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Meet Yorkshire's 58-Year-Old Powerlifter Who Just Won Commonwealth Gold

White Lights Media White Lights Media
December 2022
Reading time 3 Minutes

When Rotherham-based Kelly Clark started powerlifting it was simply to help improve her arthritis

Now eight years later, aged 58, she has just represented England in the Commonwealth Powerlifting Championships, winning a gold and silver medal. We caught up with Kelly before she headed off to the championships to find out more.

When Kelly Clark sprained her wrist three weeks before the All England Championships final she decided that even though she hadn’t been able to do any training, she’d still compete and just enjoy the experience. Little did she know, despite her injury, she would actually win and become the Equipped Bench Press Champion. Not only that, as a result she would also be selected to represent England at the Commonwealth Championships in New Zealand. 

‘It was an amazing feeling to know I’d been selected for the Commonwealths,’ says Kelly. ‘You know that you’ve got a chance because you’ve been on the podium at an All England or a British but there’s still that waiting because they can only take so many people. When the email drops into your inbox there’s a real buzz and i’s great to think that you’re going to represent your country.’

When we spoke to Kelly it was the week before she was jetting off for New Zealand. Had you told her eight years ago what she’d be doing the week after her 58th birthday, she would never have believed you. Kelly first got into powerlifting when it got to the point her arthritis was so bad she couldn’t even reach into the kitchen cupboard.

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‘This all started from the fact I was really unfit in my late 40s. I did no sport, I was a size 16–18, I was a gym owner’s best friend as I would join in January, pay for the year, and only go for about three weeks. I really hated cardio and as I got older I started to see health complications including being diagnosed with arthritis,’ Kelly explains. ‘I couldn’t even lift my arm to close the car boot or reach into the kitchen cupboard, and it was when I got put on prescribed medication I thought I really need to do something about this. 

‘So I joined a gym, started with HIIT training and although I really enjoyed it, the problem with that was if I put in 100 percent I would be in pain for days afterwards. My trainer told me to try powerlifting instead and I just loved it.’

It didn’t take long for Kelly to see the benefits of her new sport, both physical and mental. ‘I started just before my 50th birthday and I was off my arthritis medication after just four months of lifting,’ says Kelly. ‘After 14 months I’d lost over three and a half stone, and 36cm off my stomach. My arthritis was so much better and it really helped with my mobility, but also mentally it was nice to have something to focus on.’

As well as the physical benefits, within 18 months of starting to compete Kelly was in Team GB. ‘In 2017 the Special Olympics was in Sheffield and I volunteered to help out. When I was there people asked me why I didn’t compete,’ she explains. ‘I started with the usual, saying I was too old and they told me that’s not true as there are different age groups and categories. I then said I wasn’t strong enough and they told me that didn’t matter, there are only three places on the podium and the rest is just about doing the best you can for you and proving to yourself you can do it.

‘So, after a lot of persuading. I entered my first competition in March 2018. I planned to just enjoy it and if I did then come back next year to try and qualify. But after I did my lift one of the judges came and asked me if I enjoyed it; I said yeah. He asked if I’d do it again and I said yeah. Then he said the good news is you will get to do it again as you’ve qualified for the British Championships, the bad news is they’re in three months so you better get training.’

After that Kelly did more and more competitions, including being selected for the British team to compete in the World Powerlifting Championships in 2019, where she came fourth, and earned both bronze and silver medals with Team GB at the World Bench Press Championships in 2021. She has also won the title of British Equipped Bench Press Champion in 2020 and All England Equipped Bench Press Champion in 2022.

With her focus on the Commonwealth Championships a typical day includes early morning training (three times a week at home and once a week at a gym) before heading to her job as a People Development and Engagement Manager. ‘During the week it’s up at around 5.30am, training in my basement gym while my husband walks the dog,’ explains Kelly. ‘Then I head into work which could be at our Doncaster head office, or sometimes I get out on the road and go out to deliver training in the regions.

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‘I’m very careful about what I eat. I’m not on a diet but I have to make sure I eat well. It’s about getting the balance of the protein right so I usually have a packed lunch with me with lots of chicken. I still enjoy myself and every Friday I have a takeaway so life’s not limited to just eating “good” food, it’s about give and take, otherwise it gets boring.

‘On a Saturday I go to Horncastle Powerlifting Club. That’s a 140-mile round trip on country roads so it takes me about an hour and a half to get there and the same back, so I’m down there for two hours training. You can imagine most of my Saturday goes on training but my husband’s really supportive and doesn’t mind, he just goes off and does his own thing. He looks after the dog and makes sure everything at home’s sorted so I can just concentrate on lifting.’

Not only is Kelly’s husband extremely supportive, so is her employer. ‘Keepmoat have been brilliant. They have true agile working so if one morning for example I’m a bit later or I need to leave work early and train on a night if my routine’s different then I can. Also if I need a sport’s massage or physio I can leave early, so the agile working is really useful. 

‘They have even supported my trip to New Zealand which is fantastic! Although we’re representing our country, because it’s amateur sport there’s no funding and while our entry fee gets paid, the rest is out of your own pocket. I’d only been employed at Keepmoat for nine months when straight away they stepped up and said that they’d sponsor me. It’s just fantastic because it’s a lot of money, it’s £3,000 for my flights and accommodation alone, so to be able to actually go out there and do this is fantastic. I may not have been able to go without them.’

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Looking to get into the sport? Kelly has advice. ‘In terms of powerlifting I’d say find a gym that’s got someone who can coach you, and just give it a go. One thing as a woman was I thought I might get bulky but that’s totally unfounded. It’s actually just going to give shape to your body in different ways. Resistance training, weights, resistance bands, kettlebells and dumbbells have been proven in terms of not only weight loss, but also strengthening bones and muscles particularly in women over 40, so it’s really a key one and it’s not something a lot of women, like myself, might naturally think of. 

‘Also the powerlifting community is really supportive. I think that’s one thing that stands out in this sport, because it has got weight classes and age classes and even para-powerlifting for anyone who’s disabled, is that it’s totally inclusive. Even when you’re at a competition and you’re up against people they’re all still cheering you on because they all recognise that it’s tough to get out there on the platform by yourself and do the lift.

‘I think the most important thing though is to find the sport for you,’ she adds. ‘I didn’t like cardio work because it didn’t suit me and you might not like powerlifting, so just find what you do like. Also you’re never too old or unfit to exercise, just move more and find something you love. Age is just a number. I’m fitter today at 58 than I was at 28, 38, or 48 so that says a lot. On instagram I hashtag a lot of stuff ‘arthritis won’t stop me’ and that’s to help people realise there are choices out there, just find the thing that’s right for you.’

Kelly won both a silver and gold medal in New Zealand and is now the Equipped Benchpress Commonwealth Champion. You can keep up with Kelly’s powerlifting and arthritis journeys on social media @kellyclarklifts.

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