Thursday 23 January 2020

'I don't care what my body looks like, I love it for what it can do' - World champion powerlifter Mickella Gill

World champion powerlifter Mickella Gill (17) tells our reporter how empowering lifting weights can be for teenagers

World champion powerlifter Mickella Gill. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan.
World champion powerlifter Mickella Gill. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan.

Joanna Kiernan

Powerlifter and budding CrossFit star Mickella Gill (17) leads an action-packed life. As well as having to study for her upcoming Leaving Certificate exams and attend school, Mickella is dedicated to her gruelling daily training schedule. And with five training sessions a week at one of Ireland's leading strength and conditioning facilities The Performance and Fitness Academy (TPFA), and two more in her father's gym at the back of their home in Carbury, Co Kildare, Mickella has little time for anything else this year.

"I work hard to try and balance everything out," Mickella explains. "Not a lot of people understand the amount of effort that goes in. I get up at 5.30am every morning and I either study or train before school; if I know I have training in the evening I will get up and study and at least get an hour or two done because I could be in the gym for two-and-a-half hours that night.

"Even meal prep takes time, so I literally have no social life this year," Mickella laughs, "but that's just what comes with trying to be successful, you have to give up something."

Since joining The Performance and Fitness Academy a year-and-a-half ago, Mickella has become a double world-record holder, after her performances at the Irish Drug Free Powerlifting Association competitions in the Single National Lift Front Squat and Dead Lift events saw her enter the Guinness Book of World Records, lifting 95kg (aged just 16) with the previous record lift at 60kg and going on to Dead Lift 130.5kg, smashing the previous world record of 120kg.

However, it was Mickella's father who first inspired her to begin lifting weights.

"From a young age I have always been very active; I did Irish dancing and I played football for Kildare Minors, but I really didn't know what I was doing," Mickella says. "My dad has always been really passionate about weightlifting and we actually have our own gym at the back of the house.

"When I was younger I didn't really understand what he was doing and at that time it was very much a man's sport, you wouldn't see a woman lifting weights so I didn't take a huge interest in it, I just watched him."

Then at 15 years of age, Mickella became more body conscious. "I felt like I wanted to tone up and get that perfect body - whatever that is - so I began going out to my dad's gym and ignoring all of the weights and just going straight to the cardio machines," Mickella admits.

"I started on the treadmill and from there I went to the road and I would run about 5k to 10k every single day. Then I wanted to take it to the next level, so instead of going out onto the cardio machines I started to join my dad lifting weights, squatting, benching, dead lifting and he taught me the foundations for really everything I know now.

"Then one Saturday I was playing a match and I pulled my hamstring and ended up at the physiotherapist. We were just chatting about what training I do and when I told him I lifted weights and what weights I was lifting, he was really interested and introduced me to the Academy, and told me it was the best place to do it and gave us my coach Niall Munnelly's number, and my dad rang him," Mickella says.

"I remember walking into the Academy for the first time," she says. "I was so overwhelmed and shy that I didn't talk to anyone, but I saw women lifting weights and I really knew I was in the right place and that it was what I wanted to do."

Soon Mickella's confidence grew and she began to care less about how her body looked and more about what it was capable of.

"I have nothing but praise for all of the coaches at the Academy, they constantly encourage me and have always pushed me towards my goals and it has been really empowering," Mickella says.

"Niall told me at the beginning 'I will make you a champion if you stick with it' and within my first two months I did my first competition and began breaking world records.

"At the start I wanted to look thin and fit into size six jeans, but as I kept getting stronger and progressing I began not to care as much, and I can honestly now put my hand on my heart and say that I do not care what my body looks like. I love it now for what it can do and you start to love yourself more because your body can perform in a certain way," Mickella adds.

"My goal now is not to have six-pack abs or biceps, it is about performance, and with that then comes looking good and feeling your best.

"Every teenage girl lacks self-confidence to a certain extent, but I feel that because I am surrounded by all of the strong women at the Academy, the coaches there and my parents; with all of them just pushing me to be the best version of myself that I can be, that has brought me a lot of self-confidence."

After a couple of months training, Mickella stopped playing Gaelic football to concentrate on her passion.

"I didn't really like playing football, so I gave up playing both for my county and my club and now I am just doing weightlifting and CrossFit-style training full-time and it is great.

"I started to do more CrossFit-style training recently and have entered a few CrossFit competitions, which I am enjoying too as strength is a real plus in that area," she explains. "I would love to get to the CrossFit games at some point in my life; I am not exactly there yet, but maybe in four or five years I might make the regionals.

"At the same time though, I would never want to stop powerlifting because I just love it," Mickella explains. "It empowers me and makes me feel really strong and the stronger I can get over the next few years, the more that is going to benefit me in every aspect of my life.

"I'm not saying that every girl should lift weights, but it is so important just to find something that makes you really happy and something that you are passionate about, there is something for everyone and it's really important to find that," she adds.

"I had my dad as my role model when I was growing up and now my little sisters have me, and I think that this is great because they are not looking to social media to tell them what they should look like. I think it's much more powerful when a child can understand that they want to feel good for themselves rather than looking at these images of perfection that are not real."

Mickella is also keen to keep her hard-earned titles. In August she will turn 18, which will immediately propel her into the Junior category.

"The couple of world records that I have are in the teen category; so people under 18 and my weight category is minus 63kg," she says. "When I turn 18 and move into the Junior category I will have a lot more competition, but then that is just the name of the game. You have to get better and you have to keep trying to get fitter, faster and stronger; that's the only way you are going to stay in it."

When it comes to nutrition, Mickella does not believe in restricting oneself too much.

"People think I am crazy because I go into school with about 10 lunchboxes," she laughs. "I try to get at least six meals in a day, three big meals and three snacks; I have my breakfast, two lunches in school, dinner, then I would have something after the gym and I usually have two bowls of cereal before I go to bed and a protein shake.

"I always hear people saying to stay away from cereal, but for some reason I always feel so recovered after it. I can't go to bed on an empty stomach, I have to be full or I won't be able to sleep.

"In my life every day is treat day. If I want a chocolate bar every day then I am going to have a chocolate bar every day," Mickella adds.

"Yes I also love really good food and whole foods, but if I want to treat myself I will. I don't restrict myself because I feel like I actually perform better when I am not too hard on myself.

"I have tried all of the diets; paleo, counting calories, macros, and my performance went downhill because I get so obsessed with food that I forget why I started to train. Food makes me feel good and I move and train a lot on the day so I burn it. For a person who wants to lose weight, then obviously you have to restrict yourself a bit, but I think the best approach is to eat healthily 80pc of the time; that is a much better way."

Mickella’s coach says:

Niall Munnelly of The Performance and Fitness Academy says:

“Often people will consider it okay for kids to do gymnastics from three or four years of age, where they will be lifting their body weight constantly, but when it comes to lifting weights people think it is bad for them until they’re over 16.

“However, age has nothing to do with it. Lifting weights while young will strengthen and condition the body for the rest of your child’s life, it will also keep the body mobile and stop it from seizing up, preventing bad posture and injuries later in life.

“Mickella and her family realised that training from a young age could build her body, mind and confidence and what kid doesn’t need all of the above? We live in a world where the youth are getting weaker, stiffer and less confident in themselves, but as a parent you can change that.

“Mickella is a young girl breaking world records and loving life, and this would not have been possible without the love of fitness, dedication and focus she has learned during these very important and formative years.”

Health & Living

Editors Choice

Also in Life