The Double Lift
How does one juggle being a senior ICU nurse and a powerlifting champion? We catch up with Siobhan Taylor and find out how she's smashing her juggling act
Growing up, a nursing career was never something Siobhan Taylor considered, she actually wanted to be a geneticist. However, after she had her first child she had the opportunity to work at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge as a health care assistant alongside her mother and her passion for nursing grew from there. Now a senior ICU nurse at the same hospital, it was back in 2017 when Siobhan was working around the clock that she injured her back whilst handling heavy dialysis equipment. Temporary relief came in the form of painkillers until a physiotherapist friend suggested she try powerlifting, which became her saviour. Not only did powerlifting help to cure her back pain, but Siobhan took her newfound passion to a whole new level. She began competing and last year, aged 44, she became Commonwealth champion in the 84+ category at the powerlifting championships in Aukland, New Zealand. A nurse, a mother to two children, and a powerlifter means that there’s not an area of Siobhan’s life where she doesn’t pull her weight and we find out how she manages to do it all
Glorious: It was a back injury that forced you to start powerlifting. Tell us about this and your first experience of powerlifting.
Siobhan Taylor: I was working in one of the ICU’s and hurt my back providing specialist care to a very unwell patient for two long shifts. I was already attending the gym for cardio classes and after asking for advice from a physiotherapist, I contacted a personal trainer at the gym and traded a few hours of cardio for some lifting sessions. Before then, lifting had never crossed my mind, as it seemed it wasn’t made for women and I didn’t know of any women that lifted. I was invited to watch a powerlifting meet by another personal trainer at the gym and after seeing him compete, I just knew I wanted to give competing a go.
Glorious: What is it that you love about powerlifting and why would you recommend it?
Siobhan Taylor: There are so many things. The feeling of accomplishment when I complete a training session (and all the feel-good endorphins from working out). Sharing the highs and lows with other people that lift, no matter where I go, the gym or a competition – other people who lift just get it, it’s like a shared kinship and you immediately have a connection with them. Lifting is very inclusive, irrespective of class, race and ability. There is always a way for anyone to get involved in powerlifting and I sometimes feel almost evangelical when telling people how great it is. Most importantly, it has helped me to manage my mental health, the highs are high, the lows are low, but moving weight repeatedly has seen me through some very tough days and reinforced how resilient I can be. Also, I can bring all the shopping in from the car in one trip!
Glorious: Your record powerlift is 182.5kg, are you going to settle with this or push for heavier goals?
Siobhan Taylor: For as long as I can stand, I will never settle. There is always something to work towards. It doesn’t have to be as huge as a regional or national record, sometimes it’s just more reps than the week before, or completing the set in less time with good form. This year I hope to be selected for team GB (I represented England last year for the Commonwealth) and get to compete again internationally. I do have a certain deadlift number in mind that I have my heart set on, so watch this space, as come August I hope to pull that on the platform and that will be a massive achievement.
Glorious: Is there ever a maximum that a body can handle, what do you have to do differently in terms of training and technique to lift heavier weights?
Siobhan Taylor: I am very fortunate to have an amazing coach, Rhett Milton- Barnes, who plans all my training because there is so much knowledge that goes into building an athlete plan. You are only as strong as your weakest link, and so we work to strengthen the weak spot and carry on until we discover the next weak spot and work on that. There are some insanely strong humans out there and they keep pushing the boundaries of what a body can endure and I watch in awe of those people – Andrea Thompson, Camille Holland and Emily Campbell, I am looking at you!
Glorious: What is your daily routine from an ICU nurse to powerlifter, and a mother?
Siobhan Taylor: I wish the word routine could be used to describe my life! My nurse life is varied and the shifts are typically 12.5 hours long. I can be dealing with the joy of a patient getting a new lease of life from an organ transplant or supporting the wife of 50 years whilst she says her final goodbyes to her husband. I love my job and the ability it gives me to help people and support them on some of the most difficult days of their lives. I am very blessed to have a team that supports me to achieve highly in other areas of my life. As my shift pattern can be so erratic, I am allowed to set a pattern when it comes to training and time off to attend competitions.
