The commonwealth games always rank highly on sports fan’s ‘must see’ television spectacular. Next to the Olympics, World Cup and World Championships, the Commonwealth Games is a brilliant two weeks of summer sport and fierce competition. This summer it feels especially important, not only because it’s a home games for the British, but since the pandemic it’s felt more important than ever to compete, challenge and grow against competitors.
Never has that felt truer for one competitor going to this year’s Games.
By day, Jodey Hughes works for HMRC in debt management, but also by day Jodey is a weightlifter. Jodey took silver in the 55kg event at the British Championships and finished 9th in the 2018 Commonwealth Games at the Gold Coast, Australia. Hoping to do even better for her home games, just a few weeks away, Jodey took some time out of her busy schedule to talk with us about the upcoming event.
How are you finding the heat with your training and preparation?
I love the heat. I respond really well and the sunshine gives me a real boost. It’s really good for your joints and helps immensely. Ironically, we’re not getting the same heat in Scotland as they are in the south, so I had to spend three days in Spain for some heat training. With the previous Games being in Gold coast with 40 degree heat I really found my stride. The first session often takes some acclimatising, but once you’re used to it, it’s fine. Sunshine really helps with my wellbeing and mental health. It’s easier to train as it makes me want to get outside and move more, which can be a barrier in the colder months.
How do you balance work with your weightlifting and your ‘me time’
This is the toughest part trying to balance it all. At certain times, something has to give. I love my job, but it is demanding, so fitting in family time, plus ‘me time’ is tough. I have to recognise the signs that tell me I’m struggling to juggle it all, which sometimes I do catch myself ignoring. Often times it’s only when consequences occur that I realise I need to pull back. In the lead up to the games I appreciate I can’t go from work straight to training, without a break. Otherwise, I’m distracted with my attention on the day’s work instead of visualising the next lift. While preparing for the games I take every Wednesday off, which allows me to focus solely on preparation. I sleep in, make sure I have a good breakfast and I practice my mental training and visualisation techniques, which is such a huge part of my preparation. I use this one day a week to travel to sterling to be with the national trainer and really forget all other commitments.
I have an amazing support network around me, which helps. Not only is my husband my training partner who encourages me to go for runs, makes me protein shakes and picks up all the family stuff, but he’s also my best friend. So spending that time together working out gives us our precious time together.
How are work about you taking time to compete
My work have been incredibly supportive. HMRC have given me the time I need to train and compete. They really have been the best employer to support me on my journey. There is give and take where I work extra when needed, but there’s a level of trust there that just works. Plus, I really love my job, which helps when balancing my time and makes work much less of a chore.
What advice would you give to your ten year old self?
This has changed recently. For me the best advice would be “Don’t worry about pleasing other people and satisfying other’s expectations. Do what’s right for you and try your best. Don’t waste your time dieting if it’s not for you, just be happy with who you are. Do the things that you love the most and you can be anything you want. Just be yourself.
And what would you say to anyone looking to get into weightlifting?
Just try it, feeling strong is amazing and weightlifting is really fun. It’s the kind of sport where every single day you achieve things you never thought possible and you see marked improvements every time. It’s good for your joints and helps to keep you stable. Recently I've seen a lot of other sportspeople take up weightlifting to help with their speed and power, which feels incredibly motivating.
How has your weightlifting helped you outside of the sport?
It’s really helped me overcome adversity, improved my resilience and performing under pressure.
What I've realised is that for me, hard work, beats talent. It’s pushed me outside my comfort zone. I’m not the most talented but I’m the hardest working working person there and it’s that self-realisation and self-belief that propels me even further.
If things don’t go my way it helps me deal, cope and accept what’s happened and to learn from it. Change what you have some control over and disregard the rest. Performing in front of people can be unsettling, especially when things aren’t going your way, so it helps you cope with resilience and manage that pressure.
How did you feel when you qualified for Birmingham 22?
(This question brought a huge smile to Jodey’s face) The feeling was surreal. Even now I get emotional just thinking about it. It’s been a long, hard four years and at times I didn’t think I had it in me. For a while I fell out of love with training during COVID. At the time my job was particularly engaging, helping colleagues integrate with the new style of working on the COVID help lines. Typically, this type of work could take years to initiate, but we had just days to get up and running.
At the start of lockdown, I was working a lot more, when other roles were perhaps slowing down. During the winter months, the gyms were closed, I was lucky enough to have equipment in my shed, but it was so cold. There were no competitions to prepare for or look forward to and I wasn’t moving properly. I’d put on weight due to the lack of mobility, which I have to maintain to compete in the 55kg category, so I felt slow and lethargic. But, the moment I got that phone call to tell me I’d made it, made all the hard work worth it. I’d realised all my goals and overcome so many obstacles. Looking back, it felt more to me that my first commonwealth Games in 2018.
In my very last qualification lift, I had to increase my lift by 6kg, which is massive, and I’d never done this weight before. I cleaned the bar up on to my shoulders but got dizzy. So right there and then I did a risk assessment with 96Kgs on my shoulders for 13 seconds. I considered that if I don’t lift this I bomb out of comp, I don’t go to the Games, and I’ll retire. It really was a long time to be thinking that with 96kgs on my shoulders and I felt the weight both physically and emotionally on me while I weighed up my options. But lift it I did and I still can’t watch the video without getting emotional thinking about the challenge, achievement and everything that was going through my mind.
