Powerlifting: a sport that tests your true physical strength. You step up to a platform and put your training to the test by attempting to lift a heavy weight/barbell a total of 9 times. Powerlifting doesn’t care what you look like. In the moments of those 9 lifts, it doesn’t care how much you weigh, it doesn’t care how skinny your waist is or the proportions of your body. The barbell is loaded, you step up and attempt 3 lifts for each discipline, the squat, the bench press and the deadlift. Based on the calls of the referees, you either get the lift or you don’t.
This sport was what was going to help me uncover my strength within. It was going to help me crush the demons of my past for good. The physical strength I displayed was going to help me once and for all. It was going to allow me to love myself from the inside out. It was going to stop my cycle of undereating and overtraining. It was going to help me find the happiness in myself and love the skin I was in. It was going to stop me weighing myself constantly and restricting my food if the scale went up 200g.
I did not achieve this initially.
I absolutely loved training and competing in powerlifting. I loved the discipline needed to train. I loved the feeling of lifting something that I would never have fathomed I could do. I loved fighting for a lift with a solid grind. I kept holding onto the hope that my love for the sport would somehow solve everything.
As I continued to compete, I was privileged enough to qualify to compete for the country in an international competition, selected to represent Australia at the Commonwealth Championships in Canada in the 52kg weight class.
Standing at a tall 156cm, my body weight around that time would naturally sit towards 58-59kg. I would “cut weight” in order to make weight for the 52kg division. The objective is to lift the heaviest amount of weight possible, weighing the smallest bodyweight possible; I will be the strongest I can be.
From the moment I got involved in this sport, this was all I knew. It was highlighted to me in the environment I was involved in so that is exactly what I did. I constantly restricted my food and restricted my life simply to make weight.
As I was knee deep prepping for Canada, nothing was going to stop me. Despite my body not wanting to get to that weight, I pushed and I pushed.
Days away from the comp, I was in Thailand on holiday with my husband. Not much of a holiday, all energy was on food restriction and high stress levels. When we finished our trip, I flew off to Canada while he returned back home. I “water loaded” on the plane ride over, litres and litres of water while the air hostess just gave me an odd look as I asked for more bottles.
Arriving in the country, I slept and tried to adjust from hot to cold and get over the jet lag. 24 hours out from my weigh in, I was still 1kg over. No worries, I can make weight. I will sauna tonight, go to sleep and my body will do its thing over night and drop the final weight. As I went to the sauna at 11pm at night for a good hour, I was so stressed. I liked to tell myself that it was okay, have faith, it will all work out.
Deep down I was not okay.
I went back to my hotel and went to sleep. I woke up at 1am and weighed myself again. My weight had not budged!
I messaged my Coach and he told me to go back to sleep and check again around 4am.
Barely sleeping I waited and hit the scales again.
High alert, my Coach was called.
Nothing was happening.
At 4:30am in Canada we had to make our way to the sauna.
I was a mess. In the full sense of the word.
As I hit the sauna, in and out in 15 minute stints, I would ask my Coach from the fiery hot hell hole how much more time as I desperately wanted him to tell me to come out.
With each stint, I sat there, breaking down.
Mentally and physically.
Face against the fogged up window, I wanted out.
As I left the sauna, I went to the toilet feeling desperate to pee.
Nothing and I mean nothing came out.
The feeling was there but my body had nothing left in me.
What the hell was going on?! What had happened to my body?!
200g over, we were running out of time and we had to make our way to the venue. Still unsure if I had made weight, we had to take the chance.
We arrived, I stripped off completely naked and stepped on the scales.
OMG! I made it. I was relieved and excited. But I still had to lift…
I skolled gatorade, still naked in the room, and went on to consume a ridiculous amount of salt, sugar and calories. I was gross and sticky from not being able to shower after hours in the sauna. But before I knew it, it was on.
Squats went well and I managed to PB (personal best).
But I was already feeling gassed.
As bench press started my body was feeling it. After my third bench attempt I went backstage and something came over me. My body began to cramp all over. I started to shiver and I sat down and couldn’t sit up. I started to shake uncontrollably and I couldn’t talk.
I’m lying on the ground and could see faces around me, could hear their words but I couldn’t respond. I lay there trapped in a body that could not respond. I was fed salt tablets, hot chocolate, chips, anything salty and sweet to wake me up.
In that moment, even as I write this, I can still remember the feeling of not being able to respond. How big my eyes felt in my head and how much I wanted to be anywhere but there. Away from this moment. I wanted my husband. I wanted this to be over.
20 minutes later I managed to come back to my body and mind and get on the platform to PB my deadlift.
I didn’t want to truly think about what had happened and I didn’t. I didn’t want to face it and no one was there to make me face it so I simply didn’t. Instead I ate and enjoyed my time, ignoring what had just happened.
I gained 9kg over the following weeks and my body returned to its natural weight plus more. What followed heavy restriction was heavy weight gain.
Physically I felt disgusting. I used this word to describe myself in my head. It is a truly horrible word that went round and around in my head.
As I returned back to Australia, I was faced with the reality of having to confront this. Wonderful supporters offered love and support at what I had achieved. On paper it was a good comp for me. Mentally, it was a complete disaster. With frequent talk about this comp, weeks after, I had to face it.
I didn’t know how or what to do. How to address what had happened. But I knew that this was not ok. That feeling after the sauna. Not being able to perform a basic bodily function. I did that to myself. It was completely in my control.
I will forever remember that.
I needed that.
If I didn’t have that experience, I don’t know where I would be today.
I needed that wake up call.
As I began to face the harsh reality of my own actions I began to ask myself the real questions.
Why are you doing this to yourself?
Is it really worth it?
How do you actually feel about yourself?
Through an intense year post competition only then did I truly reflect and delve into my thoughts and inner demons.
I began to read books.
Properly read books.
I accepted that I had messed up and dropped the ball.
I read the words and didn’t let them wash over me.
I ingested the information, began to journal, and really step into these uncomfortable feelings.
I kept pumping positive thoughts into my head and read material that would force me to confront these topics.
Feelings of inadequacy.
Self hatred of my body.
Feelings that I wasn’t good enough.
With every book I read, I did the work and began to reach out.
To select people.
People I trusted.
They gave me nothing but love and support. That was what I needed to keep going.
It was not easy.
I was hurt.
I got angry at myself.
And then I got grateful.
I found gratitude in the dark times and discovered the lessons from these experiences. If I didn’t have this experience I would not have the courage and passion to do what I do today.
To help women discover their inner strength and live the best version of themselves.
I wouldn’t be using strength training as the growth catalyst in my life.
My experience in Canada showed me what is truly important in life.
Canada showed me how to accept that strength is in my struggle.
Canada showed me that I need to be brave to help others be brave.