Saturday the 6th of April 2013 25 Irish women made history. I was fortunate to be there and to participate. In a country where weightlifting is small enough to feel like a family, and every competition feels like coming home, it is incredible to be able to say that this was the most supportive and friendly competition I‘ve experienced. The novelty of it being a women only competition didn’t strike me until that morning when we arrived for weigh in.
Usually at any competition this is a process of going to the weigh in room, knocking on the door and waiting while the male athletes and officials file, hoping there’s any other female, let alone an official referee, who can stand there while I strip down to my underwear and write down what it says on the scales. Instead, I walked into a room with TWO female officials and no need to post a guard at the door lest any of the men wander through. Pretty good feeling.
By the time I got down stairs a small line had started to form, and though it was only ten minutes into weigh-in time, there were already as many women as I had ever competed with at an Irish competition. Let me repeat that: the most women that had EVER participated in a single competition in Ireland was eight, and there we nine females lined up waiting to be weighed. That would turn out to be only the first record to be broken that day.
After getting weighed, the number one priority for me is always food but because we had a lot of beginners and I would be lifting in the last group, it meant waiting several more hours than I had anticipated. This turned out to be a great opportunity to chat to the other lifters. I got to get to find out a bit more about the other competitors and get a feel for the mood. I chatted with lots of women, gave some advice, but found that overall most people, though a bit nervous, were really looking forward to stepping on the platform.
I had another surprise when I found out too, that for the first time ever, I was not only one among three in my weight class, but there was a lifter in the the next class down! Aoife Kennedy from Ronin Crossfit was competing in the 48kg class. I was keen to meet an Irish lifter smaller than myself and only a little disappointed when I realised that, though significantly lighter than me, Aoife was in fact still taller. Still though, I was really happy to see her lift in the first group, getting the competition off to a great start by shattering national records which had stood for the last 20 years.
The groups moved along at a good pace, with the most successful lifts I think I’ve ever seen at any Irish competition, but, more importantly, the atmosphere was fantastic. Quite a few of the lifters had come down with friends and family who gave enthusiastic encouragement to everyone who stepped on the platform. It was also great to see how this contributed to making most of the lifters appear quite collected and even relaxed from their first attempts.
When I squeezed myself into the front row during the third group (looking to see Sarah Swan break all three junior records in her class at her first competition) it was great to feel the support and concern of everyone in the room and the level of energy willing each competitor to succeed.
Thanks to to efficiency of the loaders, officials, organizers and lifters themselves, my group came around fairly quickly and by three in the afternoon it was time to start my own warm up. I had been asked repeatedly during the day if I would be breaking any records or going for PBs, and I was at pains to explain that, due to an ongoing rib and shoulder injury, I couldn’t be sure if I would be lifting that day at all. So I was very touched when several of the other women, and a few of the people who had come to support and didn’t even know me, wandered over to the warm up area to wish me luck and tell me that I was looking good.
I will be honest and say that I got no small boost when I was told by a group of male supporters, who lift themselves, that I was intimidating them and lifting more than some of their number, all while still on my warm up weights. The other women in my group got the snatches off to a good start, and it was very inspiring to see my team mate for the upcoming Grand Prix, Claire McGlynn, do exactly as she had planned and take the competition as a training session, lifting well below what she is capable of and being happy with it, something with which I struggle. Claire’s experience as a competitive athlete was something from which I, and I’m sure many of the other women can learn a lot, another great thing about the day.
I was feeling tired in my warm up and even though I knew my opening weights were easy I was a little weary after a week of dealing with injury and an exciting day. But when I came out for my first snatch and heard encouragement from all corners and shouts of “come on, Alex”, everything dropped away. I made my first and second attempts easily and decided to try for a record on the third, and when the caller announced it, the support was unbelievable. In weightlifting, it really comes down to just you and the bar against gravity, but sometimes the day that’s in it and the people who are there can make defying it that much easier. When I finished my lifts the day was sadly almost over, but it had been a good one.
And hopefully 25 Irish Women were a little more confident, and a lot more sure that strong is happy.