Humans of the Wheatbelt

Humans of the Wheatbelt is a disability project that celebrates inclusion within the community.

There is always someone in each story that has a disability whether it is the human, interviewer, photographer or writer.

I’m a Canadian and I came to Australia backpacking in 2003. I travelled all over the east coast before running out of money, and then I met some people who had a cattle station in Meekatharra. That’s where I met my husband. I was nineteen when we met. When I was a teenager, I loved Steve Irwin and I wanted to go somewhere warm where people spoke English. That’s why I chose Australia. It also has a reputation for being safe. I landed in Sydney and went up the coast on a bus tour to Queensland. At first, I was confused by the slang and the weird phrases, but I’m used to it now. It was an amazing experience.

One of my favourite memories of childhood was when we went to Hawaii when I was thirteen. Next time we’re able to travel back to Canada I want to go back to Hawaii as well. I love the volcanoes and the fish; it’s just beautiful. When I was in high school, both of my parents were diagnosed with different diseases. My dad had cancer and ended up having a bone marrow transplant. He still has a lot of health problems but he’s alive. My mum has multiple sclerosis. I’m lucky that I still have both of my parents. Mum is in a wheelchair, so me being healthy and strong probably has a lot to do with that. Mum had four kids like me, and she was about my age when she got her diagnosis. That’s part of why I do what I do now.

I started powerlifting after having kids. I was trying to lose weight and get fit, and I found that it was an outlet for everything. I know that if I have a competition coming up in three months, I want to be better than I was last year because I don’t want to be the bottom of my weight class. Being strong is so satisfying. Women are always told to be small and not too muscular, whereas I want to focus on what I can do, not shrinking. It’s empowering.

I work at the local bank, and I also run a personal training business. I’m planning on opening a small strength gym here in Narrogin, which is very exciting. Some of my proudest achievements in training are helping people to lose a lot of weight and others who have started competing in powerlifting. I find it really satisfying to see people getting stronger, because the standard thing for women to do at the gym is cardio and not to touch the scary barbells!

I have four kids, three girls and a boy. My eldest is nearly sixteen and the others are thirteen, ten and seven. I stayed home when they were little for ten years, and so now it’s my turn. If you look at yourself and say ‘I need to change everything’ it’s not going to be sustainable. My husband is very supportive and it’s easier now that the kids aren’t on me all the time. My husband is a farmer and does not do gym, and the kids just aren’t interested. One of my daughters does gymnastics. From the outside what I do probably looks boring and kids just aren’t interested in that.

How I started in fitness was at home on the farm because there was no local gym. I started running and did a couple of half marathons, and then we moved to Jurien Bay and that’s where I started lifting. When we came to Narrogin, I started using the gym more regularly. I started doing a ‘Ladies Only’ lifting competition and I loved it. It’s really addictive and the side effect is liking how you look. I’ve lifted 142kg, which is just over double my body weight. At the moment my total across squat, deadlift and bench press is 377.5kg so my goal is to get to 400kg before I turn forty in about eighteen months. You put all the work in and it’s a grind, a daily routine. When you get up there on the platform everyone’s cheering and if you lift a heavier weight than you ever have before it’s just the best feeling in life.

The competition I just did was a WA state championship, which feeds into nationals. I don’t think I qualified because I was second in my weight category. When I tell people ‘I squatted 142kg’ they’re blown away but it’s actually not that amazing. The girl that beat me squatted 160kg. I’ve always loved squatting and it’s always been my best lift. For me it’s just a natural movement. I have a client whose femur is so long that it makes squatting difficult, whereas she can bench probably better than I can. I’m not naturally a strong bench presser but I try not to speak negatively about it. If I think about it in a more positive way, I’m more likely to do better.

I have a few role models in powerlifting, girls who are really strong. I admire them not just because they are successful but because they’ve been able to pivot their careers in different directions. I follow a coach in Queensland called Lily Riley. She’s a little heavier than me, maybe 75kg, but recently she squatted 230kg. You watch the videos and ask yourself ‘how are you doing this?’ I tend to follow female athletes because it’s a completely different sport to the men. Very few women in their twenties are interested in powerlifting and I’d like to know why. It’s like women in their thirties and older get sick of everything and need a way of getting rid of their frustrations! As a trainer, the men I train are mainly older. It’s a generalisation but I find that younger men don’t want to be told what to do by a female.

Starting off at the gym can be intimidating so my advice would be to go in with a plan. Most gyms have a trainer, or they can recommend someone to you. You need something to focus on, so you don’t start wondering about whether people are looking at you. A solid part of my business is getting people confident in using the gym but hiring a trainer can be cost-prohibitive for some people.

The powerlifting community in WA is amazing. It is the most welcoming and helpful community. You go to their gym and there’s all these rules on the wall, such as no headphones. If someone wants you to spot them you pretty much have to. I don’t think I’ve ever had a negative experience with it. I’ve never had an experience at the gym of a guy coming up to me and making me feel uncomfortable. If you want to get more women into the sport, you have to make them feel comfortable or they won’t come.

In this sport you can’t go into it just wanting to win. In my competitions I’ve always come second. If my focus was purely on winning, I’d be devastated because in my most recent competition it wasn’t even close, but on the other hand I PB’ed everything. At the end of the day, you don’t know who you’re competing against, so you have to be resilient. If you’re solely focused on winning, you’ll just put unnecessary pressure on yourself. Covid is an added pressure because it can disrupt the competition entirely. I’ve never had a competition where I was like ‘that was terrible.’ I just like competing. My goal is just always to PB everything, but if you focus on the numbers too much it can take away from the whole experience.

To prepare myself for competing, I definitely have some ‘hype’ music I listen to. You want it to be upbeat and motivating. My warmup and rituals are always exactly the same. One of my rituals is to latch my belt and then tap it twice. When the weight is on your back or on your shoulders, your brain doesn’t function too well, so it has to be a habit. Your body has to know what to do.

Growing up I was very anxious, but I wasn’t diagnosed with anxiety until I was about thirty. My advice is not to worry so much and try to silence the monologue in your head. Once I learned to control my thoughts, it made everything so much easier. You can point your thoughts in the direction you want them to go in. My advice to young girls is to get strong. It’s so much more satisfying doing that rather than trying to focus on getting smaller to fit into certain size clothes. Changing your focus from ‘I want to weigh sixty kilos’ to ‘I can lift sixty kilos’ is a huge change of mindset. Focusing on valuing yourself makes your life so much more positive.

Human: Kate Carvey
Interviewer: Matthew Jackman & Babu Sajjad
Photographer: Babu Sajjad

Wheatbelt Strength & Conditioning @Rucci's Gym @Australian Powerlifting Union Western Australia YMCA Narrogin Regional Leisure Centre @Shire of Narrogin Wheatbelt Health Network ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt MSWA #powerlift #womenhealth #fitness #mentalhealth #strongwomen

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After hours medical assistance: In an emergency call 000 or present to your nearest Regional Hospital emergency department. If you have a non- emergency and would like to consult with a GP then call Telstra Health on 1800 225 523. The service is free to access for Australian residents who reside in the wheatbelt or who are temporarily residing in the Wheatbelt. This service can be accessed before 8am and after 6pm Monday-Friday, before 8am and after 12pm Saturday and all day Sunday and any Public Holidays. Thank you to Western Australia Primary Health Alliance (WAPHA) for funding this service.

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