Friend’s joke leads to Canada powerlifting competition for Toby

Toby Clarke, head coach at a gym in Lurgan, is heading to the Commonwealth Powerlifting Championships in St Johns, New Foundland, Canada later this month.
Toby Clarke, head coach at a gym in Lurgan, is heading to the Commonwealth Powerlifting Championships in St Johns, New Foundland, Canada later this month.

A 25-year-old Tandragee man has received a surprise invitation to represent Northern Ireland in powerlifting, only 18 months after taking up the sport as a result of a joke.

Personal trainer Toby Clarke is heading to the Commonwealth Powerlifting Championships in St Johns, New Foundland, Canada for September 19 - having reacted with scepticism to his initial invitation.

Toby can now lift almost 2.5 times his body weight.

Toby can now lift almost 2.5 times his body weight.

“I received the news by email in July while I was finishing up my morning shift in work,” he said. “I initially thought that there had been a mistake and it was sent to me by accident but after a phone call and a couple of back and forward emails I found out that it was genuine and that there was no mistake.

“I had only started training for and competing in powerlifting back in January 2018 and had competed in my third ever competition back at Christmas in 2018.”

He is now able to deadlift almost 2.5 times his own body weight, a very respectable achievement in the sport.

He did have some experience previously in weightlifting while a student at Loughborough University, a different sport which requires more speed and complex skills to lift usually lighter weights above the head.

“While at Loughborough the weightlifters and powerlifters trained together and one of my friends, a powerlifter, jokingly suggested that I switch to powerlifting. So a few months later I did.”

In powerlifting the aim is to lift as much weight as possible in the deadlift, squat and bench press. The best of three efforts in each lift then gives a total, with the highest total in each weight class winning.

His powerlifting personal bests at around 88kg body weight are a 190kg squat, a 122kg bench press and 217kg deadlift, while his weight lifting bests are 93kg in the snatch and a 115kg clean and jerk.

Now head coach at Kaizen Strength gym, near Lurgan, the former Portadown College student earned a degree in Sports Science from the Belfast Met and Loughborough University and is studying for a masters degree in Strength and Conditioning at St Mary’s University in Twickenham. His own trainer is former Loughborough powerlifting coach Alec Hewstone of Focus Strength and Conditioning gym in Portadown.

He added: “Qualifying for the Commonwealth Powerlifting Championships was never on my mind and I believed that it would have been another couple of years before I felt that I would have been at the right level before I would have thought about trying to qualify for a competition of that calibre.”

He adds: “Training for Canada has been hard going physically but more mentally challenging. I would love to improve all of my lifts and my total. However, I’ve picked up a few niggles over the past few weeks, so I just want to go out, enjoy myself, do what I can and stay injury free.”

The cost of competing in Canada is stretching, he says, and having already committed all his £2000 savings to cover his flights, insurance and hotel stay, he has set up a GoFundMe page for supporters to assist with food, transport and additional costs, with a £1,500 target. To donate click here.