What are you most looking forward to in your home games?
The crowds the occasions, getting a PB. Everything about it will be amazing. Being only four hours away and having worked in Birmingham it feels even more of a home games. Having all my family and friends there to cheer me on will be such a lift. It’s my chance to showcase the sport and get more people interested. Weightlifting is still a minority sport and not well funded, so anything I can do to help is empowering.
This is likely to be my last games, as I've been doing this for ten years, so I will soak up the atmosphere as much as possible. With weightlifting we don’t have an ‘off-season, so there’s never a good time to book a holiday. I have to consider it in every decision I make, whether that’s to not go hiking in case my legs hurt and I can’t train, or what I can and cannot eat. As I started weightlifting in my 30s, where my peers typically start between 17-27, I’m definitely an outlier. With the next games being four years away I’ve almost set my heart on retiring, although I’ve got no idea what I’ll do without it.
Despite me starting late, I do think in some way that has helped me. When you’re younger you’re often more distracted and less likely to have the commitment to the training, and discipline you need. So, I don wonder sometimes how far I might have gone, had I started at 17 like so many others.
If you weren’t a weightlifter, what sport would you like to excel at?
Definitely Ice hockey and basketball. I started late with ice skating too despite getting to a very high level and nearly qualifying for the Olympics. My cousin was so good at hockey and became my very first role model. While my mother didn’t want me to sign up to hockey as she thought I would quit straight away, this actually became a very powerful motivator. Not wanting to let her down, or perhaps wanting to prove her wrong, it inspired me to keep going, work hard and achieve great things.
Will you be checking out any of the other sports on display at the Common wealth games?
As this may be my last Games I’m going to try and get as much sport as possible, but only after my event is over. I want to see the basketball, gymnastics and rugby and I definitely want to support my fellow Scots. We have a brilliant community in the Scottish team, and we really support and encourage each other. Unfortunately, as COVID is still a factor there won’t be the kind of mingling we saw in Australia, but I hope to be able to support my compatriots as much as possible and I know there’ll be a brilliant vibe.
How do you mentally prepare for the day and just before each lift?
I've been prioritising and focusing on my mental game over the last few months. I’ve invested in a mental coach which CSSC has helped fund. They give me a strong positive mental mindset and help me focus and block out other distractions at the time of each lift.
I’ve been struggling recently so much so, that during each lift I’ve been visualising failing each lift, which is obviously not ideal. You have to have a strong mindset and my coach has been really helpful in visualising my lifts and positive self-talk. Mental coaching is becoming more popular with athletes and even non-athletes. One of the most powerful things I've learned is when things aren’t going well, that is just a thought and it’s not real. You need to believe in yourself and stay focussed.
During the competition I don’t pay any attention to the crowd, I just focus on me and the bar in front of me. While it may look like an individual sport, weightlifting is actually a team sport which relies heavily on the team behind me pushing me and motivating me. In between each lift though the crowd helps with the energy and atmosphere. It really makes the difference, having people cheer for you. Naturally I’m an introvert, which is something else I’m working on a lot recently with my team. One time my knees gave out before a lift, thinking it was nerves it was actually excitement. But I learned a lot from that experience. You can take that adrenaline rush and use that energy to focus and give yourself that little self-talk to remind yourself you’re not nervous but excited.
Does being a role model for younger and female athletes mean a lot to you?
It means everything. I love hearing about young people, especially young girls in strength sport. I didn’t have that role model growing, up. But now I’m surrounded by really strong women, I love how weightlifting has changed my body and I use that confidence to speak in schools and seminars on the benefits of body positivity, inner growth, confidence. Hopefully that has some impact on some young lives and at least one person is encouraged by hearing me talk.
How do you relax and unwind away from weightlifting?
Honestly, I don’t relax much, as I mentioned there’s no off season for weightlifters, but I do love to travel. I love food and meals out, practicing yoga and this may seem odd, but I love the CSSC sporting events. I’ve played Beach volleyball at Loughborough during the games and it’s such a fun event. It’s always really well organised and I’ve always found it a great opportunity to not only meet new people and make life-long connections, but also a great chance to talk with others about weightlifting and work ideas.
Good Luck Jodey
We’d like to thank Jodey for her precious time at such an important point in the sports calendar. We wish Jodey and all her fellow British competitors at the Commonwealth Games every success.
If you’re going to the games we’d love to hear about any stories you have, whether competing, spectating or perhaps preparing for the next Games. And you never know, CSSC might just be able to help get you to the Games.
We asked Jodey a few quick-fire questions to provide a few moments of levity in an otherwise packed schedule.
- Beach or snow?
- Live in a city or village?
- Sweet or savoury foods?
- Favourite season?
- Movies or music?
- Country music and Netflix
- One thing you’d take to a desert island?
- Duct tape! Maybe a lighter or my husband
- What superpower would you most like?
- Go back in time and slow time down