Like a typical little sister, Christine Girard followed her older sister, Caroline, into weightlifting.
She was 10 years old and knew little about the sport.
“For the first few months, I was just lifting a stick,” she admits.
“I was learning the technique.”
Eventually, she added weights to the bar and in her first competition, she lifted 32 kilograms.
Last week at the Pan American Games in Mexico, the 26-year-old Girard — who was competing in the 63-kg weight class — hoisted 238 kilograms to claim the gold medal.
She edged Columbia’s Esther Palomeque by three kilograms.
“I was so happy, I had tears in my eyes when I heard the national anthem,” Girard recounted on Friday afternoon at Hybrid-Athletics, a new gym in Langley where Girard trains and coaches.
“I went (to the Pan Am Games) and it was my goal to get the gold medal; it felt so good to achieve it.”
Standing five-foot-three and weighing 140 pounds, Girard doesn’t match people’s perceptions of what a competitive weightlifter should look like.
“A lot of people don’t believe I am an Olympic weightlifter when they see me,” she said.
There are also the stereotypes of the sport’s past association with drug scandals.
Once a month, Girard submits to drug testing, with the tester showing up at her White Rock home unannounced.
But none of that is enough to stop Girard from chasing her dream.
Girard has competed in more than 75 competitions since the start of her career and she holds Canadian junior and senior records in her weight class. She also holds Commonwealth and Pan Am Games records.
This was her third Pan Am Games, previously placing eighth in 2003 and second in 2007.
It was at the Commonwealth Games in 2002 when Girard first set her sights on winning gold at a major competition.
“I decided then in my head that one day, that would happen to me,” she said.
She hopes this is just the beginning of a great next nine months.
Girard leaves for Paris this week, where she will compete at the senior world championships.
“The pressure is on (at the world championships) with this being an Olympic year,” she said.
A victory would secure a spot for Canada at next summer’s Olympic Games in London.
Girard competed at the 2008 Games in Beijing, placing fourth.
She is cautiously optmistic heading into the world championships.
“It is good to be on a high, but the doubt is always there,” she said. “We always (have) doubt and we are always confident at the same time.
“It is a good mix of emotions.”