Thanks to Mike Dale for this guest post on the eve of the first Commonwealth Games action of 2014.
Sarah Davies, a part-time PE teacher whose CV also includes weightlifting and beauty pageants, is someone you’re bound to hear about over the course of the ensuing 11 days. Here’s an insight into her story and her approach to beauty, body image and stereotypes.
This guest post by: Mike Dale
Crowns and sequins may give off the same tantalising glint as a gold medal, but otherwise the disparate worlds of beauty pageants and international weightlifting seem to have little in common.
Sarah Davies, a 22-year-old from Preston, not only straddles these two seemingly incompatible pursuits, she excels at both, shattering stereotypes and preconceptions as she does so.
On Sunday, Davies has a great chance of winning gold for England in the women’s 63kg weight category at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Utterly contradicting the portly, grunting image of the clichéd female weightlifter, Davies’ slender, toned figure and gregarious personality have won her admirers on the catwalk too.
In 2012, after entering “as a bit of a laugh”, she was crowned Miss Leeds. She went on to compete for the title of Miss England later that year. As recently as March, she finished a highly respectable 18th in the Miss Galaxy pageant.
“It’s a nice change to spending my life in tracksuit bottoms in the gym,” she says.
Davies, a former junior gymnast and county golf player, first got into weightlifting through her boyfriend Jack Oliver, who will also be competing in Glasgow in the men’s 77kg.
Late in 2011, Davies was bored hanging around at the gym waiting for Oliver to finish training. She tried lifting a few weights and managed “a very scrappy 30 kilo snatch and a 40 kilo clean and jerk”.
After that tentative first try she was soon hooked. Now, under three years later, she can snatch 88kg and 110kg in the clean and jerk.
“I am still relatively new to the sport and it is amazing to think how far I’ve come and where the ceiling could be to what I can achieve,” she reflected.
Davies’ quest for gold will begin at 3.30pm on Sunday, 27 July at the Clyde Auditorium. Just two hours later, her boyfriend Jack, who finished 10th at London 2012, will take to the same stage. They aim to return to the flat they share in Leeds with a pair of medals.
“I’m enjoying winding him up because I compete first, so I’ve told him I’ll be getting my medal first. I’ll be relaxing afterwards while I watch him and might even treat myself to a beer,” Davies joked.
She will jostle for gold with rivals from Nigeria and India in Glasgow but, somewhat uncomfortably, she also has friend and compatriot Emily Godley in her weight category.
“That makes things interesting and quite difficult really,” says Davies. “I’ve been chasing her and chasing her and I finally beat her at the British Championships this year after two and a half years of trying.
“Competing against someone I train with when we’re quite good friends will be an interesting battle to say the least, especially as we’re lifting about the same weights at the moment.”
Davies has competed at British, Tri-Nations and European championships but the Commonwealths will be her biggest event thus far. She has temporarily given up teaching secondary school PE part-time to focus solely on preparing.
“It’s getting very real now,” she says. “Training is getting ever so serious. I’m doing nine hard sessions a week.
“I had a bit of a blip the other day. I flipped out and was shouting, ‘I’m really scared!’ My boyfriend asked me what I was scared of and I said, ‘I don’t even know!’ It was just a bit of a moment and I’ve now calmed down a bit.”
She will need to remain composed and grounded, as her unique beauty queen/weightlifter story has attracted plenty of attention ahead of the Games. There have been tabloid spreads and rounds of TV and radio interviews.
British weightlifting’s governing body has seized on this by promoting Davies, Godley and fellow young talent Zoe Smith as role models. ‘Strong is happy’ and ‘Strong is the new sexy’ are their slogans.
With fad diets, anorexia and bulimia still on the rise amongst young girls fretting over their body image, their message is a strong and convincing one.
“It’s nice for me to prove that fad diets don’t cut it,” states Davies. “If you get yourself in the gym you’re not going to end up bulky from lifting weights, it does actually give girls the shape they want to achieve.
“I’ve had quite a lot of girls at beauty pageants ask me how to tone up. They’re interested and some of them are starting weight training instead of dieting and essentially starving themselves.
“I break the stereotypes of both weightlifting and beauty pageants. You don’t expect the standard beauty queen to be 5ft 4in and with big muscly legs, and you don’t expect your average weightlifter to be a beauty queen either. It’s good to be changing people’s perceptions on both.”
With thanks to Mike. Guest posts are, obviously, the views of the guest author and not necessarily those of their organisation, employer etc, nor this website.