Meet Leisuresec sponsored athlete Sonny Barrah “the one to watch”
By Steve Brown
Sonny Barrah is the ‘one to watch out for’ in the powerlifting world. At 19 he’s only been lifting weights for 3 years and is already setting British Powerlifting Records; he’s qualified for both the European and World Championships taking place later this year and is aiming for World Record success by the time he’s 20!
Inspired by his father, a Commonwealth Games Gold Medal winner in Karate, Sonny (real name Bvinder Barrah) is friendly and relaxed, but also very competitive and determined to achieve his goals.
As well as focusing on his powerlifting training, Sonny works as a Security Guard for Leisuresec and plans to go to University next year.
I met him for a Q&A session to find out more about his achievements and ambitions….
Hi Sonny, I know you recently competed at the British Powerlifting Championships (October 2016) and did remarkably well, what were your eventual results?
“I set a new British under 20s (82.5kg category) Bench Press record of 148.5kg. I also set a new under 20s Deadlift record 252.5kg; and I set a new total record for the under 20s (82.5kg category) that’s a combined total over three lifts (Bench, Squat and Deadlift)”
Setting two British records at one meet, that’s impressive! Did you win any titles and has this opened up new opportunities for you?
“Yes, I am the British Champion (under 20s 82.5kg category).
“I have also been invited to join the team GB Squad and qualified for the European Championships taking place on 27th June this year (in Poland), and the World Championships in Las Vegas on 18th September.”
Were you surprised with how well you performed? Breaking two British records, you can’t plan for that surely?
“Honestly? I did exactly what I trained for and expected. I don’t want to sound arrogant but I believe I’m the top competitor in my category, so I was pleased and I’m still pleased, but not surprised.
“People wish me luck all the time but I put it all down to gruelling workouts and self-determination. I love that saying: ‘The harder I work the luckier I get’. You make your own luck in this life and that’s one thing I’ve learned from my Dad. Hard work gets results.”
You mention your Dad, has he been an influencing factor in your success?
“Yes definitely. My Dad (Balbinder) trained hard when he was growing up in Kenya and was a Karate Champion, he won a Gold Medal at the Commonwealth Games and used Powerlifting to benefit his Karate. He still trains these days and is a 3rd Dan in Shotokan Karate.
“From a young age I watched him training and fighting and I’m a Black belt in Karate myself (under Howard Brown) and I used to play national league Hockey so sports has always been a big part of my life.”
So when, and how, did you become involved in Powerlifting?
“About 3 years ago I started lifting weights at the Sikh temple in Handsworth. I have always trained in Martial Arts and we had weights at home, but about three years ago I started getting more heavily into using weights and I actually only began Powerlifting training about a year and half ago.
“People started to tell me I was strong and I realised I was pulling serious weight. I just wanted to see how much I could lift and how strong I really was. I’m naturally very competitive and wanted to see how far I could take it. In my opinion you don’t really know how strong or good you are till you compete.”
So that sense of competition is your driving force?
“Absolutely when people tell you how strong they are it means nothing - ‘prove it’.
“I constantly meet people who tell me how strong they are or someone they know is. Gyms around the country are full of guys who are ‘The strongest in their Gym, Gym heroes’ and when people know you train that’s what they tell you ‘I’m really strong ….my brothers really strong’, after a while it becomes monotonous. So that’s my belief you’re not strong! If you think you are prove it and compete! Then you get all the excuses - ‘Next year! I’ve got a knee injury! Yaa daa yaa daa’.
“That’s what I love about the sport its put up or shut up! It’s you against the bar and no excuses.”
Is your Goal to try and win a European Title in Poland and then a World Title in Las Vegas?
“Yes but winning titles isn’t my real goal. I want to break records, that’s when you make your mark and that’s what I plan to do.”
Am I right that you are now training at Dorian Yates’s Temple Gym? How is that going?
“Really good, it’s really great environment. Because of the reputation Dorian has (6 consecutive Mr Olympia Titles) they tend to get people who are serious in there. I’ve met people who can really push me, and they have some of the best equipment available. It’s something to be proud of, people come from all over the world.”
Have you met Dorian, has he been supportive?
“I have met Dorian but he hasn’t really advised me as such. His son Lewis tends to be at the Gym and he’s a really cool guy. He’s supportive and very knowledgeable, he teaches and helps a lot of the members, and he trains really hard himself.
