Rachel Leck’s passion for her sport is remarkable, even in the face of disability. Rachel lives with cerebral palsy, yet, having trained as part of the Power2Podium programme for a little over a year, her powerlifting career is going from strength to strength. Having recently returned from Tokyo after representing Great Britain in the able-bodied powerlifting event, as well as the British Para Championships, we met with Rachel to find out more about her awe-inspiring determination and commitment to the sport.
How did you first get into powerlifting?
I saw an advert in the JEP by Jersey Sport Foundation looking for Olympic Weightlifters and I had been lifting weights in the gym for a few years with a personal trainer, so I decided to go along to the trials. After mentioning I had cerebral palsy, the coaches suggested competing in para-powerlifting (the paralympic version of Olympic Weightlifting) which consists of the bench press. There are only six para-powerlifting competitions in the UK a year, and so for more competition practice, I entered a few able-bodied powerlifting competitions. I’ve been with the Power2Podium team for just over a year now and I’ve really developed a passion for the sport, even though bench was one of my last lifts when I started!
How does your cerebral palsy affect your day-to-day life and sporting ability?
It doesn’t affect my day-to-day life too much, although if I walk for long periods of time, my legs begin to ache due to my tight calves. In terms of sporting ability, I have limited flexibility and mobility in the squat position as I have tight hamstrings and hip flexors which prevent me from getting parallel, as well as limited mobility in my ankles. This makes it very hard to get into the snatch position and the bottom of the clean position for Olympic Weightlifting. Having long legs also doesn’t help! It also slightly affects my arms, although my shoulders can get quite tight after a few months of training as they tend to stiffen up!
Who or what is your inspiration?
I have a few! Olivia Broome just won gold at the Para Powerlifting World Championships in the Junior and Senior category – she is so determined at only 17 years old. In powerlifting, Ellie Steel holds the U63 kg British Record in Bench of 101 kg, which is amazing and it was great to watch her compete earlier this year! Closer to home, Grace Greenwood is doing amazing things for para-athletics in Jersey, having been awarded bronze in the World Cerebral Palsy Games last year at only 13 years old. It was hearing about Grace’s success that actually inspired me to compete in para sports. Lastly, I have to mention Charlotte Neale, who has just qualified for European Youth Championships and is also part of the Power2Podium team. We push each other in training a lot, trying to get new PBs together. She’s a great motivation in the gym as she’s always full of energy, which is contagious!
What has been your most monumental achievement in your powerlifting journey so far?
My biggest achievement was representing Great Britain at the World Junior Bench Press Championships in Tokyo in May this year and coming eighth in my weight and age category! It was an amazing feeling to be selected for Team GB and to wear my GBR singlet after only being in the sport for a year and to have my first international competition so early on! It was great to visit a country I’d never been to before and I received a lot of support from friends and family who helped me get there, along with my sponsors Deloitte. Otherwise, winning gold at the British Para Powerlifting Open in April was another big achievement for me, as under the strict rules I managed to get my technique right and get two good lifts on my own.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future with powerlifting?
My dream is to compete internationally in para powerlifting and my focus over the next year is to medal at the British Para Powerlifting championships. The great thing about para-powerlifting is that people still compete in their forties, and in powerlifting they even compete in their seventies! It’s safe to say I’ll be around for a long time as I love the sport!
What would be your advice to anyone who faces a physical disability and wants to get into sport?
Don’t feel limited by your disability, as there are a huge range of sports for everyone to get involved in – para powerlifting is only one. All these sports have different levels of classification on what disability you can be eligible to compete with, so there really is something for everyone no matter what level or type of physical disability you may have. As someone who has also competed in powerlifting competitions, I would also say don’t be afraid to try non para sports, as there really is nothing stopping you from competing in them either. I saw lots of other disabled athletes at the World Bench Press Championships earlier this year, so if we can do it, so can you!