Raushan Koishibayeva is not your average powerlifter. A mother of three, 53 years old, and with amputated legs, her love of the sport has proven stronger than the obstacles placed in her way into the ranks of the world’s elite.
The Kazakh athlete took up powerlifting nine years ago. Six years later she came second to the new world record holder, Yujiao Tan from China, at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games in the women’s up to 67kg category.
Her next goal is a podium place at the Nur-Sultan 2019 World Para Powerlifting Championships in her home country Kazakhstan.
New chapter opens in her life
Growing up, nothing hinted that Koishibayeva would lead a life outside the norm of her small hometown.
She was born as one of 10 children to working class parents and followed the same path from a young age when she started working in a fabric factory.
But one day in 1990 changed her life dramatically. As a young woman, Koishibayeva fell under a train and had her legs amputated below the knees.
The accident closed a chapter on her previous life, but it was also a new beginning - it was at a prosthetics workshop where Koishibayeva met her future husband, a fellow amputee.
Bauyrzhan Kasymbekov became his wife’s biggest fan. She’d been invited to a training session at a local gym, and instantly fell in love with the sport.
Training was not an easy task. The only woman in the gym at the time and with three young daughters - currently all under 15 - at home, Koishibayeva credits her husband with her transformation into one of the world’s best Para powerlifters.
“I thank God that I have a husband like this,” Koishibayeva said. “It is not every man who will take all the household chores upon himself for most of the year. He cooks, watches over them doing homework, takes them to and from school, to training sessions. Everything is on him.”
While her husband took on the duties of caring for their daughters, Koishibayeva was able to devote more time to training and even travel to training meets with the national team.
The efforts paid off when six years after taking up the sport, the then 50-year-old athlete came home with a silver medal from the 2016 Paralympic Games.
This medal is now on display in her house to teach her daughters about the value of dedication.
“They are proud of me,” Koishibayeva said. “Two months after I first came into the gym, I was dreaming about getting a diploma. I was only dreaming about getting this piece of paper and when I first competed in a regional competition and got this piece of paper, I was so happy. It was only later that I set the goal of winning a medal.
“This love affair with metal is still there, year after year, and it still continues to grow.”
Growing the sport
Koishibayeva is one of Para powerlifting’s pioneers in Kazakhstan. There were few facilities dedicated to training Para athletes when she took up the sport.
Her first gym had a section for Para powerlifters, but when it underwent renovations in 2013, Koishibayeva and the others were forced to look for an alternate training ground.
Struggling to find anywhere, Koishibayeva resorted to hosting the athletes in a barn at her house. The wooden shack was cold and windy, which led to many injuries. Koishibayeva dislocated a shoulder and spent a long time recovering.
Fortunately, practicing in the barn was short-lived and Koishibayeva and her training mates soon got a space to train at a local sports school.
While her journey in the sport has not been easy, Koishibayeva strongly encourages people to take part in Para sports.
“Powerlifting has changed my whole outlook on life,” she said. “There are still people in the faraway points of our country who are stuck within four walls. Whenever I am walking down the street, I invite them to come to the gym, not to be afraid of the ‘metal’. People should come out of the four walls, open the door and take part in sports.”
Koishibayeva’s own success at the Paralympic Games has already motivated several Kazakh youngsters to try Para powerlifting.
The next challenge for her and her teammates is to qualify for Tokyo 2020 at the upcoming World Para Powerlifting Championships, on home turf.
“I am proud that our country will host such a big event and I think that all of this will have a positive effect and help Kazakh Para sport to move forward,” she said.
“I hope for a successful performance because these are home walls and there is double the amount of responsibility. But we will see. The barbell will single out the winner.”