World Champion Solfrid Koanda of Norway took some time away from training to answer our questions about her background and approach to the sport. You can help support her efforts and save when you use her code koanda15 and follow her Instagram account to cheer her on in her endeavors.
As a world champion weightlifter, what initially drew you to this sport? What has been your best and favorite competition to date, and why?
I started off with weightlifting after being discovered and called on the phone by a person who coached both in weightlifting and crossfit. At that time, I happened to show up at a competition not too many weeks before the last qualifying meet for the Nationals in Weightlifting.
I was called on the phone a few days before the qualifying meet for weightlifting, and I accepted in hopes of challenging myself for what I felt I lacked in my training. I used so many hours of the day to train with no real goals.
I often performed very well strength-wise, but the Olympic lifts have always been very humbling movements for me. I think that’s why I stuck with the sport. Knowing I was so strong but struggled to show it in the movements. It became this career-long mission I’m in now of improving my movement with the bar until a point where I can’t get away with mistakes in the lift with my strength.
How do you manage your nutrition to optimize your performance and recovery? Are there any specific dietary choices or strategies you follow?
I don’t follow a specific diet. I do eat for performance and recovery mostly, but also for supporting mental health. I consume very little to no supplements and, in general, am very strict about getting in good quality nutrition through vegetables, berries, fruits, and good quality meat, fish, and dairy - in addition to the basic knowledge about not all carbs are the same and not all fats are the same.
With that said, I don’t cut anything specific out of my diet. Still, I’m also an individual with a sensitive response to food regarding recovery, sleep, and gut health, which I think are factors that make any person's nutritional choices different.
I use a physio quite frequently and other recovery strategies, such as having a routine with recovery tools, stretching, hot and cold exposure, and a good portion of laughter during a week of training.
What advice would you give aspiring female weightlifters just starting their journey in the sport?
Your mind is a powerful tool! Learn how to compete with yourself and don’t compare yourself to others.
Don’t waste your time looking at what everybody else does and how they do it. Sure, let it inspire you- but it can become unhealthy really fast and may leave you with thoughts or feelings similar to “how can I ever succeed if I don’t have what she has”.
If there is one competitor, you can monitor every hour out of every day- get information about when they eat, sleep, train, and rest… it’s YOU. Keep track of that data and find solutions for how to improve in all aspects of your life- including your relationship with yourself and others.
Also, don’t fixate on the numbers. Become an athlete 24/7- not only the hours you spend in the gym. Your sleep, mood, social interactions, and workload will all play a part in your overall performance.
Lastly: be YOU- learn how to be confident; it’s a one size fits all!
Who has been your biggest inspiration or role model throughout your career, and why?
I’m not too big on inspirations or role models, but I remember when discovering weightlifting that I couldn’t wrap my head around Lasha Talakhadze. He was one of the first names and careers I learned within the weightlifting community as most others.
This man broke record after record, competition after competition- and is viewed as this “unbeatable super” who you had the best shot of beating only if he ever got injured.
I was pretty new to the game and just thought: he has already won multiple times; he doesn’t even need to improve to continue winning… shouldn’t you get comfortable then?
Thinking about it made me wonder how would I have to approach my goals to still want to keep putting in the effort. I would have to have some other motives than medals, placing first, and breaking a record. That’s when I learned to shape my personal motives and goals going into the sport- found my “why,” and till this day, no first place nor a medal has made me any less hungry.
How do you handle the pressure of competing at such high levels? Do you use any pre-competition rituals or techniques to stay calm and focused?
I just manage; I won’t say I manage it particularly well or not- but I find ways to manage when I feel the heat of it. I’m blessed wtih becoming very focused during competition and always end a competition by wanting to do it all over again very soon.
There are no rituals or techniques too special that I do. I always want to ensure that I’m on a positive note mentally, have fun, and be relaxed in my environment. I use the time to be calm, visualizing my lifts, the tasks ahead, and my personal beliefs.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being a weightlifter? How has it impacted your life outside of the sport?
The sport has really pushed me to stand by certain values for a healthier lifestyle and given me goals to work towards. I’ve learned discipline at another level and become a very hardworking person who doesn’t believe in “impossibles”. Just facing the obstacles I’ve been challenged with throughout my career has strengthened my character and brought me closer to so many things that have impacted my whole life.
I travel a lot, and I get to see so much… it makes me appreciate everything I have, the smallest things, and I value the time I spend with people a lot more.
Looking ahead, what are your future goals and aspirations in weightlifting? Are there any specific milestones or achievements you still wish to accomplish?
My future goals consist of keep on improving; everything else just comes- but I do have a dream of competing on the Olympic stage.
I’ve been the first Norwegian to different titles- I’ve already exceeded anything I thought I could be able to achieve within 3 years in the sport. But that also makes me so much more hungry because there still is so much more to improve.
My mind is set on the Olympics for now; what I’ll be able to do by then only time will show.
What role has mental toughness played in your journey as a weightlifter?
It has played a significant role in my weightlifting journey. With my upbringing and personal story - I’m not easy to quit.
I’ve learned from a very young age that if you want something, you have to work for it, and rewards don’t motivate me. I’ve come so far in my life, which could have taken another direction pretty easily without getting rewarded for anything.
Self-discipline and a little bit of obsession play a good role in my success. If it’s easy, it’s boring, anyone could do it. If someone presents me with a task that’s “impossible,” I’ll ask why it’s impossible and know in my heart that if there is something I have, it’s willpower and effort.
That’s kinda why I got obsessed with weightlifting. I was told that there is no way Norway can compete against the world at a top level or have any chance of medals- my first try-out camp with the National team from another athlete. At that time, I had yet to qualify for my first international competition, and a year later, I qualified for my first international and was awarded with a European bronze medal.
How do you stay focused and motivated during challenging moments?
If something is challenging me in a period of training, competitions, or life in general- I know I’ll grow from it. It may be hard, and I’ll have to adapt somehow, maybe change something for a better outcome. I like to remind myself with the thought of- a year ago today brought me here and think about all the challenges I faced then and how far would a year from now look like.
What role has support from family, friends, and coaches played in your journey? How important is it for athletes to surround themselves with a strong support system?
I believe an athlete should surround themselves with a supporting system where each individual they have in their circle is working towards or supporting them in their goals. It may take some time to find for some, but also keep in mind that your supporting system can make you rise or fall. That is how much they pay a role.