Weightlifting teens pump iron for a better future

A GROUP of champion Scottish weight-lifters are getting ready for their next big contest ...

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  • The young weightlifters have been dubbed the Magnificent Seven
    The young weightlifters have been dubbed the Magnificent Seven
  • The young weightlifters have been dubbed the Magnificent Seven
  • The young weightlifters have been dubbed the Magnificent Seven

and they're all under the age of 15.

Sure to be part of the nation's next generation of Olympians, the team have all been trained at the Gladiators weight-lifting club in Easterhouse.

Dubbed the 'Magnificent Seven', the four boys and three girls practise under the watchful eye of coach Alex Richardson.

They have already won scores of medals at national and international championships, and are hoping to do so again when they travel to Austria for a European contest.

Alex, 54, started the Easterhouse club 30 years ago in a disused coal cellar, and the unusual hobby swiftly drew the attention of children and adults in the area.

Alex said: " You had a choice in Easterhouse in those days, and the choices were quite stark.

"You either joined a gang, safety in numbers and become the perpetrator, or not join a gang and become the victim.

"Either way it was a hard choice, and there was no alternative - the sports centre didn't even get built until 1990.

"There was nowhere to go, I had to train on the landing at home - it kept me focused, it kept me off drink, drugs and away from crime. "

Alex is now proud to have his own training facility on Auchinlea Road, where hoards of children from all over the city come to pump iron each week.

From the outside, the centre appears to be similar to many other facilities in the area; an anonymous building with tired paintwork and few windows, not obviously noticeable from the main road.

But inside, the lack of chaos, and the absolute determination on the children's faces as they strive for the all important "PB" (personal best) is what sets it apart.

Alex's two sons, Daniel, 14, and Alex jnr, 13, are members of the club and two of the Magnificent Seven squad who will be travelling to Austria for the International Battle of the Juniors.

The contest will see the seven compete against other junior athletes from across Europe, including countries such as Greece and Turkey, where weight-lifting is a much more common and popular sport.

Alex jnr, who is in first year at St Andrew's Secondary School, said: "It's a unique sport, all my friends are doing football and rugby but I wanted to do this because my dad had done it - I loved it straight away.

"I can see myself doing this forever; I want to go to the Olympics and the Commonwealth Youths.

"It is inspirational, I'm getting motivated to go to the Youths but it's going to be so much hard work with all the schedules we're doing."

Joining the two brothers will be Charley Craig, 14, Holly Anderson, 13, Jason Epton, 13, Dom Blaylock, 13, and Emily McKibbon, 14.

Charley, who won silver at last year's contest is hoping to compete in the Commonwealth Games one day, and is now part of the Commonwealth Achieve programme.

The petite 14-year-old can easily lift more than her own body weight, with her maximum lift to date being a staggering 56kg.

Her uncle, mum and brother were all involved in the sport and encouraged her to take it up too.

"My family think it's good because usually people my age are out drinking and smoking and I don't do any of that." she explained.

"My friends complain sometimes because I train three days a week and they hardly ever get to spend time with me, but I enjoy this."

As part of the Commonwealth programme, Charley will get to go behind the scenes on the day of the weight-lifting event at this year's Games, visiting the warm-up area, meeting some of the athletes and getting a feel for what it's like to compete at such a high level.

"We could be going to the Commonwealth Games in 2018, that's what I'm aiming for, so it's good to see what it's like." she said.

Emily McKibbon has been involved in weight-lifting for the past three years.

The tall, slim 14-year-old said her family can't imagine her lifting as much as she has.

"Everybody can't imagine me lifting weights above my head but they're all very supportive." she laughed.

"I've had a few boys in my school who say they think I can't lift anything, but I come up here and try my best and I know I can do it."

"I think it would be good for more girls to get involved in it too, because it's mainly boys at the moment."

Despite national and international achievements, manager Alex still spends a lot of time fundraising for the group while he isn't hard at work during training sessions.

Kids under the age of eight start off in the centre's Gladiator play scheme, before moving up to the weight-lifting club.

The inflatables used as part of the play scheme are rented out to generate extra cash, with most of the funds used to pay the organisation's skeleton staff, as well as cover rent and equipment costs.

After that, there is little left to spend on sending the kids to competitions, which is often difficult for their parents to afford.

The club's goal now is to create " a rock-solid financial foundation that local athletes can rely on to help them fulfil their potential, free from worries they may otherwise experience because they simply don't have enough money."

hannah.rodger@eveningtimes.co.uk

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