Interview: Imogen Pickering
Photography: Danny Evans
At 14 years old, Charlotte Neal is a force to be reckoned with. Part of the Power 2 Podium training group, comprising the first ever female Olympic Weightlifters in Jersey, Charlotte is the club’s only junior member. Having just celebrated her fourteenth birthday, she has made the decision to challenge female stereotypes, become a role model for other children and an advocate of female strength. In awe of her passion and determination at such a young age, I caught up with Charlotte to find out more.
Charlotte, please tell me – how does a 14 year old girl get into Olympic Weightlifting?!
I was very lucky to have the chance to start weightlifting. I had never considered it until I did some research, and I found out that Zoe Smith, an Olympic record holder for weightlifting, was a gymnast. I had been doing gymnastics since I was 5, so I applied to trial for the Power 2 Podium group here in Jersey. Shortly after applying, I fractured my foot doing gymnastics and was really upset because I thought I wouldn’t have been able to go to the trial with a boot on. I still went to see what it was about and really enjoyed it, and was very excited when I find out that I had made it onto the programme even on one foot! In April, it was time to start training and meet the team and the coaches for the first time – everyone was so friendly. Since then, things have gotten better and better – I’ve fallen in love with the sport, I’ve been hitting personal bests, and there’s even been talk of competitions.
Why do you think it’s so important that we see a change in society’s view of female strength?
I believe that society should view female strength the same way they view male strength. Even though men are born slightly stronger, I think it’s more about the hard work and determination to get stronger rather than what is given to you. I know that women can be just as strong as men if they have the desire and willingness to do so. Female fitness is not just about cardio and male fitness is not just about weights – anyone can do anything if they really want to. I think that society needs to stop thinking that for females to lift weights they need to look like bodybuilders, rather than just being strong and powerful. I hope that I will inspire people to try new sports no matter their age or gender.
How does a young girl become strong enough to do Olympic weightlifting?
Having done gymnastics for 9 years, especially the conditioning side of it, has made me strong and given me the upper body strength I need to be able to lift the weight. It has also helped me a lot when it comes to flexibility – being able to get into a deep squat quickly and under the bar quickly enough. Everything you do can help build your strength – even things like playing around on paddle boards, kayaks and slacklines can help with balance.
What are your future goals and aspirations for your Olympic Weightlifting career?
My biggest goal at the moment is going to the Commonwealth Games in 2022, which is the main goal for all of the lifters on the Power 2 Podium Program. To get there, I have smaller goals in mind first – like going to my first competition at Crystal Palace to qualify for British Youth Championships on September 15th-16th and have fun at my first few competitions. I’m also hoping that one day I’ll be able to go to the Olympics, as I’ve dreamed about going since I was a child but knew I would never get there with gymnastics. After that, I will see where weightlifting takes me. The aim this year is to go to 10 competitions with 5 off-island, and next year, attend one international competition.
You were recently assessed by a top UK Weightlifting coach, who commented that you were the most talented lifter in the UK for your age category – what did that mean to you?
I didn’t even realise that the coach had said this which is quite amazing because I only started 5 months ago! I’m very happy he did because when looking at the other competitors in my age category, everyone looks really good. I thought I was doing okay, but not that good! This has made me want to work even harder and prove that I am a good weightlifter.
I am so glad that I have this incredible team of girls and coaches from Jersey Sport Foundation who are so kind, have helped me to achieve so many of my goals already, who support me and help me whenever I need. I can’t wait for the next four years and to share this amazing experience with this wonderful team of people.