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‘PowHerFul’: Celebrating women’s strength

Eileen McCormick / Khmer Times Share:
It’s a weekend of women’s strength and competence at the ‘PowHerUp Games’. Supplied

Fighting against issues on women being objectified for their faces and figure has been a constant endeavour around the world, including Cambodia. There have been significant positive changes, yes. And to further take these changes up and forward, the founders of PowHerful Fitness, Shannon Vital and Hanna Bartels, will be holding their first all-female games tomorrow, April 6. Eileen McCormick talks with the two women ahead of their PowHerUp Games at Crossfit Amtak gym.

KT: Can you tell me a little about yourselves?

Coach Shannon Vital: I’m from the US and I’ve been living in Phnom Penh since May 2016. I have always had an insatiable interest in sports and health and wellness related endeavours. I have more than 20 years devoted to various pursuits, through sports like American football, baseball, soccer, or career paths such as the US military or as an instructor in the Martial Arts and group fitness classes. It is my dream to spread my knowledge and awareness as a health and wellness lifestyle consultant throughout the broader SEA area over the next decade.

Team Captain Hanna Bartels: I’m a fitness enthusiast who has experienced an amazing journey of self-development through working out purposefully in the last 1.5 years. This has resulted in my core aim to empower other women to take the road of a fit and fulfilling lifestyle through sharing my story.

KT: What is the difference between a coach, a team captain and a leader?

Shannon Vital: Well, we just use sports metaphors because it’s easy to understand. To me, the quarter back has to execute the play; the coach only can guide the player. While most people think of the coach as the head, a team captain has to execute the plays. Hannah is really good at that. When it was me alone trying to do personal training, I had trouble getting women to come out and see the benefits; but with Hannah as a real life example of self-transformation, it helps execute the long term goals of our community.

KT: What is PowHERful about?

Hanna Bartels: The mission of PowHERful is to provide opportunities to women to help empower them to reach their full potential. We do this through focusing primarily on the physical and mental benefits of weight and strength training as a tool to grow physically stronger while conquering mental challenges. Our community of women in Phnom Penh meet up regularly to share and support each other in our fitness and self-development journeys. Our aim is to empower each other for a fit and healthy lifestyle by becoming more confident and effective in the gym.

KT: How did you come up with the name ‘PowHERful’?

Shannon Vital: The group decided on the word of Power – acronym for Providing Opportunities to Women to help Empower her to Reach her full potential. lt encompasses body, mind, and spirit.

KT: Do you have Cambodian females who participate?

Shannaon Vital and Hanna Bartels: Yes! We started this group a year ago and at first we could see that there was a gap, a need for female strengthen training. But we soon realised that if people did not see the benefit of us filling that gap, they would not become part of the community. So both of us have since created a free 10-week session exercise course to encourage Cambodians and expats who want to understand more about fitness and nutrition. This has helped make it more inclusive for Cambodian females who have access to Facebook and YouTube and can see the benefits of exercise but are not really sure how to start proper techniques and form.

KT: Do you provide a certificate of completion?

Shannon Vital and Hanna Bartels: We do, if someone goes through the whole 10 weeks and passes a test. Yes, there is a test. The test is both written and physical but it’s not too hard to pass if you attended the full programme. So far we have only had one person who completed it, but it’s actually a pretty cool case as she was a 60-year-old woman who never really trained a day in her life. Now she is a regular in our community. Our community is quite diverse. We have people in all sorts of age ranges, many members are from SEA and we have a few expats from western countries as well.

KT: Could you see your programme being adapted for primary school PE?

Hanna Bartels: Well, I did do some mentoring at a school, where children were about 11-15 in age. I discussed the body health stuff and nutrition and also why it’s important to stay active. With my experience, I see a gap especially in girls’ understanding of their body. So we would like to use a female specific curriculum for early development. With an emphasis on female health, fitness, strength, confidence and body perception.

KT: How do you deal with stereotypes?

Shannon Vital and Hanna Bartels: Well, as you know there are a lot of things floating around in society – most common is ‘I don’t want to be bulky’. Also, a lot of females in Asia have only been exposed to yoga which you know may or may not get the results they are actually looking for. For example, ‘I want to tone up’ yoga might not lead to that so it might make them frustrated and stop seeing the benefits of exercise. PowHERful helps make them understand what will work for them.

KT: So let’s hear the details about the PowHERful Games.

Shannon Vital and Hanna Bartels: It’s an all-female games. There are no qualifiers other than identifying yourself as female. You can still register up until Friday evening for just USD25 for individuals and discounted rates for groups that sign up together. We have 12 male judges because we wanted our females not participating to cheer on their friends. There are over 7,000 dollars in prizes for those who will win different events in the competition. Our main sponsors have been local fitness clubs especially Rise Fitness, a 24-hour gym set to open near Aeon 1 this year. Some prizes will be free membership which is quite exciting. Spectators can buy tickets at the door for USD5. All proceeds go back into our free training programmes for women.

KT: What do you think will be your favourite event?

Shannon Vital and Hanna Bartels: That’s easy – Dead Lift! It’s our most popular. Most of the females have signed up for that so we are going to say that it’s our main competition. Most women are told not to pick up heavy things. But it’s the most functional exercise. After you complete it, you’ll realise that you’ve picked up something that is as heavy as you are. It makes you feel empowered. We also have Chin Up, which is the least signed up for because of the limited upper body strength. We’re excited to see what these select few will bring to the event tomorrow.


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