Physical strength drives mental strength for CFOs and weight lifting

Mariska Casey, UJ accounting lecturer, says a rush of blood to the head is good for CFOs.

“Sports like powerlifting are good for your brain, as your brain will receive more blood and oxygen when you exercise,” says Mariska Casey, who was recently crowned world champion powerlifting in the weight class below 47kg in the masters 1 category (40-49 years of age). “It is is also important for CFOs, because if you are fitter, you can think clearer and deal better with stress and crunch times like month end.”

The diminutive lightweight who hails from Ermelo in Mpumalanga talks about what it takes to be a CFO on a daily basis, as she lectures her accounting students at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). After a CA career at KPMG, FNB and Investec, she moved back to ‘her’ university in 2009 and hasn’t looked back. 

“I teach financial management: long-term decision making, capital budgeting, looking forward into the future and tying that in with entrepreneurship. It is what I love,” says Mariska, who also serves as a pre-issuance reviewer for the Auditor-General and is a member of various audit committees of the Limpopo provincial government.

That she loved powerlifting, she only found out six years ago, at the age of 35. That she was incredibly good at it, she found out only a little bit later. “My husband started going to the gym and I saw he was losing weight rapidly. I thought ‘I want to look good in front of my class’ and started going as well. It has been quite amazing to discover a hidden talent like that. I saw myself as a nerdy individual who wanted to be a ballerina. I never knew I was so strong. Being a strong woman has been very empowering. And physical strength drives mental strength.”

Powerlifting is a strength sport that consists of three attempts at maximal weight on three lifts: squat, bench press and deadlift. Once Mariska realised her talent, she went for it and started a Spartan training ritual under coach Rodney Anthony, globally recognised as one of the best in the business. “A small percentage is talent, but a lot of work goes into it. For my 40th birthday, I just ate a few strawberries, as weight management is crucial,” says Mariska with a smile.

“That feeling of winning for your country is great and singing the national anthem is fabulous,” says Mariska, who professionally also used her maiden name McKenzie. “It also made me realise how blessed I am, with many people in South Africa, 12,000km from Calgary where the tournament was held, staying up until 2am to watch me perform, as the tournament was streamed over the internet. It was a ‘wow’ moment.”

Mariska says she hasn’t encountered any raised eyebrows at UJ for the time she commits to powerlifting. “On the contrary, everyone, including Prof Ben Marx, have been very accommodating. As a member of TeamSA, I get 15 days sports leave every year and my colleagues are happy to fill in for me when I am away,” says Mariska, who calls her powerful talent her God-given “lucky packet”.