were not successful at the attempt but the exposure to weightlifting on the international circuit filled the young lady with confidence for the future.
She knows that the opportunities to travel and meet interesting people would probably not have come her way if she had not met the head coach of the Black Cranes, Majite Fertrie, by chance at Anyaa in Accra around September 2010.
?I lived with a brother and was on my way to fetch water when he saw me and called me. I initially did not mind him but he persisted on talking to me.?
?I thought he wanted to propose love or something like that but he said I had the right figure for weightlifting and would like to introduce me to the sport. I had no idea which kind of sport weightlifting was,? Arkoh said.
Though Fertrie showed him where he lived and invited her over to see some videos on weightlifting, she still felt the coach had other ulterior motives for wanting her to be in his house. She did not honour the initial invitation but they met again later and Fertrie told her again to come over.
After about a month of hesitation, she eventually went to see him in the company of a sister. Fertrie also invited Joe Sintim-Aboagye, another member of the Black Cranes, over to try and convince her to have a shot at weightlifting.
?I manufactured all the excuses anyone can think of to put them off but they kept calling me. I one day decided to go and watch them train at the Azumah Nelson Sports Complex at Kaneshie in Accra after work.
?I realised there were other ladies-Dora Afi Abotsi, Ruth Baffoe and another called Alberta-who also trained with the men. They were cute ladies. That aroused my curiousness a bit but I still held back. I discussed the invitation with people at work and was? told all sorts of negative things about weightlifting.?
After managing to quell her fears, however, Arko eventually started to train with Fertrie and the other weightlifters in 2011. They assured her the perceptions about weightlifting, especially the notion that female weightlifters cannot give birth, were all not true.
Soon after immersing herself in the sport, she took part in her first contest, a national unity games at the University of Ghana, Legon. There was media coverage and colleagues at Highways saw her perform creditably on television.
She was a financially-challenged young woman so a man called Nana Selby at Highways offered to give her some money for transportation to training and back home every day.
?He was an angel. I got encouragement from the head coach and all the others I trained with but Nana Selby was simply magnanimous. I would have quit the sport if the stipends he gave me had not been coming,? said Arkoh who mentioned American tennis star Serena Williams as her role model for persistence and determination.
The weightlifter currently lives with a relative at the Cantonments Police Barracks in Accra. She observes a tight daily routine and says it is only God that gives her the grace to endure it.
?I leave home before 5 a.m. to the office to clear whatever is on my desk. Then I go to the weightlifters gymnasium at the Accra Sports Stadium by 9 a.m. to train till about midday. I run to the office again to work and go to school at Accra Poly by 5 p.m., closing by 8.30 p.m.?
?My bosses at Highways are so understanding. They allow me time to train and I?m grateful to them for that concession.?
Arkoh hails from Mankessim but grew up at Obuasi in the Ashanti Region where her father worked with the Ghana Cocoa Board. She attended the Bryant Mission Grammar Junior High School there before enrolling for secretarial studies at the Pristige Gateway Academy at Adabraka in Accra.
In Morocco, Arko participated and won her eight medals in the 63 kilogramme bodyweight category.? She admits there is a long way for her to go in the sport but would not let anything hinder her progress.
In the light of Arkoh?s brilliant performance in Morocco, she has, with the support of the Ghana Weightlifting Federation, won an Olympic Solidarity Scholarship to train in China prior to the Youth Olympics there and the upcoming Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland.
She thinks she would not have come so far without the support of her federation executive, coaches and? colleagues in the Black Cranes.
?I attribute everything to God?s grace. He has been my great provider at all times,? Arkoh says.
Her advice to all young people is that they must never give up on their dreams and must vigorously pursue whatever talents they have.
Source The Mirror