Who’s Who: Birgit Elssner
By Mike Butler
Well, despite a bucket load of press recently regarding her amazing achievements, Birgit Elssner has never been a Who’s Who feature and I am proud to tell you all about her. I meet some very fascinating people through this column, most of whom are born and raised here in the valley, but Birgit falls into the unique category of coming from afar – moving to our beautiful Valley and making a home and establishing herself here. And what a story I have to share.
Birgit Elssner was born and raised in East Germany as an only child who grew up with just her mom by her side. She attended high school in Germany until 1995 in a school with peers who had physical disabilities. After that it was onto Northern Ireland for a year and then back to Germany to complete studies for 2 years, earning a certificate as a Pedagogy Therapeutic Nurse. Birgit returned to Belfast and remained there until July 2009 working in a managerial position at a residential home for adults with various physical disabilities and sensory impairments. Then the story works to our advantage as Birgit made the move to Nova Scotia for a year’s career break to work with L’Arche Homefires and she is still here. She become a permanent resident of Canada in 2013 and is hoping for Canadian citizenship one day.
I’m a barista and I’ve worked in the customer service retail field since I was 16, and I love it because it’s where I’m strong and feel most comfortable. I have always envied those who work in the fields of health and personal care and I am so grateful for all their efforts, as I know I could never do it. Birgit has worked in the health care field for over 20 years and is currently in Day Program with L’Arche. She states, “I enjoy enabling others to live their life to their full potential, being as independent as possible, achieving their dreams and I like the challenge of finding ways to adapt the environment and style for each individual to find joy in their achievements and I like seeing others succeed in their endeavours.”
Birgit was 13, living in Germany, when the Berlin Wall came down. To be witness to an historic event is one thing, but Birgit is also making some history right here in the Valley with physical fitness.
A lot of us have been there. The gym! It can be a very scary, intimidating, and lonely place at first, especially if you’re self-conscience of your body and worried about fitting in and meeting challenges. Birgit tried a ‘regular’ gym but found many excuses not to attend regularly. Then she stumbled upon the Highlander Strength & Fitness gym in October 2013. With its warehouse style atmosphere, no mirrors on the walls, small group personal training, and more, Birgit found Highlander to be the perfect place for her to embrace her new interests in fitness.
Fast-forward to a passing comment made by her coach about powerlifting, and Birgit was hooked. Lifting weights felt very natural and Birgit was exceptional at it. Following competitions in November 2014; June and November 2015; and most recently the National in June 2016, where she took home a trophy each time, her powerlifting career has blossomed. The achievements are piling up as Birgit has set three different Canadian Records for her weight/age class. And her win at Nationals qualified her for the World Powerlifting Championships in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in early November this year, where she will be representing Canada as part of the Canadian team. Just reading about everything Birgit has accomplished is mind-blowing, so imagining what’s to come in the future is very exciting.
On training she says, “I train regularly three times a week at Highlander Strength & Fitness in New Minas, in Middleton at Fitness Experience, and occasionally at the Acadia gym. It’s wonderful to have so many wonderful fitness facilities in the Valley, each with its own highlights and benefits. The vital parts of preparation for competitions include being nutritionally conscious, [understanding] injury prevention and rehab through various treatments, being mentally focused on training, and of course having fun.”
Well, there you have the job and the background and the major extracurricular “hobby” that takes up a lot of Birgit’s life, so what does she do for fun? Birgit is always there to help others with her truck or her chainsaw (or both!), and in her spare time she likes to watch Strongman competitions, pull trucks (I mean, don’t we all?). She also is part of the Executive for the Wolfville Area Newcomers Club, plays scrabble, and stage-manages with various local community theatre groups – her favourite being the Fezziwig Society, which is where I first met Birgit.
And with so many achievements under her belt, what does Birgit want to strive for in the future? She says, “My biggest dream is the Canadian Strongwomen competition, if my body allows it and I am able financially to support this dream with training and prehab/rehab. I also wish to be happy with my life and learn to love myself always. But, for now, I have a pretty attainable goal to successfully perform a 400lbs deadlift at the World Powerlifting Championship in Baton Rouge. Wish me Luck!” Congratulations Birgit! Best of luck and we can’t WEIGHT to see what lies ahead.