A TRAINEE teacher from Tonbridge is defying the odds and crushing her demons by rising up the ranks of powerlifting. She is not just hoisting the weights, but her own spirit at the same time.
Lizzie Mills, 21, is taking part in the National Junior Championships next month on the road to recovery from anorexia and depression.
She was headgirl at Mascalls School in Paddock Wood after moving there in the Sixth Form from Weald of Kent in Tonbridge.
Her downward slide began when she went to university in Portsmouth in 2014. But a sign of her strength of character is that she achieved a first-class honours degree in mathematics this summer.
Now she is in her PGCE training year to become a teacher in the coastal town, and works in school from 8am to 4pm, followed by two hours of studies, before she can finally go training.
She only started lifting weight 18 months ago, but hopes to compete internationally next year.
“Sometimes I forget how far I’ve come or where I’m going,” said Lizzie. “But my story might help others in similar situations, and show people that recovery is possible.”
She added: “I’m not saying powerlifting is the answer, but I swear that it saved my life!”
As befits her chosen sport, she has overcome huge obstacles in her path to reach the level of achievement she manages on a daily basis.
“When I started university in 2014 I spiralled into a dark path of eating disorders, particularly fitness anorexia – I went to the gym copious hours a day,” Lizzie revealed.
“But I didn’t touch a barbell until around March 2016. I couldn’t train properly as I was still -recovering from my eating disorders.”
Her love affair with the sport, appropriately, began through a romantic attachment. “I had met Adam, my partner, when he was competing in powerlifting, and he taught me what he did.
“It was only after I had watched Adam compete at a South-East Divisional meet in July 2016, that I decided that I wanted to give it a go.”
They signed up for a competition at Astor College in Dover last November. Lizzie said: “This gave me a huge focus in recovering from my eating disorders as I had to eat to be strong.
“I started training four times a week, and from meet day onwards I’d fallen in love with the sport.
‘I love the way it makes me feel
– strong, empowered, and constantly challenged’
“Even though I was barely lifting any weights compared to most of the other competitors there that day, everyone was cheering for me on every lift and the support was incredible.”
Lizzie’s story is all the more remarkable because she was born prematurely and told she would be restricted in her movement because of under-developed ligaments.
Her mother Pam said: “After being born prematurely with the prognosis of not being able to run or do sport to any higher level due to underdeveloped ligaments, she has amazed herself and her family, proving beyond all predictions this girl can.
“Anyone who knows Liz knows she has had issues both physical and mental that she has overcome to reach this level, she is so driven.”
Lizzie has invested in a local coach, James Blanchard from JB Training and Nutrition in Sevenoaks, and ‘made some insane progress’.
Lizzie only trains three times a week because of her demanding schedule, but said: “I always make time to lift weights because I love the way it makes me feel – strong, empowered, and constantly challenged. Lifting weights, heavy or light, gives me a purpose to eat and sleep properly and be healthy.”
So what is the secret of the extraordinary power which has transformed a vulnerable young girl into a pillar of strength?
“I have no idea where this inner strength and determination comes from but coming from a background of eating disorders and struggles with mental health, powerlifting keeps me sane and gives me something to direct my energy and focus on.
“I’ve made some really fast progress over the last year, so who’s to say I can’t defy science and continue to improve this much?”
Lizzie is now training ‘crazy hard’ for the Under-23 72kg category at the British Junior National Championships in November.
She said: “I know that if I take care of my mind and body, fuel myself properly, and keep training hard, I have a strong chance of lifting internationally over the next few years.”