Rebekah Tiler started her sporting life on the track, but is now one of Britain’s top female weightlifters. However, there is a cloud on the horizon after UK Sport cut the sport’s funding to zero, thereby diminishing Tiler’s dream of becoming an Olympic champion. Alys Bowen hears her story
At just eighteen, Rebekah Tiler is already an extraordinary sportswoman. In a sport normally dominated by older athletes, she is already challenging the best. With an Olympic Games under her belt, when she was the only woman chosen to represent Team GB in Rio, and a European Championship silver medl in the snatch last month, she is a real hope for further success in next year’s World Junior Championships in Tokyo.
A UK sprint champion in her early teens, Tiler was spotted at the gym by a strength and conditioning coach when she was lifting weights to build up her muscle for the track. He noticed that, at the age of just twelve and a half, she had incredible strength and could lift more than any of the 20-year-old men alongside her.
He told her that she could be world-class at weightlifting, and even at that age it was not a prospect she could turn down. Despite her love of sprinting she gave it up for a career that would take her to the world stage in a way she could never have dreamt. Fast forward six years and Tiler is surprisingly relaxed about the whole thing. That even goes to the way in which she approaches the weighted bar in a competition.
She said: “You see all these big guys and they all just growl at the bar. But I just go up to it and pick it up. Before that, you have got to get quite angry with it because it is a lot of weight you’re going to be shifting. If you just whistle into the bar thinking about Coronation Street or something you’re not going to lift it.
“I don’t think of anything, everything that I worry about goes out of my head and I just focus on what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m quite good at switching off and getting in the zone when I’m competing. That’s just how I do it.”
Her approach to training and competition is so matter-of-fact and calm that there must something innate to her strength and ability. In fact, it was her father’s love of weightlifting that kick-started her initial fascination with the sport. “When I was about three years old, my dad was in the garage doing his weights and I went in and said, ‘Daddy, tea’s ready’. I saw him doing all the weights, so I started picking them up and copying him.” Despite being too young to truly understand what she was doing, Tiler clearly enjoyed it and just wanted to copy her dad. From there she carried on doing it every day.
Tiler thinks there may be something in her family’s genes that has given her super-strength: two of her four sisters have been UK weightlifting champions and her father was a bodybuilder in his youth. Her sisters, however, have not been able to pursue weightlifting to the same extent she has to date, and even her hopes could be hampered because, in January, the sport had all its funding cut by UK Sport.
Tiler said: “It’s quite stressful. The funding doesn’t end until June, but then it’s all going to go. I’m probably going to have to get a job and not train full-time. My dream is to be Olympic champion, but without the support I can’t do that.
“British Weightlifting are trying to help out and put some support in. But they can only give what they can afford. There were six girls who were funded, but all that money’s just going to go now. We have done well recently and to have the funding cut is quite disappointing really.”
So Tiles faces her own Catch-22: if she takes on a job to fund her weightlifting then she won’t be able to train full-time and achieve her dream; if she does train full-time then she will not be able to sustain it.
Luckily, people like Ian Hewitt, a butcher from Riddlesden, West Yorkshire, are helping to keep the dream alive. After Tiler placed an advertisement in her local paper for sponsors, Hewitt responded saying he would love to help and now provides her with all the protein that she needs to underpin her training. And that means all the chicken, steak and eggs a girl in her position could ever need.
But there is more to Tiler than the clean and jerk. Her work to help young girls get into weightlifting is inspiring. She is excited that weightlifting is becoming a more women-friendly sport. She said: “I think it’s definitely changing now [from being a male-dominated sport]. There’s a lot more women getting involved now from CrossFit and I think men are beginning to realise how strong women are. It’s quite good that a lot more women are getting involved because it’s such a great sport.”
Indeed, weightlifting is helping to show women are strong and powerful, both mentally and physically. If Tiler can continue her recruitment campaign, then the stigma of it being a masculine sport will steadily diminish. And just think of what those 20-year-old men thought when they saw a 12-year-old girl squatting more than them. That image will help to change perceptions, and that is something Tiler is doing without lifting a finger, just the bar.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alys Bowen is currently studying a Masters in Sports Journalism at St Mary’s University. She is also in charge of overseeing The Mixed Zone’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. She follows and takes part in sports as wide ranging as hockey, swimming, tennis and rugby. Alys’ latest articles.