A powerful feat for Notre Dame University-Louaize’s (NDU) Etienne El Chaer, a Physical Education major who won in four categories at the Asian Powerlifting Championship, three of which broke records, in the under 23 Junior category. The heavyweight lifter secured four gold medals for his participation, representing Lebanon and NDU on the continental scale.
The heavyweight category involves lifting 120kg and up, Etienne landing the following numbers:
> Squat: 295kg
> Bench Press: 197.5kg*
> Deadlift: 338kg*
> Total lifted: 832kg*
*Indicates new record broken.
At 22 years old, Etienne’s accomplishments are preceded by an impressive résumé: currently a coach and personal trainer, he has an athletic background in rugby, playing for NDU’s team as well as the Predators club in Jounieh. Unfortunately, an injury cut Etienne’s rugby playing short. This did not impede his passion for sports, however. He began powerlifting with one goal in mind: get stronger. This led him to design his own program, based on the guidance of his coach, Mario Saab. The pair began gaining significant attention on social media as Etienne progressed to lifting heavier weights.
With this increasing prowess, Etienne competed in the local Champs Club competition in December 2021, breaking records at this level and foreshadowing his later performance. At the Champs Club, he lifted 240kg in Squats, 162.5kg in the Bench Press, and 280kg in the Deadlift. This success in mind, he went on to train for regional championships.
The struggle, according to Etienne, was not so much rooted in the fitness regimen as much as it was an issue of powerlifting’s low popularity in Lebanon. “We were low on equipment,” he said, “Individual sports do not receive as much attention or support as do team sports. But we continued training and hoped for the best despite the circumstances.”
Reaching the Lebanese championship, Etienne faced legacy champions in powerlifting; nevertheless, he wound up winning first place in all categories, winning the Lebanese Champion title with a total of 770kg lifted, broken down in to 270kg in Squats, 180kg in the Bench Press, and 320kg in the Deadlift. With that, he now holds the Lebanese deadlift record in the Junior category.
He did not care to stagnate, though: “Lebanon is not enough. Our goal is competing in the International Powerlifting Federation, so our first step was enlisting in the Asian Powerlifting Competition in the 120kg+ category, held in Dubai, UAE this past December.”
Etienne is not one to sugarcoat the pressure he underwent in light of his consistent success, revealing that “it was never easy, the stress you go through mentally and physically. The fact that you are representing your country, where everyone is expecting you to win and bring back something, the stress adds up.”
On his experience at the Asian Championship, Etienne spoke about the big step that it was, describing it as “an exhilarating experience from start to finish.” He continued: “It was my first time stepping on an international platform. I can’t deny the fact that I was afraid of making a mistake, but I always use fear to my advantage. Breaking those records were not easy given my streak, so one mistake and they weren’t mine!”
He ended up breaking them, though. Spurred by this encouragement, Etienne is looking forward to representing Lebanon on an international stage again, to “show everyone where we are in sports, all the difficult circumstances set aside.” The Lebanese National Anthem was played at the Championship for the first time, Etienne’s emotions running high as a result: “Being the reason for hearing the Anthem in an international competition had me go through a lot of emotions. I couldn’t tell if I was happy or wanted to cry.”
Although Etienne has won all these competitions in a year, he still feels a lack in Lebanese sports culture: “I want to emphasize how hard it is for us to compete and play the sport. If it was basketball or football, the situation would have been different.”
“Being a Lebanese athlete is difficult enough,” he added. “Everyone attributes your performance to genetics, but they have no idea what athletes have to go through.” Between studying, working, and training, an 8:00 a.m. till 10:00 p.m. schedule is an everyday occurrence for him.
All the rigorous training, dedication, and work ethic has certainly yielded great results. Etienne is a true witness to the heights one can reach through hard work. His experience is also a window into the much-needed support that Lebanese athletes need on both a material and mental level; from financial backing to practicing compassion for all the hours put in so that athletes can make their country proud, a cultural shift needs to occur.
His victory is certainly not in vain, though. Etienne’s performance is nothing short of inspiring, and NDU could not be more proud of our student. Etienne, the best of luck in your athletic career, and more power to you.