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Powerlifting Chair and HR Partner, what’s the difference?

HR By Carole O'Neil, Managing Partner – 28 June 2021

Greyscale image of a gym floor and a lifting weight


Carole in a coral top in front of a wooden panel wall

Carole O'Neil

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In January of this year I took over as Chair of the Yorkshire and North East Powerlifting Federation (YNEPF). For those who are unfamiliar with the sport of powerlifting, it’s a “three-lift” strength sport, in which competitors have three attempts to lift as much weight as they can in each of the squat, the bench press and the deadlift. The lifts are judged by three referees against a set of technical rules, and a lift will only be counted if two of those referees give the competitor “white lights” for their lift. The winner is the person who lifts the most total weight across the three lifts, in their own weight category. In the event of a tie, the winner will be the person with the lowest bodyweight on the day of the competition, on a “power-to-weight” basis.

I’ve been competing since 2017, having fallen in love with the physical and mental health benefits of throwing heavy weights around a few years before that. I’ve been lucky enough to compete in the UK and in Australia, and many of the people I’ve met within the powerlifting community have become friends for life.

When my regional branch of British Powerlifting (the UK affiliate of the International Powerlifting Federation) put out a call for volunteers to step up and help the division towards the end of last year, I couldn’t say no. The sport has given me so much, so it was time to give something back. Unfortunately, I’m a complete sucker who is incapable of saying “no” to anything, so my initial offer to help out at a few competitions quickly grew multiple sets of arms and legs and, before I could say “three white lights”, I’d been elected Chair.

The six months I have been in the post have been interesting, to say the least. Like so many amateur sports clubs, the Exec Committee for the division is made up of people who have been involved for many years. I’ve therefore been trying to find a balance between drawing on that wealth of knowledge and experience (which has been invaluable), whilst also bringing some fresh thinking, and pushing for change. It hasn’t been easy, and I’ve ruffled a few feathers along the way, but the diplomatic skills that I find myself deploying every day in my day job have been incredibly useful. Custard creams have become my secret weapon - it’s amazing how much you can achieve over a cup of tea and a biscuit!

Last weekend saw our return to competitive events for the first time since before the first UK lockdown started in March 2020. With a fairly new team, we staged an actual, real-life competition for almost 40 lifters, many of them making their competitive debut. It was an amazing day, and I am massively proud of what the team was able to deliver, especially given that we had additional “Covid-safe” procedures to comply with. Reflecting on the day, there are so many parallels between what I do at work, and my experience with the YNEPF, the most significant of which is the need for really good communication and teamwork, to deliver things effectively. Given that the Exec team are spread across the Yorkshire and North East region, the lessons I’ve learned from 18 months of remote working with the team at Cundall meant that co-ordinating the work that we needed to do was a whole heap easier than it otherwise might have been. As Chair, I’m the person who receives much of the positive feedback from people on the experience they’ve had (as well as most of the complaints when things go wrong). Whilst lovely, I always feel like a bit of a fraud when this happens – I may be the person who co-ordinates things (one of my fellow Exec members calls me, variously, the “Puppetmaster” or “the one with the cattle prod”), but all the hard work is done by others. In powerlifting, as at Cundall, I am fortunate to have a first-class team around me. They make my job easy, and I am beyond grateful for everything that they do.

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