Memories of an Olympian
You’re 36 and embarking on a new career?
I’m in my second year studying early childhood education. I thought it was about time I got my career path under way. I love kids – I have a 14-year-old stepdaughter, 6-year-old twins and a 3-yearold boy. I was telling people when I was 5 I wanted to be a teacher. Hopefully I can work with special needs kids.
Have you always lived in Porirua?
I went to Tairangi School and Aotea College. Apart from a few years in Europe from 2004, when I needed a break after competing, Porirua has always been my home.
When did weightlifting become your sport?
I was 14 and really into athletics, but [Aotea College guidance counsellor and weightlifting coach] Garry Marshall said I should give weightlifting a go. I sprained my ankle playing touch one day and Garry said I needed to concentrate on one thing. I worked twice a day and became a national champion months after starting out and was on my way. Garry was a huge influence and went out of his way to help me.
You had a brother who was serious about weightlifting?
Heinz [three years her junior] was a New Zealand and Oceania junior champion. We were even for a while, but he was a male, and cleared out from me.
What was your main motivation in weightlifting?
I loved training and competing, working towards goals. In my family, once you start something, you go hard until you hit the top. It wasn’t wearing the tights that kept me going!
What were your training conditions like?
Pretty basic. Once Garry and I moved from the Aotea College gym, we were in a room on the side of Maraeroa Marae. The flooring was not ideal and we had it rough, really. But I worked hard and that was the main thing.
Women’s weightlifting went into the Olympics for the first time at Sydney in 2000. Perfect timing for you.
I was 14 when I started and 21 when Sydney came around. I’d been at nationals and Oceania champs for years and was ready.
What sticks in your mind about Sydney?
Everything felt brand new and huge and amazing, like the Olympic village and where we competed. The atmosphere around the place was like nothing else. Some countries I went to were a real culture shock, but I’m so lucky that 2000 was just across in Aust- ralia, so my parents and siblings were able to go and support me. It felt comfortable. I roomed with Beatrice [Faumuina] and she was great, but we were focused on what we had to do and hardly saw each other.
And you were eighth in the 75kg+ division [snatch 105kg, clean and jerk 130kg].
It was a personal best, so that was massive for me. I couldn’t have done any better. Because I came in the top eight I got an official Olympic diploma, a nice laminated certificate. Proof that I went to the Olympics!
Going forward to the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games. What were your expectations?
Pretty high. I took some time away after Sydney, but then built up nicely to Manchester and was right on target. But when I got to the competition I bombed. It’s still a sore spot and hard to talk about. I was ranked No 1, so it was disappointing to get silver [snatch 125kg] and two bronzes [100kg clean and jerk and for the 225kg combined total]. In my warm-ups I was lifting the weights some of the girls were finishing on, but when it came time to execute, I just didn’t. I was disappointed – I don’t know what was going through my head.
What was the Commonwealth Games like compared to the Olympics?
It was good and I was happy to be there, but it was much more low- key. There was a bit of distance between venues and you were staying in sort of hostel accommodation. Sydney was fresh and new, but Manchester felt a bit congested. But there was a good feeling in the New Zealand team and you got to see all these great athletes as normal people, with smelly feet, watching TV and chilling out in the cafeteria.
Was there much media clamour around you at that time?
I got phone calls and did a lot of interviews, but of course that’s well and truly died away now. Every now and again I might get a call before a Commonwealth Games to do an interview and will be asked to talk at school once in a while. My niece took the medals in to her school recently.
Where do you keep your medals?
They’re in a drawer at my dad’s place in Waitangirua. I don’t feel they need to be on display. My kids are too young to understand what they are, but one day I’ll tell them.
Was it hard to give away weightlifting?
After Manchester, I weaned myself off it, even though I was able to still hit qualifying marks for competitions. I stopped properly in 2006. I’ve had so many injuries, like slipped discs, and when I was 21 I had the arthritic knees of a 60-year-old. I was told many times by doctors to stop.
Are you still close to the sport?
I’ve done a bit of coaching and that’s something I’m interested in, especially with all the lifting in Crossfit, which is pretty big today. If my kids ever get into it, it’d be my job to teach them to do it right – weight training is so important for other sports. I want to get fit again, so weightlifting might come into it.
What did performing at that high level give you?
Apart from bad knees? I was always a shy child, so travelling and competing made me more culturally aware. I had new experiences and met new people. It taught me the value of training and hard work and going to other countries opened up my mind. Any regrets? Apart from what happened in Manchester, no regrets. How many people get to go to the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games, and amazing places like Turkey to compete? I love the opportunities that weightlifting gave me, but my studies and my family are more important now.