Role Models: Neeta

Article by Malgorzata Garstka

Can you introduce yourself? Job title, educational background, languages, hobbies, your family etc.

Neeta: I am Neeta Santika Duffy, Indonesian-British, a daughter of Indonesian diplomats born in Barnsley, the UK. I have four degrees; The double honours degree bachelor in law and economics LLB (Hons) and BA (Utrecht University, the Netherlands), Economics MSc (Kings’ College London, the UK), International Business MSc (University of Auckland, New Zealand), and International Affairs and Language MA (Chongqing, China). I am a polyglot speak six languages; English, Indonesian, French, Dutch, Sudanese, and Chinese, and I’m currently working as a Global Business Development Representative for Advanced Energy, a US company, named to the Forbes 2021 America’s Best Large Employers.

I’ve been developing my passion for powerlifting. During childhood and adolescence, I was often sick and frequently in the hospital. At the age of 22, I attended a seminar about nutrition and the benefits of weight lifting. This is how I started powerlifting. It improves my body and mental well-being. Unfortunately, I had to stop training shortly after having experienced a car accident that forced me to have several surgeries which took a long time to recover from – over 5 years. Now, I’m back into the game and it has never felt better to be free from any health issues. I can lift five times my body weight. Moreover, I am the second strongest woman in the -64kg weight-class of the World Powerlifting (WP) – China. In my free time (laughing), I love traveling and playing board and card games. I also love volunteering and have been visiting many countryside to support “Left-Behind” Children.

GG: Me too, welcome to join the Xi’an Games

Are you from Xi’an? If not, why did you come here?

Neeta: I came here for work. I enjoy everything about Xi’an, and would like to contribute more to the local community. Together with AWE and Viva Xi’an, I am preparing a series of events about integrating nutrition and physical activity. Bringing women and men to exercise together, learn, and discuss about diet, nutrition and exercise to build healthy eating habits and lifestyle. Our body is amazing, it will adapt to the stress exposed to it because of its resilience. The adage “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it”. If you’ve ever been bedridden due to a major illness, you’ll be familiar with the dramatic loss of fitness associated with reduced exposure to physical stress (exercise training).

GG: I can already see your influence. I ordered the salad with vegetables and quinoa in place of white bread. Surprisingly, it is delicious and so filling (laughing).

What do you do every day? What is normal schedule like? What is not “normal” work for you?

Neeta: I work from 9 pm till 7 am, then go to the gym to train for 2-3 hours. My powerlifting training includes squats, bench presses, and deadlifts, along with accessory training. I hire a coach who prepares training programs to ensure that my efforts are effective at producing the desired results. Furthermore, he is an objective observer, helping me to improve technique, provide mental skills and strategies, and assist with competition preparation. There is much science behind powerlifting. The coach also ensures that I gradually increase the intensity and avoid so-called “ego lifting”, which can be dangerous and lead to injury.

After the training, I go home and sleep from noon till 8 pm. Then the cycle repeats, work, train, sleep Monday till Friday. On weekends I have active recovery. Such a routine is crucial for me as a powerlifter to improve.

GG: Please, tell us about the competitions

Neeta: In powerlifting meets, I attempt to lift as heaviest as possible for one repetition in the squat, bench press, and deadlift. I must follow strict technique rules so that everyone is compared equally, and implement specific movement standards in order to successfully pass a lift in competition. Only the heaviest completed lift is recorded for each compound movement. These heaviest weights are then added together which gives my total. The federation uses either “Wilks Score” or “IPF GL Points” to rank lifters amongst each other according to their specific bodyweight categories.

I feel excited when I’m competing. After training for maximum gain in minimal time, this is my favorite part of powerlifting. To hit my personal best in that environment cannot be compared to anything. So many lessons, and they all extend beyond the platform. When I am on the platform, I am blank (laughing). I tell myself, “Ok, Neeta, you can do it. This is only a hundred KG. Your life is heavier than this”. After the Meets, I take a short holiday, one week, to recover, treat myself, and enjoy my life. I go to a spa, watch movies, meet friends and similar.

What are your most impressive accomplishments? What accomplishments might not impress an average person, but you are particularly proud of?

Neeta: on 20th June, I competed at the Powerlifting meets hosted by the World Powerlifting (WP) – China Federation. In China, the World Powerlifting (WP) Federation hosts the most local meets. The Federation provides the most competitive drug-tested federation and attracts the strongest natural powerlifters in the country. I placed first in my weight class of -64kg (weight 59.2kg) and the second best overall. My rank went up to the second strongest female lifters in -64kg for WP-China.

