Games athlete lifts performance to new heights
COMMONWEALTH GAMES: Mustering at Carrara Sports and Leisure Centre before the opening ceremony of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, Australian weightlifter and former Mackay schoolgirl Stephanie Davies was blown away by the stadium's size.
Glancing around at empty seats, the former rugby player turned Commonwealth Games athlete, just 14 months after taking up weightlifting, had a moment of realisation.
"I was thinking, 'this is a really cool stadium', but then I walked out and realised... This is my stadium. This is where I'll be competing,” Davies said.
"The (competing) platform is like a little island and there's nowhere to hide... we were there for 45 minutes, and I visualised what I was going to do.”
Almost defying logic, Davies stepped onto her island after what seemed an eternity and owned it, catapulting herself into the Commonwealth's top-five in her 75kg weight class.
"I wanted to get out there... I'd seen my team-mates smashing it, so I just wanted my turn... when the time came, I was in a really good head space and I felt like I was at home on that platform. I put my faith in my coaches and I was just super calm.”
After navigating the snatch, Davies, spurred on by her home crowd, went for broke on her way to lifting a massive 197kg combined.
"The crowd for me was the biggest when I walked out for clean and jerk. I made 110 but missed the 118, it would have been a personal best, but hearing them (the crowd) on the third run was as amazing as I could feel it inside,” she said.
Prior to the Games, Davies had only lifted in four competitions after a go at weightlifting for "a bit of fun” placed her on the unlikeliest of paths to the Gold Coast.
Born in Darwin, before moving to Adelaide via Mackay between 2004-11, Davies never, by her own admission, showed the slightest interest or aptitude for weightlifting.
"The first time I ever did weights was in state under-15s rugby. We were doing circuits and I couldn't even lift an empty barbell above my head,” she said.
"I also did CrossFit for a couple of years, then decided I'd try and get myself to a competitive level of that. I engaged a coach as I was terrible at the snatch, so I worked with him which encouraged me.”
Attending her first organised lift, Davies was simply "doing it for fun”.
"My coach just told me to have a good time... I was just having a play around,” she said.
"But I did a competition three weeks later and after that I got a letter to say I could be in the shadow squad (for Australia) if I improved.
"From when I got the letter I wanted it, but it was a bit of a pie in the sky goal.”
Proving even herself wrong, Davies aimed to gain Australian representation in 2018, but after back-to-back competitions in 2017 including Australian trials in December, she lifted a combined 200kg to secure selection.
While that 200kg lift was a personal best, it was Davies' personal sacrifices and commitment to achieving her goal that weighed on her the heaviest.
"There's not a lot of funding (in weightlifting), and I quit my job leading up to the trials,” she said.
"It had become a reality that I had a good shot (at selection)... there were five of us, but they had more experience, so I knew I needed to put so much in.
"I had to go through a bunch of life stuff to get here... I've been relying on friends and family, and had to sell some household items to get by.”
Also enduring a divorce, it's been the toughest of roads for Davies, but Sunday's result in a field of seasoned athletes was an affirmation of sorts.
"In your mind (sacrifice) is always worth it... every athlete has sacrifice and struggle,” she said.
"You have these tiny windows of opportunity, so I don't think I've ever questioned whether it was worth it.
"I don't want to look back as an old lady and say 'I almost did' and not 'I did it'. I was so emotional at the Games, I just snuck in and I was the dark horse.
"It was that moment of validation, it's been incredible and so much fun and reward for effort.”
For achieving what she has in the shortest of times, Davies said the "sky is the limit", even if there is still a bit of adjusting to do in her new life.
"I was walking through Surfers Paradise with family and someone stopped and said, 'you're Steph Davies, I follow you on Instagram', and asked for a selfie... it's crazy to think that I now get stopped for pictures.”
Now she's had a taste, Davies is hungrier than ever to continue her upward trajectory.
"It's been a lot of hard work, but I've had a lot of help along the way,” she said.
"The improvement I've made in 12 weeks to get here has been remarkable, but now I've got my eye on (Tokyo 2020) and the Comm Games after that... I don't want to let the opportunity pass.”