From Stawell Gift to national weightlifting champion
AS A sole parent to five children, Steven Graham is used to feeling the weight of the world resting on his shoulders.
So naturally he decided to add more weight, only this time to a barbell.
Two years ago, the 44-year-old was introduced to CrossFit through some friends. He loved the idea of improving functional strength and fitness, however he needed something more to scratch his competitive itch.
So he sought out a weightlifting coach.
"The guys that were bigger than me could lift more than me, and that was frustrating,” Graham said.
"In weightlifting, I'm competing against people in my own weight category. It makes it more competitive.
"There's no excuses, it's all on me. I love it.”
Graham linked with Jax Solofa at Ipswich Weightlifting Club, and the pair quickly went to work setting him up for competitive success.
"You're programmed and taught to move safely under the bar. It's all about when you're ready to lift that weight, the coach will tell you,” Graham said of his early teachings. "You learn to become very aware of what your body can and can't do.”
As a former state title holder and international track and field athlete, the Flinders View resident already had a firm grasp of the processes required to succeed in his new sporting field.
The years of steady application toward incremental improvements provided a strong grounding for Graham's transition into weightlifting.
"They're very similar, they're both power sports,” he said. "It's definitely given me a head start.”
A "head start” may be underselling things a little.
In just under 24 months, Graham managed to smash three 20-year-old Queensland records, and claim gold medals at consecutive state, national, Oceania and Masters championships.
"As far as being able to get to that level no, I had no idea I would,” he said. "It wasn't something I was even looking at.
"It's just one of those things. I've enjoyed it so much that things have just happened. I always wanted to improve and to lift heavier.”
Graham has only just managed to return to full training after undergoing surgery for a hernia a few months ago.
The support of his Ipswich Weightlifting Club teammates and partner Erin made his time spent on the sidelines much easier.
"Jax is an amazing human being full stop. He'll call you up to talk to you about your personal life,” Graham said.
"If you're right in the head mentally, then you'll train well. He treats everyone with so much respect and enthusiasm, it's such a good grounding for a lot of these athletes.
"And the support I get from my partner . . . we couldn't be more different. She's a marathon runner and I'm a weightlifter. But without Erin and her encouragement, I don't know where I'd be.”
Where Graham is right now is extremely content; in his sport, support network, and community.
"I think it's amazing how fit and strong you can get by lifting weights, in whatever capacity. Whether it's Olympic lifting, strongman, or bodybuilding type stuff,” he said.
"And you learn to look after yourself. It's a big circle; if you want to train well, you have to start eating well and it becomes a snowball effect. 'I need to eat well otherwise I'll train like rubbish later'.”
Graham's fascination seems to have rubbed off on those closest to him.
His daughter Amelie asked for a barbell for her 10th birthday.
"For a while there was some separation anxiety, so she was coming with me all the time to the gym,” Graham said.
"She asked me if she could start (training). I said 'wait for your birthday'. But I was the one who couldn't wait.
"How many 10-year-olds ask for a barbell for their birthday? She loves it.”
Although his recent surgery has stalled things a little, Graham still finds time to give back to the sport which gave him so much prior to "falling into” weightlifting.
"I've got a couple of young kids I coach on a semi-regular basis down at Bill Paterson Oval,” Graham said.
"I loved athletics. I ran a couple of Stawell Gifts, and at national and state championships. I got to be one of the top five-ranked hurdlers for my age in the world at one stage, I can't complain.
"This is now another stepping stone. It's pretty amazing where life takes you.”