“If I’m honest when I’m at the gym I don’t socialise, it’s time to train and the one good thing at Temple Gym is that most of their members are serious about their lifting as well; it’s a pretty hard core gym.”
So how did you get involved with Leisuresec and are you currently still working?
“When I was 18 I was looking for work, but needed a job that would fit around my training schedule. That’s not an easy find, but I needed to support myself and fund my competitions and training costs.
“My Dad had some contacts in the Security Sector and I worked for a couple of companies. It was getting frustrating though as I was either being sent all around the Midlands and doing really boring bits of work or working alone in really dangerous situations. I was relatively new to Door work and seriously lacked the experience to deal with some of these situations.
“Then a friend of my Dad’s got me an interview with Mark Watkins (Leisuresec’s National Compliance Manager) at their head office in Henley in Arden.”
And how did that go?
“Really well, Mark could see I needed developing and told me he would help me. He really took me under his wing. If I’m honest he gave me some good advice and started me off working with him 3-4 nights a week in Chester.
“The best thing was Mark had trained a lot when he was younger and loved Powerlifting; actually he is very knowledgeable and has given me some great training tips and advice (maybe you should leave that out - it might go to his head! He quips)”
And are you currently still working in Chester at Cruise?
“Yes I’ve been at Cruise for about 12 months now; it’s given me a chance to learn the ropes and pick up loads of knowledge working alongside Mark. He also sends me to other jobs that have given me a wider range of experience. I’ve worked at clubs, hotels, hospitals, job centres; the net result is when I work at a new job now people are really surprised how experienced I am and don’t believe I’m only 19. In fact several Managers have asked me to work as a Head Doorman but I believe I’m still a little young for that.”
Have you found it difficult working on the Door and fitting in your Training?
“To be honest not really. We all have such a laugh in the minibus on the way to Cruise, it’s hilarious I’ve made some really good friends. I pick the nights I want to work and Mark gives me hours that suit my training.
“When it was close to the British Championships I did some early finishes and Mark approved for me to have 3 weeks off prior to the competition so I could focus on my preparation. Leisuresec have been really helpful and I can’t thank the team there enough for all the support I’ve been given.”
How did the sponsorship deal come about and how is that progressing?
“Very informally. It was really through me complaining about how difficult it is for amateur athletes to find sponsorship, and how funding for sports in general can be a bit of a nightmare.
“I was talking about the equipment costs and price of hotels for the British Championships (for several weeks while working with Mark at Cruise!), and one night Mark suggested the possibility of Leisuresec sponsoring some of my costs. It happened pretty quickly after that, they covered my equipment costs and the hotels for me, my Dad and my Trainer.
“I’m doing my part in promoting Leisuresec at some upcoming events such as the Body Power event at the NEC this weekend, and Leisuresec have agreed to sponsor me on my journey to compete in the European and World Championship Finals.
“If I’m honest I would have struggled to compete at this level and more than likely would have incurred debts if Leisuresec hadn’t stepped in.”
It sounds as if Mark has a lot of faith in you?
“Marks been great. I really look up to him, and I’ve learned a lot from him about security and life in general - but I probably shouldn’t say that because he also teases the hell out of me! He has a very sharp sense of humour. Without a doubt I’ve been very lucky to work with Mark. Because he has been a Powerlifter in the past I think we have a lot in common, he understands my ambitions and really wants me to succeed.”
What are your immediate plans at the moment?
“Currently I’m training for the European Championships and I’ve enrolled on a sports science degree at Loughborough University next year. But my overriding goal is to break some more records by the end of this year. In fact, the letter I had from my federation, the GPC (Global Powerlifting Committee) stated that they believe I could hold 3 World Records by the time I’m 23.”
That’s quite a compliment do you think that’s possible?
Yes, but I’m not planning on waiting till then I want to hold World Records by the time I’m 20! You have to aim high if you want to get the best out of yourself.”
Sonny will be attending and representing Leisuresec at the Body Power Event taking place this weekend (12-14 May 2017) at the NEC in Birmingham, before he heads overseas to the European Championships in Poland next month and to the United States for the World Championships in September.
If you would like to follow Sonny’s journey we will be tracking his progress to the European and World Championships so keep checking in for updates, you can also follow Sonny on Instagram @sonny_bsb
And you can follow Leisuresec on Twitter @LeisuresecPLC