Aerialist flying high following Games nod
IF YOU told Alyce Stephenson two years ago she would currently be in Canberra training with the Australian Commonwealth Games weightlifting team, she would have laughed in your face.
But that is the reality the 27-year-old from Ipswich currently faces, having learned she will represent her country in the 48kg category at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast on April 5.
Stephenson's path to a Commonwealth Games berth is not an orthodox one.
The surgical nurse began weight training to compliment her aerial performance routines - she is one part of an aerialist 'lyra' and 'tissu' duo with twin sister Emma - and has never looked back.
"I started training to help with my aerial routines, but then I just found I really enjoyed weightlifting," Stephenson said.
"I found I was quite weak, because I'd never really done weight training before. But it was measurable, I could see myself getting better and stronger each week."
What started as an auxiliary to her routines quickly became something of an obsession, with Stephenson training up to six days a week once she started entering and winning local weightlifting competitions.
"By nature I'm quite a competitive person, and I think that stems from being a twin," she said.
"I've always liked competing. When I was younger I did athletics at school, and I wanted to be the best in my grade. So when my coach put me in some local comps I loved it."
Last year's competition schedule forced Stephenson to take a step back from her aerial and gymnastic routines. It also created a lot of time pressures on her, as she juggled work, training and spending time with her husband.
"I'll work a day shift, and then drive down to Brisbane, train, come home, make dinner, eat, sleep and then back to work again," she said.
"It's literally all I do outside of work. I'm lucky my husband is so supportive of that, and it helps that I love it. It never feels like a chore."
Stephenson contested five qualifying events in 2017, including the main Commonwealth Games trials in Sydney on December 17.
There she finished second behind Tegan Napper in the 48kg division.
However Napper also topped the 53kg class, and thus Stephenson became the stand-in when Napper chose to contest the higher weight division.
Stephenson snatched 57kg and lifted 82kg in the clean and jerk for a 139kg total to punch her ticket to the Gold Coast, but she is hoping to drastically improve upon those totals between now and stepping on stage in April.
To that end, she is soaking up the knowledge of her Commonwealth Games teammates at the training camp in Canberra this week.
"For some of these girls it's their third or fourth Commonwealth Games, but there's also nine of us where it's our first so it's a good mix of experience," Stephenson said.
"I've been getting advice from the experienced girls on recovery, nutrition, training - everything. There's also four coaches here, and I'm chatting to them and getting some great advice."
Stephenson admitted the whole experience was still "a little bit surreal".
"I still feel like there's no way this is happening," she said.
"At the start of last year my coach and I decided to give it a crack, I figured I had nothing to lose.
"It's all been a very surreal experience, and I feel very privileged to be here with such experienced lifters. I'm still learning a whole lot and trying to enjoy the process and journey. Who knows if it will happen again."
Stephenson said she was most looking forward to being able to compete with her friends and family in the stands - many for the first time.
"Being in front of a crowd doesn't bother me, because I perform all the time with my aerial work. It's more the internal pressure that I put on myself to do well for my country," she said.
"I'm really excited to get on that platform. A lot of people have heard I do the sport, but have never seen it. My friends and family will get to come down and watch which is good.
"Because I love this sport so much, to be able to share that with my friends and family is the ultimate dream."
Stephenson joked a good performance on the international stage may finally sway sister Emma to follow her into the weightlifting caper.
"I'll try to convince her to come and train with me every now and then, I think she would actually be really good at it," she said.
"We always joke that she should do my weight cut and can weigh-in for me. I'd love to get her on the platform."