I am looking back at what I have been through, I am the best version of myself. I have reached the level where I can say, “This is me, and I am proud of myself”.

What are the biggest challenges you face in general and as a woman? Why do you think these challenges exist?

Neeta: As a female powerlifter, I face considerable judgment from the society. Many people think that women cannot or should not lift so heavy. I do not see it this way and believe that a woman can achieve everything that a man can do. The strength is relative to the body weight. Double body weight squat is when you start getting strong. If you lift more than 2.5 times your body weight, you are assumed to be a strong person. It means a male lifter weighing 100kg is considered strong if he can squat more than 250kg, while a female lifter of 50kg is considered strong if she can lift more than 125kg. Powerlifting is for everyone. It doesn’t matter what your fitness background is and there is no discrimination; men and women, young and old. You can either lift the weight or you cannot. You fight against the plates and challenge yourself.

What are your goals for this year? 5 years?

Neeta: I’m training to add a total of 50kg by the end of this year and be placed at the first -64kg lifter in the country. Long-term plans include changing body-weight class division, being among the strongest women in the world, and attempt to break a new world record. In addition, I am doing a Ph.D. and investigating the effect of nutrition and exercise in pregnancy. I want to educate society about the Role of Nutrition and Physical Activity for Lifelong Health. I plan to set up a powerlifting network in China and introduce powerlifting to everyone who wants to improve themselves, stay fit and be healthy.

GG: Wow, we have some common interests. I am studying factors that affect the development of pregnancy-related complications, with a primary focus on gestational diabetes. Nutrition and exercise are crucial for the health of the mother and her newborn.

Neeta: Indeed, I know cases of women who power lift during the pregnancy. One of them squatted 1.5 times her bodyweight till two weeks before the delivery. She and her baby are healthy. Society thinks that pregnant women should have much rest. In reality, exercise is vital during pregnancy.

What motivated you to choose the career that you have today?

Neeta: I wanted to prove that I am not the kind of the person doctors see – weak and sick. I wanted to feel my body and be healthy. Powerlifting also makes my mind stronger; it allows me to face my limits. Last but not least, powerlifting is one of the most supportive sports I know. You are competing with the plates and yourself. The other powerlifters will support and offer advice as one-team “Powerlifters”.

What are the most important character traits you think someone who want to pursue such career should possess?
Neeta: Big muscles do not determine how strong you are, while mentality and strength do. Consistency and discipline are crucial. Most powerlifters will train 3 to 5 times a week with some powerlifters training 6 times per week. This is because for optimal strength gains, you do not need to train certain muscle groups or movements more than 2 to 3 times per week. Next to the training, your diet should meet the right breakdown of macronutrients, stay hydrated, and good quality of sleep. There are no shortcuts here.

Confidence helps you feel ready for life’s experiences. You need to have it and believe in yourself that you can succeed in achieving your goals. You need to commit to continue your training and healthy life habits. There are many times I felt so burnt out and I wanted to give up. However, I asked myself when I already know what’s the result of giving up, then what would the result from not giving up? To keep doing what I was doing? This is how I got to where I am right now.

What advice do you have for other women, Chinese or foreign, who are looking to farther their careers?

Neeta: To accomplish greatness takes a lot of patience, perseverance, and development of passion. Furthermore, age is just a number. You can start powerlifting at any age and be successful. Jen Thompson, 47 years old, an American woman is an 11 times IPF World Champion Powerlifter. She’s best known for her crazy impressive bench press strength at 145kg. Each of us is in a different time zone, and that is fine. Maybe you achieved your goals at the age of 25. Maybe you are still on the way to do it at the age of 40. It is your time zone, and you set up your goals, then enjoy the system. Setting your goals helps trigger new behaviors.

You’re expected to make mistakes when you’re learning and growing. Once a mistake happens, be aware and admit them quickly. You adjust your course and take an action towards your goal. A mistake is just a current state on your path to success. It’s a starting place for you to know where you are, where you want to go, and how to go.

Another bit of career advice for women is to continue learning independently on the career stage you are now by seeking advice and asking for feedback. Tracking your progress to make alterations if your circumstances change. Once you reached your goals, set up new ones so that you have something to reach for when you wake up in the morning. It will feel great, and you will know you are doing something amazing. Lastly, build your network to promote yourself by showing your area of expertise and accomplishments to help each other to advance their careers.

Malgorzata is a tenure track professor at the 2nd Affiliated Hospital of Xi’an Jiaotong University who leads a research team to discover and develop new methods to test and treat diabetes. She loves learning, biking, and meeting new people.