Alexa Mina Colwell sat down with Velaasa Athletics to discuss her background and experiences in Olympic weightlifting competing for Lebanon. You can support her efforts and save on your next Velaasa order by using her code MINA15. Be sure to follow her on Instagram and check out her nutrition coaching services at Cedars Nutrition.
Being one of the two women to make history for Lebanon by competing on the world stage, how do you perceive the magnitude of this achievement, not just for yourself but for your nation?
It is one of the biggest honors of my life, truly! Sometimes, I remember the opportunities I have, and I still can’t believe I ended up here and that I get to do this. First thing, I am so immensely proud of my culture and to be Lebanese. I’ve felt this way ever since I was a little girl. So, to be able to represent my country internationally and represent the people I love so much in the sport I love so much is a dream come true. Every time I step on stage I thank God for the opportunities that I was given and hope that I can continue to make our nation proud. I am continuously filled with gratitude!
Can you share with us your biggest achievement in Olympic weightlifting and why this one was so special to you?
I think what stands out as a highlight for me is medaling in my first international competition. I was able to achieve the Bronze medal at the 2021 Konya Islamic Solidarity Games (rescheduled from 2021, but the event was in 2022). I became the second woman in history to represent Lebanon in the sport of weightlifting AND the second woman to ever achieve a medal in weightlifting (my teammate Mahassen Hala was the first woman ever!).
The feeling of raising our flag on the podium was indescribable. It’s something I look forward to in future competitions and when the opportunity arises again.
I also just recently reached a huge milestone of clean and jerking 110kg at the World Championships! This has been a massive goal of mine for a while, and I was over the moon to hit it at such a huge competition!
How were you introduced to Olympic weightlifting, and what was it about the sport that captivated you from the beginning?
I was introduced to Olympic weightlifting through CrossFit. I was familiar with CrossFit because I grew up doing competitive cheerleading (think the Netflix Documentary ‘Cheer’), and my coach at the time was also a CF gym owner. So, in order to get in shape for competition routines, we did CF workouts.
When I was in college, I was doing CF recreationally to fill the void of not having a sport to play anymore. Eventually, I realized how empowering it felt to lift heavy and gain that feeling of accomplishment after the fact. Once I realized I could compete on a national level, I reached out to a coach, and the rest was history! I started lifting and competed in my first nationals in 2017.
Growing up, did you have any Lebanese female athletes you looked up to? How does it feel to now be that role model for the next generation?
I honestly didn't; the first one I knew of was my teammate, Hala! Of course, she inspired me back then when I figured out who she was in the sport. But I actually had NO idea that competing on that level was even possible for me at that time too. I always just thought that I ‘wasn’t good enough’ or that she was the only one chosen to be on the Lebanese team. Back in 2017, a friend of my coach at the time found out I was Lebanese and actually reached out to her to sign a photograph for me! It’s funny how things come full circle. And NOW she is my teammate!
What are some challenges and advantages you've faced training in the U.S. while representing Lebanon in international competitions?
I’ve honestly faced a lot of imposter syndrome both as a Lebanese athlete and the feeling of not being good enough. I think sometimes It feels ‘wrong’ to be training outside of Lebanon while representing Lebanon. You see all these other countries traveling from their home countries to the international competitions and then returning back to their home countries after. So, a lot of times, it does feel weird, and I almost feel guilty about it at times.
There is also this feeling of not feeling Lebanese enough... almost like since I’m not living IN Lebanon, I’m not 100% deserving of competing. Of course, these are not things that I believe at this point, but this is a big mental challenge I have had to work through in my own mind.
The advantages of training and living in the US are, fortunately, but unfortunately, simply that the situation in the US is quite better than in Lebanon. Lebanon is currently facing hyperinflation and economic distress, all while recovering from the Beirut blast and political instability. I am grateful for my situation here in the US, but I won’t deny that my heart hurts for the situation in Lebanon and for a lot of my family, friends, and people who are still there living it every day. But one thing about Lebanese people is that they will always rise, thank God for another day, and make the most of their situation regardless. Lebanon is an incredible country in so many different ways, and regardless of the current situation I am beyond proud to be Lebanese and to represent our nation and all of its beauty, history, culture and people.
Have you had any mentors or coaches in the U.S. who have significantly impacted your weightlifting journey? How have they helped you navigate representing a different nation?
My current coaches, Spencer Arnold and Brennen Colwell (also my husband!), have had the biggest impacts on my weightlifting success these last couple of years. They have helped me increase my total from 183kg to 195kg in the span of two years. They have both been there for me in and out of competition and truly have helped me become the strongest I’ve ever been. I also can’t forget to thank my first weightlifting coach (Steve Titus) ever who introduced me to the sport to begin with and had a massive impact on my start-up in this sport.
My sports psychologist, Dr. Cypher, has helped me massively in terms of my mental state, navigating imposter syndrome, and helping me navigate the international stage before I had even gotten there. He has had a massive impact on my weightlifting career and has given me the tools that I need to excel in training as well as when I hit the platform. Even if my training is not ideal, I know how to handle it because he has taught me what I need to know in order to make sure that I am in a good mental space regardless.
For athletes with dual national identities or those representing a country they don't currently reside in, what advice or insights can you offer based on your experiences?
It is an incredible opportunity that I would tell everyone to not miss out on! The only regret I have is that I didn't look into the opportunity sooner in my weightlifting career. I always just thought it was impossible and that the processes were just as ‘cut throat’ as Team USA, so that’s why I didn't even bother earlier on before I was aware that each country has a different process. So in my opinion, it’s worth reaching out to the country’s federation / NOC to see what that process looks like for them. You never know what might come from that, after all!
What are your future aspirations after making history at the world championships (twice)? Are there any other milestones you're aiming for?
My main goal is to continue to take every opportunity to represent my country well on the international stage and cherish every moment that I’m able to do this. Hitting PRs in the process are always nice too ;)
If God wills, the opportunity to go to the Olympic Games someday crosses my mind often. However, I am a very realistic person and athlete, and I know a lot would need to happen in order for me to achieve this. I am just seemingly grateful for every opportunity I can compete to represent Lebanon, and I stand by that regardless of whatever the end goal ends up being :)
How have you balanced your work life and training for these big international events you compete in?
Luckily, I run my nutrition coaching business virtually, so it is very low-stress traveling and working (as long as the wifi is reliable!). I am blessed to have a flexible job that is low stress on the body, so that helps me create the lifestyle I have that also favors training and competing.
Do you have any inspirational or encouraging words you want to share for young females out there who want to start the sport of weightlifting but don’t know where to start?
My advice would be to believe that you CAN be strong and capable of anything you put your mind to! Especially in a sport like weightlifting. If I hadn’t kept pushing through tough training periods, injuries, periods of doubt, and training lulls, I wouldn't have gotten to where I am today, on an international stage, representing my country.
So many women don’t start because they either don't know where to start or they feel they will be judged for doing a ‘man’s sport'. Weightlifting is for anyone and everyone, especially women who have ambition and feel empowered by lifting heavy and pushing their bodies to limits they didn’t know existed. Don’t be afraid to break stereotypes and show the world that strength is beauty in so many different ways.
If you’re not sure where to start, reach out to a coach to learn about the sport, focus on technique, get stronger, and have guidance. It’s so important to have a mentor or coach who can help get you started on a new journey like weightlifting. It might be the best decision that you ever make for yourself and your future in sport.