Strong enough to push the gender boundaries

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Strong enough to push the gender boundaries

Students at Korea’s most prestigious university are best known for their brains, not the muscles in their arms and legs. Nonetheless, every fall since 1968 the Seoul National University weightlifting club has christened one strapping fellow as Mr. Seoul National University. The man with the most muscles wins.
This year’s contest, which will be held Thursday, would be just another round of guys flexing and posing if not for Park Jeong-heui, a 35-year-old woman pursuing a master’s degree in sports management. She is also the first female student to enter the bodybuilding contest.
With two years of bodybuilding experience, Ms. Park’s quest began out of a desire to lose the fat she gained during her pregnancy.
“In early 1997 I gave birth to my daughter,” Ms. Park says. “I was breast-feeding her so I ate five meals a day. Later on, I found that I weighed 20 kilograms (44 pounds) more than before my pregnancy.”
Before she married, Ms. Park, who stands 165 centimeters (5-feet, 5-inches), weighed 51 kilograms. By the end of 1997, she tipped the scales at 75 kilograms. She tried different diets, but her desperate efforts failed to bring her below 65 kilograms.
While watching TV last March, Ms. Park got a look at Kim Hye-young, a former fitness champion. Ms. Kim’s body inspired her. Almost instantly, Ms. Park says, she knew what she wanted to do.
She fired off an e-mail to the fitness guru, asking her whether an average person could become so toned. “She told me ‘Why not?’ and sent me her personal tips,” Ms. Park says. Encouraged, Ms. Park registered at a neighborhood health club and began a daily workout regimen. Within three months, she had lost nine kilograms. Her friends started to take notice.
She attributes a bodybuilding competition she watched in Jeonju, after about a year of training, for sparking her appetite to compete. “There were about 200 men participating, and only three women. That’s when I decided that after a year I would participate myself,” Ms. Park says.
Ms. Park, who earned a Ph.D in computers from Chonbuk National University, teaches computer science at Jeonju Kiejeon Women’s College. Her interest in bodybuilding, however, spurred her to pursue studies in physical education.
Says Ms. Park: “As I worked out I just became interested in sports in general.” What was once merely a hobby spawned a deep passion in a field outside her profession.
When she asked a couple of students who expressed an interest in bodybuilding to enter the contest, they declined, saying that their parents or boyfriends did not like the idea. “We need a change of perception here,” Ms. Park says. “Bodybuilding is also a sport.”
She advises people not to trust companies touting products that are supposed to help them lose 20 kilograms in a month.
“I would rather work out. In my opinion, that’s the best way to lose weight. Through a regular workout you can really see the results.”

by Kim Jung-ha
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