When Siobhan Taylor is not saving lives as a senior ICU nurse, she’s deadlifting 182.5kg at powerlifting competitions. There’s not an area of her life where she doesn’t pull her weight
By Tomi Otekunrin
Being a nurse and powerlifter might seem like a strange combination to some, but for Siobhan Taylor, the two roles absolutely complement each other. To put it simply, powerlifting saved Siobhan’s nursing career. Most medical dramas do not realistically depict the heavy lifting that nurses are required to do on a daily basis. Back in 2017, Siobhan was working around the clock at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, based in Cambridge, to care for a patient who required a dialysis machine. Handling such equipment not only requires high levels of skill, but also immense strength. “I was moving heavy bags of fluids below my knees every hour. I walked away after that with a back injury, knowing that back injuries end nursing careers,” she explains.
Siobhan visited the doctor and didn’t find the right answers. She medicated with painkillers, but that only provided temporary relief. She finally sought the advice of a fellow colleague and physiotherapist, who gave an unconventional and yet practical solution. “The physiotherapist suggested getting a personal trainer who could teach me how to lift and build my core,” Siobhan says. The senior nurse was no stranger to the gym, as she had already been doing cardio and spin classes. She swapped these out for time with a personal trainer and began to lift. Siobhan quickly discovered that the exercise was not only helping with her back injury, but was also greatly improving her mood. “It turned out I quite liked lifting and then I realised that I could lift quite a lot,” she laughs.
One day during one of Siobhan’s training sessions, she was invited to a powerlifting competition by a fellow gym member and readily agreed. She attended and was immediately enthralled by the sport. “I turned to my personal trainer and told him that I really want to powerlift and he was like ‘cool’. So we continued training just so I could have a crack at doing a competition. We eventually found a novice competition that was a few months away,” Siobhan explains. The competition, which was only meant to be a fun experience, turned out to be the beginning of a new chapter in the 39-year-old’s life. “I qualified for nationals off the back of my first regional comp. Then a few months later, I went to my first national competition,” she says proudly.
Siobhan has found much to love about powerlifting, which explains how she has progressed so quickly. “There’s just something about beating gravity,” she says. She also relishes how different powerlifting is to her role as a nurse. “With my job, you really have to use your brain. You have to be empathetic and tap into your emotions. With powerlifting, you don’t need somebody’s acceptance. You either can lift the weight or you can’t.” Powerlifting not only makes Siobhan feel physically strong and empowered, it also serves as an outlet to help her cope with her job as a nurse.
From March 2020 onwards, Siobhan has experienced extremely heavy moments – especially as a senior nurse in the ICU dealing with Covid patients. Multiple lockdowns last year meant that she could no longer go to the gym; her outlet was gone. The desperation of needing to lift got to her, so she went in search of an alternative. “I contacted the owner of my gym and asked if there was anything he could do to help me. The very next day, he dropped off a barbell, clips and 140kg at my house,” she says. Her immediate contact with the bar brought about a sense of calm and release. “There was a comfort in doing something that’s really familiar. At work, I couldn’t predict what was going to happen every day. It felt restrictive.”
Betty Gray, who Siobhan describes as her “powerlifting mama”, also came to her rescue after seeing a funny – and probably concerning – video of Siobhan using her wheelie bins to satiate her need to lift. “Betty contacted me and was like ‘WTF?’. She mentioned that she was buying a new squat rack and offered me her current one. And it was the exact one that I had been trying to buy but couldn’t as it was sold out,” she shares emotionally. “Betty drove up to me from Brighton, gave me the squat rack and then left.”
The squat rack truly felt like a gift to Siobhan as it meant she could emulate her gym training sessions at home. Siobhan needed this release after a series of heartbreaking events. She lost her dad in April, and her relationship of four years ended in May. Her 2020 then ended with a diagnosis of PTSD. At work, she had to cope with the increasing number of Covid patients and provide comfort to distressed families whilst dealing with her own grief. “When I say lifting saved me, it really did. It stopped me from completely losing my mind because it was the one thing I could use to escape,” she tearfully reveals. The final knockout arrived when Siobhan’s coach quit coaching and for the first time since she picked up weights, she almost felt like quitting.
Luckily the nurse found another coach, Rhett Milton-Barnes, who helped breathe life back into powerlifting for her. “My mental diagnosis was so new to me and I was still finding ways to manage it. So we’ve been learning together how to initiate patterns of calm,” she says. The training methods have paid off, as Siobhan recorded multiple personal bests at the 2021 EPA All England Powerlifting Championships in August. “My squat came in at 165kg, my bench came in at 90kg and my deadlift came in at 182.5kg. I extended my deadlift record for East Midlands and I now have the record for East Midlands total. I won the All England championship in 2019 and defended my title in 2021 as the pandemic prevented a championship being held in 2020,” she says proudly.
All of the above wouldn’t have been possible without Siobhan’s powerlifting team and her NHS colleagues. “My job is very supportive of my sport. I have negotiated that I have every Saturday off to do team training because that’s when we do it as a group. When I have competitions, I only do day shifts in the week running up to my comps because sleep is really important,” she says.
Both powerlifting and nursing have impacted each other in Siobhan’s life. “They both work in similar ways. I’ve learnt that it’s always going to be the little things that make the big things move better,” she shares. Doing more tedious training, such as dumbbell and cable work, helped Siobhan score her biggest numbers at her last competition. The gestures of kindness, such as genuinely asking about someone’s day or helping comb someone’s hair, is what truly make Siobhan’s patients feel cared for. “It’s the small things that mostly make the difference and not necessarily the big, lifesaving Holby City type of scenarios,” she adds.
Powerlifting saved Siobhan’s nursing career, which she’s now been doing for the past 15 years. It also made her strong beyond the weights and made it possible for her to dream impossible dreams. “After the competition I did in August, I have been invited to train with the British team. I never thought I would ever be good enough to join when I started powerlifting. The original idea was to lift to help repair my back and not have back issues at work,” she laughs. Now after four years of powerlifting and being the ripe age of 43 years old, Siobhan has recorded numbers that could have her on the British powerlifting team. Siobhan reminds us that it’s never too late to start lifting and it’s never too late to pursue your dreams.
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Competition Photography White Light Media, all other photography: Talent Siobhan Taylor, Art Direction & Production Root, Photography Ossi Piispanen, Photography Assistant Claudia Agati, Location Bridge Fitness