Featured Image: IPC London 2012

If luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, then Liberia has some of the unluckiest athletes in the sports world. Imagine being in a constant state of preparedness with slim to no opportunities. That’s James Bobby Siaffa’s story.

Siaffa is the para powerlifter, who represented Liberia in the 2012 Paralympics. As a professional athlete, he does what he must to stay ready. It takes four to five hours for him to travel to and from a make-shift gym, which is smaller than most bedrooms. The worn down wheels on his wheelchair makes the commute even more difficult. Rips and tears outline his weight bench, but he doesn’t complain. During Liberia’s rainy season, he navigates through the cold down pour drenched with no umbrella. Still, he pushes through his training and has a 419lb personal best record.

Trainer/Coach Todd Nagbe poses in Bobby's gym.
Siaffa training in 2017 (photo from Facebook page.)

When he catches malaria or the cold-virus, he cant take just any old pill. Siaffa has to visit a sports doctor and get medicine that meets the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) anti-doping policy. Since, he can’t afford the doctor visit, he goes without the medicine. He waits for his health to improve and when his body recovers, he gets back in the gym to push through his training.

Male powerlifters should consume 2,400 – 3,000 calories a day to maintain their bodyweight. Bobby consumes far less. Though he’d prefer the healthier and less starchy buckwheat, he buys rice. Overtime, he’s dropped from 82.5kg to 75kg. He eats what he can afford and pushes through.

After Siaffa has pushed through the commute, the rain, the sickness, the hunger and all the other obstacles athletes face, he meets a dead end. His federation cannot afford to send him to compete. Disappointed, but not defeated,  he gets back in the gym and prepares for the next competition that he may or may not be able to attend. Why does he continue in this madness?

“Training makes me feel good. When I’m in the gym, I feel happy,” Siaffa said.

The way he speaks about powerlifting is captivating. “It’s not just about lifting. It’s about the control,” he said. His talent and ambition makes it clear. He was born to lift. Siaffa is preparing for the 2018 World Para Powerlifting African Championship in Algiers, on August 10-12. This is a mandatory competition to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

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