Yemassee weightlifter to lift for Lebanon in Olympics
By Mike McCombs
After Mahassen Hala Fattouh’s back injury flared up less than a month before the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janiero, forcing her to miss the Olympics, it wasn’t long before she was forced to make a decision.
“It was in 2017, I had just made my way back from some pretty rough injuries, back and knees and stuff,” Fattouh said. “Since I kept running into that, my husband was looking at Ray (Jones) because he had coached C.J. Cummings for however long and you’d never heard of C.J. being out with injuries. “And since that seemed to be the biggest thing holding me back, we decided to give it a try for like two months before the world championships and it kind of stuck. We fit really well as a team, so I stayed.”
Four years later, Fattouh is days away from becoming the first woman to compete in weightlifting in the Olympic Games for the country of Lebanon.
“The whole thing was … was she going to make it or was she not?” Team Beaufort Coach Ray Jones said. “As it got closer and closer to the final selections, different ones in different weight classes came back positive for doping, and she kept moving up and up and up.”
Fattouh will compete in Group B of the Women’s 76-kilogram weight class. She’s set to compete at 1:50 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 1, at the Tokyo International Forum. The 13-hour time difference means she’ll lift at 12:50 a.m. Beaufort time.
“For her to make it was very surprising and very special,” Jones said. “The fact that she made history as the first woman to lift for Lebanon, that’s what it’s all about. It’s about her going there now … and enjoing the experience and knowing you’re an Olympian and you’re representing your country and enjoy it.”
Orignially from Florida, Fattouh would drive to Beaufort and stay with a teammate for a few weeks, going home every other weekend to see her family and husband, former weightlifter Ryan Paiva. In November, however, the couple purchased a house in Yemassee and call the Lowcountry home.
Now, with her career going in the right direction, Fattouh is enjoying spreading the love for weightlifting among the Lebonese.
“Just in the time I’ve been lifting for Lebanon, there’s already been lifters reach out,” she said. “I’ll have a teammate come in November for this next World Championship. It’s just kinda nice to bring it back because one of Lebanon’s Olympic medals was in weightlifting, it was just back in the 1970s. Hopefully, they’ll expand the sport and I’ll have a full team around me someday soon.”
After the Olympics, Fattouh will fly straight to Lebanon from Tokyo to see family. As for now, neither Jones nor Fattouh know where stands among her competition.
“Her training over the last couple of months has just been off the charts. Personal records and all kind of different complexes she does in training,” Jones said. “It’s going to be interesting to see. How she’ll place, we don’t even know who all is going to be able to get into Tokyo with all the tests you have to pass to get in there, so. When she gets there, the bottom line is break personal records.
“You control what you can do. Don’t worry about what anybody else does. I have no idea where she will place at, but breaking those records would be the goal.”
“I just want to have fun, so if I can make lifts and hopefully hit a personal record that day, then I would be more than happy,” Fattouh said. “Honestly, I’m taking it one day at a time. Being there will be amazing. Walking with my teammates will be amazing. Just because I’ve never been to the Olympics.”
Mike McCombs is the editor of The Island News and can be reached at TheIslandNews@gmail.com.
Top photo: Mahassen Hala Fattouh of Lebanon lifts earlier this month at The Foundry. Hala said the lack of spectators in Tokyo won’t matter to her. Fattouh stays focused on her lift and said, “I can’t see them anyway.” Photo by Bob Sofaly.