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Interview with Tammy Dianda, IPF Powerlifting Champion

May 28, 2008 12:42 PM


In 1994, at the International Powerlifting Federation's New Zealand Open, Tammy Dianda set a new World's Record for women in the 75kg weight class bench press. Tammy had previously competed in other IPF Open's including a first place finish in the 75kg weight class at the 1993 Sweden Open. Her win nearly led the United States to an overall team championship. A seven time National Champion, Dianda is a six time medal winner in World competition including a First Place Overall at the 1991 IPF Russian Invitational and a Silver Medal at the 1993 World Games

In 2007, Captain Tammy Lopes (she had since married Bob, her best friend, coach, and business partner) was promoted to Battalion Chief of the Reno Fire Department. Tammy was the first woman to earn the rank of BC in the Reno Fire Department's one hundred and thirty year history. Her determination and commitment, both within the powerlifting community, and as a public servant serve as examples of how purpose, combined with a worthy goal can serve as an inspiration to all of us.

I spoke with Tammy during her 0500 Saturday morning workout at American Iron, the gym she and husband Bob have built in Sparks, Nevada. American Iron is a Mecca for powerlifters and competitive athletes from all over Nevada and Northern California.

Who introduced you to powerlifting?


TL: Actually, it was my husband Bob. When I was 15, I was working out at a local gym; he was benching, and got stuck, so I gave him a spot! I was in to a lot of sports, like rock climbing, that required upper body strength, and Bob said, "Wow, you're really strong; you should get in to powerlifting!"

When you look at weightlifting and powerlifting today is there someone you look at as a role model?

TL: Bev Francis. She's such a down to earth, good person. She is so unpretentious, and she took powerlifting and made it more notable as she transitioned in to bodybuilding.

Can you give me an idea of how you prepared for, not just the 1994 record lift, but all your competitions?

TL: Well, you know, seventy percent of any competition is mental. There is a sports psychologist at UNR (University of Nevada, Reno) and I worked with him before a meet. I was really having a mental block getting to a new weight. Bob and I both knew it was attainable, and yet I wasn't getting there. If you're training hard, and can't hit a reachable goal, it's always mental. That's why I think weightlifting is so important. Lifting makes you believe anything is doable, if you focus and put the work in. It's not always who is the most genetically gifted, but who is willing to work the hardest both mentally and physically. Powerlifting is about being mentally and physically strong enough to accomplish a lift, it's not about how you look lifting it.

So, in a way, the variable in lifting is you, not the weight?

TL: Yes. Unlike bodybuilding, where there's someone else judging you, powerlifting or weightlifting is that one moment, when you either lift the weight or you don't, when you either get the weight off the bench or not.

Like that Henry Rollins line, "Two hundred pounds is two hundred pounds"?

TL: Exactly, but there's a lot more to it. We've found in the powerlifting community that there's a real sense of camaraderie that makes the sport so great. At nationals, we see the girls that we're competing against every year, and there's a kinship, there's a friendship. It doesn't matter who's on the platform, whether they're your biggest competitor, if they're struggling, everyone's yelling for them, because we've all been there.

Does that feeling of camaraderie crossover between male and female lifters?

TL: Absolutely. Its respect because everyone knows the commitment and work that goes in to creating a strong, athletic body, and it's the strength I have as a lifter that has helped create respect for me in a fire station.

What do you take from being a firefighter with you when you come in to the gym or a competition?

TL: The ability to overcome fear. That's a big thing, and it affects you in very strange ways; also, the mental determination to not quit when you feel physical pain.

Do you still find yourself afraid when you lift?

TL: Heck, yeah. You put that much weight on your back and squat down with it? It a fear, you have doubts, but you learn to work through it.

It goes back to that whole 70/30 thing about mental and physical?

TL: Yeah, and that's where someone like Bob is so important, he's such a great asset. I think it's pretty rare that a husband can coach a wife, but maybe we can, because that's how our relationship started. He's really an amazing guy. A few years ago at Worlds, Bob worked with a fellow US Team member from Alaska. She'd been lifting as long as I had, she was a Sumo style deadlifter. Bob felt her body type was really more suited to conventional deadlift style. She failed on her first two attempts, and was at a point where she was going to bomb out of the meet, even though she had the ability to medal. Bob went to her, and said, "Trust me", and because so many women at the event had respect for him, she listened and trusted him. He changed her stance on her third deadlift, and she pulled it easily, taking a silver medal, the first time she'd ever medaled at Worlds. That's the kind of coach he is and it's amazing to have that kind of resource in my back pocket.

