Following her success at the Commonwealth Powerlifting Championships in South Africa, where she took gold medals for squat, bench, deadlift, overall gold and a ‘Best Lifter’ medal, we asked Melissa Wall to tell us how she came to be the queen of Scottish Powerlifting.
In January 2014, I set myself a new year’s resolution challenge of performing a pull up at the gym. My husband Steve is a serving British Army Officer and was heading off for a tour of Kenya and also challenged me to be able to do the chin up by the time he returned home. I love a challenge so it was game on!
Little did I know that it would set me on a journey to becoming a Scottish, British and World ranked powerlifting athlete with World and European medals and selected to compete for Scotland and Great Britain.
For many years I had been a distance runner doing lots of 10km and half marathon races but after a recurring Achilles injury I got a little fed up. I’d always been ‘gym curious’ and used to go to the gym twice a week to try and build some muscle and change how I looked as endless cardio wasn’t doing that for me.
I had known a little bit about Gavin Laird, Strength coach, who owns the Forge Gym in Inverness about 35 miles from my home, so I asked Gavin if he could help me out with the training to perform a pull up. Gavin being Gavin lead to me entering a Strongwoman Competition ‘Highlands Strongest Woman’ and also learning the basics of powerlifting which disciplines include: Squat, Benchpress and Deadlift. Gavin has been my coach since that day. Shortly afterwards I signed up with Scottish Powerlifting and entered my first powerlifting competition where I set a new Scottish record for the deadlift. I fell in love with the sport and competing right then.
After a few more regional and national competitions I was delighted to be selected to represent part of the Scottish Team at the Commonwealth Powerlifting Championships in Vancouver in 2015. Although I didn’t place or medal I was once more hooked on competing internationally mainly because of the honour of representing Scotland on the platform but also because of the diverse nationalities and amazing people I met there.
After qualifying at the British Powerlifting Champs in 2016 I was once again amazed to be selected to represent Great Britain at the World Powerlifting Champs in Texas, competing with some of the strongest women in my age and weight class was daunting but I was over the moon to take the bronze medal for deadlift which to this day I am incredibly proud of. I think having the mental strength to get on the world platform with some seriously strong women was part of my success.
Fast forward around 14 competitions in total to 2017 where I changed to equipped powerlifting and following a lower back injury in late 2016 I became British Equipped Champion in February this year, this qualified me for selection for the European Powerlifting Champs in Prague in July where I took bronze medal for deadlift.
On reading what I’ve written here, I’m still gobsmacked at what I’ve achieved since I first yearned to do a pull up (incidentally I can now do several). There is no secret to this, but I have consistently put in the training and reprioritised many things in my life to enable me to do this. Fortunately I have a very understanding husband and children (who are now grown up). With the exception of injury I have never missed a training session. Training and competing is now part of me and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Don’t get me wrong, there are some downsides. Like everyone some days I just don’t feel like driving a 70 mile round trip in the Harsh Highland winter conditions to freeze in a cold gym for 4-5 hours. The training can hurt, like really hurt and unlike anything I ever experience in running. My legs are permanently bruised and scarred from the bars and any farmer would be proud of my calloused hands. However, it’s the mental challenge and effort that you have to put in to squat or deadlift something extremely heavy that lights my fire. Every time I step on the platform to compete I know that the hours of training have been worth it and to be really good at something you must have resilience and take the highs and lows.
Long training sessions do take their toll and at almost 51 years old I make sure I look after myself by having a fairly strict diet (basically lots of protein, veggies and carbs), 4 litres of water a day and as much sleep as I possibly can. I can be open and say that menopausal changes have impacted but if you want something badly, you will find ways round things.
I also think you have to be in love with the process. Many powerlifters will tell you that we can put in months and months of training for a 5kg increase on some of our lifts and you have to be patient. Powerlifting is definitely a marathon and not a sprint. I’m in for the long haul and I’ve had such an amazing start but I have many years of work ahead to get to where I want to be. For now I’m happy to be a 50 year old (soon to be 51) internally ranked athlete competing for her country. How many can say that?
I am fascinated by how physically strong women can be and I see this through some of my personal training sessions with my clients who often start by telling me ‘I’m not very strong’ and then almost disprove that immediately when I push them to rep a weight they never thought possible. As children we aren’t encouraged to be big and strong like boys are. However I think society is gradually changing and many women of all shapes and sizes are now taking up the sport or indeed just using some weights at the gym instead of making straight for the cardio machines and it’s a great thing to see.
I wish that all women knew the untapped physical strength they are capable of. We know we are strong mentally so that perfectly complements the development of physical strength and vice-versa.
Melissa Wall, Masters Powerlifter is the current British Equipped Champion (age and weight), Internationally ranked and European and Worlds Deadlift Bronze Medallist. She lives and trains in the Scottish Highlands and owns her own Personal Training business Wall Fitness. She is married to her husband Steve who is a serving British Army officer who was recently awarded an MBE for his services in Afghanistan. They have three grown up children, Jamie, Tom and Alice.
We wish Melissa well in the Worlds Masters Championships in Sweden in October.