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Sitting down with Australia’s most decorated female weightlifter

by theweightliftingplatform

Growing up, Deb was always into sports. Whether it was track and field or weightlifting, she was always a competitor.

“I was the middle of five kids and had two older brothers who I wanted to play footy with and muck around with, being pretty active outside,” Deb tells The Weightlifting Platform.

This set Deb on the path to being an athlete — and one of the greatest in Australia at that

Deb’s parents got all the kids into Little Athletics when she was eight years old and that’s where she found out how competitive she really was.

“I just learned to love [athletics] just the feeling of trying to be competitive, like lining up, whether it was a 100, 200, 400, or 800 [meter race]. I remember lining up for a 1500m and thinking I’m going to puke after this. This is going to be so gross but I still wanted to go really hard and beat all my competitors,” Deb explains.

The path Deb eventually took though was towards the field events — discus, shotput, and hammer throw. She even made it to the international stage as a junior, where she took home a bronze medal in the World Youth Championships.

Her coach suggested that if she wanted to get better, she needed to do some lifting. After realising that curls and classic gym workouts wouldn’t be ideal for her, she walked into Cougars Weightlifting Club and met Deb and Mike Keelan and never really looked back.

After a couple of coaches suggested that Deb could win a medal at National Champs, Deb changed her mindset from “This is just a bit of fun” (with no real ambition to compete) to “yeah, why not give it a go?”. She was hooked from then on.

Back when Deb first started weightlifting, it was not really seen as a sport for women, and it was only just starting to get some sort of recognition on the world stage. 

Although, from the outside, people may have been saying negative things about her participation in weightlifting, Deb put all of that out of her mind.

“It was really nice that my parents really encouraged me and never said anything negative,” Deb explains.

At 15 years old, Deb had her first Nationals (under 20s). It was held in Melbourne in the middle of a shopping center. 

“I just remember getting these nerves… I remember I fell on my backside with a 52kg snatch on my second attempt and was just sitting there going, ‘I cannot finish with this’ so I came out and smashed my last one. I got the silver. I went straight to a payphone and called mum and told her I just got the silver medal”.

This was just the first of many medals.

In 2004, during an Olympics Games qualification event, Deb missed an attempt at a clutch clean & jerk, thus failing to clinch the sole female spot on the team. Though she did make the reserved spot. 

“For two weeks after [missing out on the team] I just cried. I went skiing with my sister down in Melbourne and remember going down the hill as fast as I could and thinking, ‘I don’t even care if I break my leg’”.

Two weeks later Deb, got a call telling her to keep training, that she could still have the spot. As it turns out, there were some issues with the anti-doping tests which resulted in Deb getting the top spot after all. So she could call herself an Olympian.

Deb’s second Olympics qualification was a lot more straightforward and you could argue it was a lot sweeter because it all happened on the one day and wasn’t drawn out over weeks of speculation and controversy. Deb was going head-to-head with Seen Lee. Deb, being a super, got to watch Seen and knew exactly what she had to hit to qualify. Jumping from a 132kg clean & jerk to a 140kg clean & jerk on her second attempt clinched her spot, guaranteeing she would become a two-time Olympian. “It was just such an amazing feeling.”

Deb is easily the most decorated female lifter in Australian history with five appearances at the Commonwealth Games:

  • Three silvers in 2002, Manchester (they awarded separate medals for the snatch, clean & jerk and total)
  • Gold in 2006, Melbourne
  • Bronze in 2010, Delhi
  • 4th in 2014, Glasgow
  • 4th in 2018, Gold Coast

Along with two Olympic Games:

  • 13th in 2004, Athens
  • 6th in 2008, Beijing

With this extremely successful career, Deb was the first —and, at the moment, only— female to be inducted into the AWF Hall Of Fame.

Deb is now retired from competition and has three girls. She can’t wait to watch them grow, while hoping they follow in her weightlifting footsteps. But never say never, Deb may be back for some masters comps in the near future… We can only hope!

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