Donegal student Katie Ewing is celebrating 20 years of life after open heart surgery by showing how strong women’s bodies can be.

The Newton native was just seven years old when she had major surgery at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin to fix a hole in her heart. This week, on the anniversary of her surgery Katie has spoken out to thank the doctors and nurses at Crumlin. “I owe my life to the wonderful staff at Crumlin,” Katie told Donegal Woman.

Katie is now 27 years old and is studying veterinary nursing. She started powerlifting two years ago and quickly fell in love with the sport.

“I have never looked back, and my body has achieved feats of strength that little girl almost 20 years ago could only dream of,” Katie said.

Powerlifting is a strength sport involving the squat, the bench press and the deadlift. Katie now competes with the Derry Powerlifting Club and uses her strength to give back to Crumlin, which will always be close to her heart. Last year Katie took part in the IPO National Charity Powerlifting Championships to raise funds for the hospital.


“I was a poorly, scrawny child and I couldn’t keep up with my brothers and schoolfriends when they played and ran about. The hole in my heart made me very weak, and I don’t think I’d have been about long if I hadn’t had the open heart surgery,” Katie said.

“I remember feeling like I was supposed to be afraid in the hospital as I could sense the fear and anxiety from my parents – and I was in a hospital for very sick children – but the amazing doctors and nurses made the experience so stress-free for 7 year old me.

“I will never forget the physical pain and the wires jabbing into me, the sterile odour of disinfectant, the bright lights of the operating theatre, and the weird deep mauve colours of my new battle wound.”

Katie Ewing

Katie said her fears were eased by her kind and gentle doctors and nurses. Her talented surgeon, Dr Nelligan, made sure she felt calm about the surgery.

“What will forever be seared into my mind is the wonder I felt when an amazing, kind nurse showed me Henry Bear. A cuddly teddy, and to this day I don’t know how – he had a heart that beat and I held my hand on his chest and felt his heart thumping!” Katie said.

Battle scar

Katie had a scar after the surgery which she was self conscious about growing up. Now she sees her battle wound in a different light. “Without the scar I would be dead so it’s pointless to hate it. I didn’t wear a bikini until I was in my twenties. Now, I just don’t care and this summer I wore crop tops. I’m just more confident and that’s partly just age and also powerlifting has helped.”

Katie and friends – Summer 2016

“I have gained so much confidence through powerlifting, as you really have to believe in yourself or the weight won’t move. I’ve gained physical and mental strength and always look forward to training so much,” she said.

Powerlifting competitions involve each competitor getting three attempts for each lift (squat, bench press and deadlift). There are weight categories that each competitor lifts under, and whoever lifts the most weight, has the biggest “total” as it is called, wins.

Katie won a gold medal at the 2015 WPU World Championships in Limerick and has gained so much from training and competing. She was invited to join the club by coach Billy Hutchison and the team compete in the Irish Powerlifting Organisation event which is run by Shane Brodie.

The IPO National Charity Powerlifting event was organised by Shane’s wife Amanda Bedford Brodie. Crumlin is special to their hearts too, as their son spent time there as a baby and is also a little heart warrior.


Katie is passionate about promoting weightlifting as an exercise for women: “I would recommend powerlifting to any girl who’s looking to get fit and gain confidence. There are loads of girls competing and contrary to what some people think, lifting heavy does not make women she-hulks.

“All the ladies I know through this sport look fabulous and more importantly, love their training and competing, and like me, the confidence it gives you. Everyone is welcome to join the Derry Powerlifting Club, you can find us on Facebook,” she said.

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