How do you stay up? Gym's are a very demanding and competitive business, and you're under pressure as a leader in the Reno Fire Department, how do you keep it all sorted?

TL: Well, my family of course, but working out, getting stronger. I mean, if I don't work out, I'm miserable. It helps me deal with my stress, the negative parts of my life. We all have negative aspects of our lives and if we don't control them, those aspects of our lives will control us. Being a firefighter, you meet people every day that are experiencing the very worst day of their lives. That can be a real burden on your heart and soul when you truly care about people. I control it with weightlifting. I don't jog, but I'll get on a treadmill or a gauntlet stair stepper, mostly on a recovery day. In most cases, my "aerobic" conditioning is sprinting, running stadiums, sprints with a sled, conditioning that is applicable to firefighting.

You've been very successful as a woman in a profession dominated by men. Do you feel you had any obstacles, and if so, has your experience as an athlete, a weightlifter, given you skills or tools to overcome those challenges?

TL: I really don't see it as a male/female obstacle. I see it as purely a functional obstacle. You can either do the job or you can't. The job isn't going to change for you because you're a woman, it's not going to change for you because you're a smaller guy or a bigger guy. The job is the job. Nothing upsets me more than when a woman says, "I deserve the job because I'm a woman". How about, you deserve the job because you can do the job? That's significant. You can't train to get the job, you have train to do the job. You have to make a lifelong commitment. Your training starts when you decide to take the Fire Test or the Police Test, and you better not be training just to pass the test, but to do the job. So the obstacle is that we may have to train a little harder, we may have to change our perspective a little bit.

Change in what way?

TL: Well, like when women come to me and say, "I want to take the Fire Test, but I don't want to get big, I don't want to put on muscle." You've got to decide what you really want in life. If you really want to be a firefighter or a police officer, or compete in a "male dominated" job that is typically more physical, you have to accommodate your body to do that. That means training hard and heavy and it means that you may have to re-evaluate what your ideal body image is.

So it really boils down to living for the long term goal, and not focusing on short term requirements? Not unlike training for competition, is it?

TL: The thing that I see at the Fire Academy when training my recruits physically, is I can see who the athletes are. Not because I can see their conditioning or strength levels, but I can see their determination, their drive. They push past the pain, whether its push ups, sit ups, or field training, they just don't quit. That's what is important.

What advice do you have for any young person who's thinking about getting in to weightlifting or powerlifting?

TL: Find a good gym that has quality people as members with experience. If they choose to have someone train them, they really need to look at what that person has done. Sometimes, someone with a "credential" is not the person you want to have as a trainer. If you're going to do it, don't waste your time with someone who doesn't understand or ask what your goals are. First know what your goals are, what you're trying to achieve, and then find someone who can help you achieve it. Most important, focus on basics, whether it's kettlebells, benching, squatting, deadlifting, whatever. Determine what it is you want, then make the necessary changes in your life to achieve those goals.

What other goals do you have, what do you still want to accomplish?

This gym, American Iron, is our "garage gym". Bob and I have a real passion for working with young people and this is the avenue for us to be able to do that. We created in American Iron what we would like if we walked in to a gym, and we hope that other people would like it too. We're not a fitness center, not a health club, we are a gym, and we have a lot of exceptionally talented people that train here. It's a big family, and we'd like everyone who comes here to feel that they are part of the family, that this is their gym. We'd like to be successful financially in the gym so that we can expand in to having powerlifting and strongman competitions and make American Iron a true part of the strength community. We want to inspire people, create confidence in young people, I guess…just help make a positive change in peoples' lives.

Tammy Lopes can be reached at tamara@american-iron.com

American Iron Gym is located in Sparks, Nevada. Visit them on the web at www.american-iron.com.


Here is a sample of Tammy's workout routine, cycled every nine days:

Heavy legs
Squats, front squats, leg press, leg extension, leg curl, glute ham raise
Light legs
super-sets of box and band squats, box camber bar front squats, 21's squats on smith,
glute ham raise w/ bands, ext, curls and seated curls
Heavy Chest
bar flat, incline and decline, kettle bell press (non-supported) Light chest
super-sets of dumbell flat and incline, band kettle bell, band and
cable flys, kettle push-ups and chain push-ups
Heavy back
low deads (for warm ups), heavy deads, cleans, kettlebell cleans,
kettlebell snatch, kettlebell high rows


 

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