Elmira’s Emily zur Linden just came home with a first-place international powerlifting win. Again.
Last month she was in New Zealand at the Commonwealth powerlifting Championship, placing first in her weight class. In June, she competed at the World Classic Powerlifting Championship in South Africa, placing seventh in the world in her weight class. Before that, in May, she won the Canadian Powerlifting Union Nationals in Newfoundland.
She also set a record for her deadlift at the commonwealth games for her 63 kg weight class at the last competition. Her stats include: 391.3 lbs for squat, 220.5 for bench, and 427.7 for deadlift for a total of 1,039.5 lbs. The lady can lift.
While her performance at the international competitions are a highlight, the daily grind is, well, a grind.
Zur Linden, 35, balances powerlifting with her full schedule. She estimates she works more than 60 hours each week as a large animal veterinarian at Metzger Veterinarian Services in Linwood, where she’s worked for the last ten years, as well as participating as a member of her family with her husband and her four-year-old daughter.
“My husband is absolutely incredible. I have his support, and without that there would be absolutely no way I could do this. The days that it’s like, ‘OK, I have to lift today.’ He’s right there: ‘OK, that’s fine – mom lifts on Mondays.’ So he is in charge of bedtime.
She must constantly be watching her weight because if she loses or gains enough to push her out of her weight class when weighing in for a competition, she will be disqualified and unable to compete.
“As we get closer to the bigger events, there’s a much heavier focus on diet and making sure you’re either within striking distance within a couple days or you’re comfortably in your weight class going into it. That’s one of the things I get so nervous about. I have a travel scale, I weigh myself twice a day to make sure that I’m on track for being on-weight so there’s no surprises on meet day where I don’t get to perform.”
She trains three days a week for about three to four hours at a time. “I have found that my sweet spot is I only lift three days a week. That way I can balance home and family and work and try to get all the obligations met in the week most effectively. So I only lift three days a week. They’re longer sessions.
“I work around a schedule where I work around 60 hours a week, if not more. So that’s a non-negotiable, and my husband’s quite busy with his work as well. So we do try our best to [find the] days where I can fit my training in that makes the most sense,” she said.
Her husband, Alex zur Linden, is with her every step of the way.
“She started powerlifting just before she was pregnant with our daughter and she was determined and committed to come back to the sport that she was pretty good at, even if she had just gotten started in it,” he said. “She made slow and steady progress and eventually made it back to lifting heavy weights. We were both committed to lifelong fitness and showing our daughter how fitness can be a part of your life, so we built a [gym] at our house to optimize our environment for achieving this goal.”
He says the best part of seeing his wife achieve her goals is watching her gain strength and seeing her level of determination.
“I’m glad that our daughter can witness this first hand,” he said.
Competing internationally with a full career and in midlife is not easy, but it does make the rewards sweeter, she says.
“Honestly it makes me incredibly more proud of myself for doing this at 35 with a full-time career and a family with a young daughter at home. And finding the time to train, finding the time to cook for myself, because when I’m deep into training mode, it might be pot pie for dinner for everyone else, but I’m having air-fried fish and broccoli. I have to do what I have to do to meet my goal – it’s not fun in those instances.”
She says the lessons she’s learned from powerlifting apply to all aspects of her life, noting the mental discipline that comes from forcing herself to continually do hard things, even when she doesn’t want to, impacts her work and home life too.
“If you look at it objectively, if I have a good squat day or a bad squat day, I still show up and squat the next day I’m supposed to. And over time, I get better. And I get better with repeated exposures to it. And that’s the same thing with having difficult conversations with people. It’s hard to squat 400 pounds. It’s also hard to have a conversation with somebody – that’s not an easy one. But with more exposure to doing things like that, it gets easier.
“Same thing with parenting. It’s hard to listen to your kid cry it out or whatever your method of bedtime training is, it’s hard but with repeated exposure, it gets easier. And I’ve seen that theme show up so many more times throughout my life. I honestly never thought powerlifting would show me that. I thought it would just be like, ‘OK, this is my hobby, whatever.’ But it’s showing me so much about what consistency and dedication can get you.”
Zur Linden always kept active in her life. She was in gymnastics earlier in life, and later participated in crossfit. But she found it put too much stress on her body, and decided to focus on her strength. Then she began looking at the lifting numbers from past competitions and realized she wasn’t too far off from them.
Eventually she found a coach in Barrie who she works with remotely. She told him her goal was to compete at the world level.
“Putting that out there, I was just like, ‘I can’t believe I said that – oh my gosh, no way. Here we go, this is that big, scary goal that I have.’
“It could have been met with, ‘well, you know, you’re not really there yet.’ And it was met with, ‘heck yeah, let’s go! Let’s do this! Let’s get you there.’ And it was just like, ‘Oh my God, he believes in me too. It’s real now.’”
In 2020, zur Linden competed in the Canadian nationals, and came in third. From there, she decided to apply to compete on Team Canada, not knowing if she had a good chance with a third-place finish. But she was accepted, and went on to win the North American Powerlifting Championship in 2021, and has kept winning since.
Now, zur Linden has her eye on winning nationals again in February. She hopes to compete at the World Classic Powerlifting Championships again, which will be held in Malta this year. She is aiming to place at least in the top five.
She is also aiming for an invitation to the elite, invitation-only international Sheffield Powerlifting Championships, “and setting more records on the way if I can,” she said. “I’m going to be doing this as long as my body holds up, I’d say and I would like to do it for a while, because I feel like I’m just scratching the surface of what I’m capable of.”
Zur Linden’s advice for others?
“There’s immeasurable benefits to physical activity in whatever capacity that is,” she said. “So find something that you like to do and do it with consistency. And that will take you so far.”