Taranaki powerlifter Ashleigh Hoeta on top of the world after battling grief, serious illness

Just before her father died last year, champion athlete Ashleigh Hoeta made him three promises: to be first woman in the world to bench press more than 300kg, to win the New Zealand arm wrestling championships and to keep going.

Sure enough, Hoeta honoured her promises. Less than a month later she had smashed the former bench record by 22.7kg – lifting 317.5kg and bagged the arm wrestling champs.

The Taranaki powerlifter’s athletic achievements were all the more remarkable given they happened less than four years since learning to regain movement again, following a stroke.

It was in 2020 that Hoeta noticed she had pins and needles in her leg, she told Nine to Noon.

“I was in Hamilton, which is three hours away from where I was living at the time, and I had pins and needles in my leg. And we drove home and just assumed it would go away. But it didn’t. I rang Healthline because I didn’t really understand what was going on.

“She asked if I could smile in the mirror, and the right side of my face smiled the left side remained kind of droopy and she immediately called an ambulance.”

Hoeta was rushed into hospital and told she had suffered a stroke.

“I was in there for a week. And then New Zealand went into lockdown, which, in my eyes, it’s kind of a blessing in disguise. Because those entire five weeks that we were first and locked down, I used those five weeks to just rehabilitate the left side of my body.

“And by the time we came out of lockdown in 2020, I was stronger on my left side than my right.”

This formidable mental resilience ran in the family, she said.

“My dad, he was dealing with a terminal illness for a few years, and he never let it get him down. Even though he was told to rest at home, he was always trying to go fishing or on his motorbike.

“And it was just, I gotta keep going, I want to live my life to the fullest. And that’s what I want to take with me in life. I want to live my life to the fullest. And I don’t want to have any regrets, if I was to pass away tomorrow.”

She committed herself fully to her rehab, she said.

“The first few days, it was literally me sitting there, opening and closing my hands and standing on one foot. And that would last about five seconds. And then it went to doing one push up and doing a sit up and walking around the house.”

Her gymnastics training from her childhood stood her in good stead, she said.

“I’d set myself a goal each day of doing an extra push up or an extra sit up. And then I think about week four, I was doing handstand holds and cartwheels and I ended up bringing all of my gymnastics back, which helped me rehabilitate quite successfully.”

At the same time her whānau was dealing with her father’s terminal Illness.

“It was kind of like a domino effect. We went through hearing about the diagnosis and then hearing about how much time he had left, and then to see him decline every time I saw him. It was definitely hard, seeing your loved one get sicker and not being able to do anything about it.”

Nevertheless, her father saw her achieve much before he died, and she made him three promises.

“I told him I was going to win the New Zealand arm wrestling champs, I was going to attempt to become the first woman in the world to bench press 300kgs … and to keep going.”

A week after her father died later she won the arm wrestling nationals.

“That was first promised that I kept him ticked off.”

Three weeks later came her world record attempt.

“My first attempt, my opener was 280 kgs, which had put me into second in the world. My second attempt was 305kgs. And that flew up, and I was happy as, my whole family came running to me crying, and my coach was like, ‘wait, you haven’t finished, you’ve got one more attempt’, and I’m going, I’ve just done it, I just want to celebrate, I don’t want to do it. And he goes, ‘Nope, you’re doing one more attempt’.”

Fortunately, she listened to her coach.

“And so for my third attempt, I did 317.5 kgs, which is 700 pounds. And I managed to fly that up as well, which made me not only rewrite the world record, but became the first woman in the world to ever bench 700 pounds.”

Now she’s heading to Turkey where she’ll take on the best arm wrestlers of the northern hemisphere for the East vs West competition – after recently qualifying in the Oceania Championships in Sydney.

She hoped her achievements would act as an inspiration for her children, she said.

“I want them to grow up and know that the sky’s the limit. I want them to know that they can do anything that they set their minds to do. I want them to be determined even if they don’t do sport. And I want them to love whatever they’re doing.”

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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