Being a mum is just as chaotic as being a nurse. My kids think it is awesome that I lift and I hope very much they see that consistency pays off. Most of their schoolmates say they fear me… I’m strong, not violent kiddos! In one way or another I manage to fit training around all this craziness and somehow it works.
Glorious: What drives your passion for all areas of your life?
Siobhan Taylor: Living well, I think it’s likely I have a YOLO mentality, but as I am ageing disgracefully I have become better at choosing to do things that make me happy and provide fulfilment. I adore seeing people achieve their goals – my kids, my colleagues, my friends, and if I am in a position to assist I will, and be the biggest cheerleader whilst doing so. I don’t want my legacy to be a bunch of shiny medals and trophies (even though the shiny things are lovely) I want people to see me and say, “If she can do it, I can too,” or “I took a leap and did it because someone believed I could.”
Glorious: What songs keep you lifted/motivated when powerlifting?
Siobhan Taylor: For training, I adore all the hip hop and RnB from the 80s and 90s. On competition days it’s the biggest list of ‘women rule the world songs’ from Beyoncé, Lizzo and Rihanna. I can’t tell you my big finale lift song, that is my dynamite, but if you ever see me rocking out at the edge of the platform, you might be able to guess!
Glorious: Do you have interests in any other sports?
Siobhan Taylor: I don’t have time for much else but I do like to watch other powerlifters compete.
Glorious: Your powerlifting career has gone from strength to strength (literally!). Last December, you won a gold medal on your England debut at the Commonwealth Powerlifting Championships in New Zealand. Tell us about this experience
Siobhan Taylor: Training for New Zealand was without a doubt the most gruelling training program of my lifting career alongside the fundraising needed to cover the cost of the trip. I’ve never travelled that far alone and I don’t really enjoy flying, but once I had been selected I knew I had to work hard to get there and overcome my fears. The experience of competing internationally was mind-blowing and I cannot thank enough the team coaches and teammates for looking after me so well. The venue was well organised, I met lots of lifters from other teams and have made so many new international friends.
I was so ridiculously nervous, competing internationally is so different from competing just for myself. My handler on the day, Martin, had to tell me that I had won twice, as I just couldn’t believe that I had achieved my goal. I still get tears in my eyes remembering him saying “Siobhan, you’re Commonwealth Champion!” I sat in a chair and cried ugly tears for a good 10 mins afterwards.
I celebrated with my family once I got home with a big dinner cooked by mum. Nothing beats a home-cooked meal. Then I was back to work 3 days later as though nothing had happened!
Glorious: You help to run a community called Iron Ladies in Cambridge, introducing women to strength sports and training. Tell us about this and your experiences so far.
Siobhan Taylor: Iron Ladies is a group of women of different levels of ability who get together at the gym and encourage other women who can lift, have previously lifted, or have never touched a barbell, to come and hangout, learn to lift, get tips, and train in a female-friendly environment. So many women come to the gym and peek into the free weights area and feel intimidated for so many reasons. If you knew you could go into the free weights area and not only be comfortable, but welcomed and supported, more women would lift and use the free weights. You can find us at Iron Ladies UK
Glorious: If you could teach three inspirational women to weightlift, who would you choose and why?
Siobhan Taylor: My mum, she’s the powerhouse and matriarch of our family and if she could convert that into real world physical strength she would lay waste to all the world records and titles without breaking a sweat.
Mary Seacole, another Jamaican-born woman who displayed great tenacity to assist soldiers on the frontline during the Crimean War as a nurse despite the war office turning her down. Her determination to achieve her goals regardless of those obstacles against her would lay a solid foundation toward the commitment to train consistently and avoid putting it off to another day.
Queen Elizabeth II, because no one could ever dream that a woman of her age and class would ever do such a sport, but teaching her how to lift would be proof that powerlifting really is for everyone, at every age and every background.
Glorious: What’s next for Siobhan Taylor?
Siobhan Taylor: I deserve a bit of rest, I think! I’ll be supporting others to compete by refereeing and I’m hoping to be recommended as a national level referee (I already have division referee status). Fingers crossed for team GB selections, and perhaps another international competition later in the year, but otherwise, sky’s the limit. I hope to keep lifting until well after I’m collecting my pension, and encouraging as many people as I can to give powerlifting a go. #liftupandliftheavyalways