Jenny Chan

Jenny Chan

BELLS OF STEEL: Saanich woman dominates kettlebell sport

District of Saanich employee earns North American title in competitive lifting sport

Anyone who’s worked out with kettlebells knows it’s one of the most gruelling exercises imaginable. And one District of Saanich employee recently proved that she’s as good as anyone in North America.

Jenny Chan, 29, won gold on her first try at the Victoria Kettlebell Sport Classic a year ago, and since then she’s repeated that result twice on larger stages – placing first at the International Kettlebell Competition in San Francisco in February, and then taking home another gold in Vancouver on April 12. Next Saturday (May 24) she’ll defend her title at the fourth annual VKSC at Saanich Commonwealth Place.

Though she’s dominating her opponents at every event, Chan says she’s completely new to competitive sport.

“I didn’t grow up doing sports-related, after-school activities,” says Chan outside Body Dynamics Headquarters – a downtown gym that rejects high-tech cardio machines in favour of old-school tools like ropes, dumbbells and kettlebells. “My parents were all about academics, but I’ve always had a passion for fitness.”

Kettlebells look like cannonballs with an awkward metal handle and the mere sight of one can make a person not used to strenuous exercise feel a little panicky. Chan, however, tosses them around like they are filled with popcorn instead of steel shot.

“Don’t worry, it’s only half my body weight,” she says as she poses – smiling – with two 12-kilogram kettlebells over her head.

Competitive lifting has recently seen a surge in popularity in Canada and the United States.

Developed by Russian farmers in the 1700s, kettlebells provide an “unstable force” ideal for developing lower back muscles, grip, and core strength. Engaging the entire body at once, they simulate real-world farm work like baling hay and shovelling dirt.

“Kettlebell sport is very similar to Olympic power lifting,” says Chan. “The idea for a female lifter is to use one kettlebell, and perform as many lifts as she can in a 10-minute period with no rests. It’s intense and completely addictive.”

What makes Chan’s three gold-medal performances more astonishing is that she’s destroying opponents who outweigh her by 11 kilograms.

“In February, I won first place in the 58-kilogram weight category,” says Chan. “I weigh-in at 47 kilograms. I didn’t expect that. I was expecting to walk out with just a free goodie-bag and a good experience.”

Chan won’t predict whether she will win a fourth gold medal next weekend, but plans to give it her best effort.

“My expectations are to achieve the same results as Vancouver, and who knows if that will win it,” she says. “It’s hard to say, but as long as my results are consistent, I’m happy with that.”

Visit victoriakettlebellclassic.com for event info.

editor@saanichnews.com