Strength of the powerlifting community helps put Camille Holland on the path to world championships
The power of powerlifting has been an inspiration for Camille Holland for a long time, but it has been even more important during the past 18 months.
After the sport was practically put into hibernation from March 2020 – in the sense of competitions – it will emerge from its imposed cocoon this autumn.
Holland will be on the centre stage when that happens, at the World Powerlifting Championships in Sweden in October.
It has been a long time coming for the 33-year-old, who had been lined up to represent Great Britain at the event last year.
Holland had won the British Powerlifting Championships in March last year, when it was initially thought the lockdown would be short and swift, but the sense of foreboding soon set in, and the European Championships were cancelled.
As we became ensconced in our houses, bar a brief spell every day, it curtailed the opportunities for every sports person to perfect their craft.
With personal bests of a European record of 250kg for the squat, a British record of l21.5kg for the bench press and 200kg for the deadlift, the weights that Holland lifts are not the sort that you tend to just have lying around the house.
She was kindly lent some weightlifting plates from her gym, Point Blank Gym, and used a builders’ trestle and a bar, purchased through a grant from the South Cambs District Council elite athlete award scheme, to continue a degree of training.
But with the subsequent lockdowns and no competitions in the diary, things started to become more difficult and Holland is candid about the impact of being halted in doing the sport she loves.
“I got back into the gym in June or July, and then it just started getting a bit rockier where my mental health was taking a little bit more of a turn because I wasn’t able to train and do the things I really love and was really good at when we went into the next lockdown,” she explains.
“This time last year, I really was in a bad place. I had fought depression for an awful long time and I really found that getting through it using powerlifting… I can’t even describe what kind of a person I am now compared to even five years ago, and I started lifting about eight years ago.
“It’s the community, and everything that goes with it, knowing that you are not alone. An awful lot of people use lifting as a way to manage their mental health because it does feel so empowering.
“It gives you that confidence to know that you can go into a gym or weight room and take that into your everyday life where there is a situation where you might have to give a presentation or something like that, it transfers over really nicely.
“You are able to conquer things that you might not have thought you could previously.”
Having not been able to borrow any more plates, Holland went onto social media to reach out to the powerlifting community for assistance and the offers of help were overwhelming.
She ended up with a bench, some squat racks and 120kg of weights – which would be huge to many of us but, to give some context, Holland had lifted a European record in her last international competition in 2019.
“The powerlifting community has been exceptional at helping me get everything I need to together to just do something so not only was I physically fit but mentally fit as well and that I could do the best I could given the circumstances,” says Holland.
So much has been made about social distancing during the pandemic – being away from family and friends apart from in the virtual world – but the physical distance from contacts and acquaintances has perhaps been just as difficult.
Holland usually runs an Iron Ladies session to try to get more women into weight and powerlifting.
“We’ve still got our online community, but we’ve not been able to run that in person just because of the distance and space in the gym. It’s something that’s really been missed,” she says.
It is about building confidence and helping individuals know how to lift safely in order to reap the benefits from the sport that Holland has highlighted, and so she has been trying to provide one-to-one assistance.
The powerlifting community have also been there for each other to offer advice and creativity on how to continue the sport away from the gym.
Such ideas included using cans of beans, bottles of water or Coca-Cola on the bars to increase the weight, or using resistance bands, and overcoming the obstacle of working on rocky paving stones.
It was all very different to being back in the gym, and the World Powerlifting Championships have provided a sense of sporting direction for Holland that has been lacking in the last year.
But that is through the role that powerlifting has provided in managing during each lockdown.
“I think if I didn’t have that, then I don’t really know what I would have done,” she explains.
“It was something to keep me distracted and do when we weren’t going into the office.
“If I was just sitting at home with only the television or being able to go for a walk then it’s not a challenge for me.
“The lockdown brought around so many more challenges which were fantastic and shows we can adapt in the future, but taking away the space where we have our community around us was the hardest part.
“I would have preferred to have lifted lighter in the gym with the community, than lifting heavier at home – they are so important to have behind you, to know you are not alone and you can bounce ideas off each other, socialise and support each other.”
The final destination in mind may be Sweden but there will first be the British Powerlifting Championships in September, which Holland will use to test her form.
“Having something to work towards is something we were missing throughout lockdown, just knowing what we were doing and working towards,” she adds.
“I’m quite a competitive person so I like to have something in the diary, knowing that I’m working towards it whether it’s a month, six months or 18 months away.
“Although training is something I’m always going to do, it helps ignite that fire again and [gets me] riled up so when competition day comes I’m performing at my best.”
For Holland, it is all about the power of love for powerlifting.