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The powerhouse that is Sophie Grosvenor

We're going to be using this blog space to bring you interviews with incredible females who've overcome challenges and inspire us every day. The first of our interviews is with female weightlifter, Sophie Grosvenor. Alongside training and competition, Sophie runs her own weightlifting classes, is a mental health first aider and a B-girl. She's also one half of the double-act that leads on The Goddess Project empowering females. We interviewed Sophie about what it's like being a female in a male dominated sport, how she fits it all in, and we used the opportunity to find out more about The Goddess Project......

(Emily:) When I first started going to gyms, back in my early twenties, I didn't go near the weights. I didn't know how to use the machines and felt very self conscious about using them. Tell us, how did you got into it and how did you find it at first?

(Sophie:) I started CrossFit and weightlifting is a part of that. Having started doing it there I absolutely loved it and then knew that I wanted to do more of it. So, I found a weightlifting gym called 'Will Power' in Pontypool. The training environment was like nothing I'd ever experienced. Genuinely, people there were really supportive about whatever weights you were lifting. It was such an empowering environment to be in. There I found a coach, Justin. I trained there for 5 years and then stopped going at the start of lockdown due to it being a long way to go and getting a new job, so it was a bit harder to get there. After that, I couldn't find a training environment like it where there no cliches and which matched the environment that Justin, the who was also the owner, had cultivated. That made me start thinking about coaching my own classes and creating it for myself, so from there became qualified. It was a nerve wracking experience doing that. The first guy that came to my class, I still train with him now, but when he first came in he said 'I'm here for the weightlifting class' and asked if I was doing the class too. I said 'no' and that I was teaching it and he just went 'oh' and there was an awkward moment where I said to him that he didn't need to stay if he didn't want to, but he said it was ok. I think about it all the time. I know that when people come through the door they are surprised to see a female weightlifter, you just expect it to be a man. There have been times when I've had all men in my class, and they come having been tempted in by the fact that it's weightlifting and then see it was me and are like 'ok'. The give it a go and most of them stay. In fact, the guy I just mentioned who came to my first class, he's going to compete this year now having been coached by me which is amazing. I feel like I have to work harder to earn people's trust, that I do know what I'm doing and I can help them as much as a man could.

Has any of those guys ever come back and said anything to you after their first reactions, like 'I wasn't expecting that' or an apology?

The guy that's now competing said to me recently that he was speaking to his mum about me and said that I was the only person in his life that he listens to. He's like 100mph in everything that he does and he's really successful, and his mum said that she didn't realise his weightlifting coach was a women. That was really nice to hear.

Whilst the reactions you get, unfortunately don't surprise me, how you challenge them makes me feel so empowered. It must do you too?

Yeah, I think it also helps that the gym I train and coach in, The Hangar, is owned by a woman.

I think it's inspirational that you opened your weightlifting coaching up to men as well. I think it's incredible that you've taken your passion for lifting and opened it up to everyone, not just other women.

The amount of times that people say to me 'you're not going to get bigger are you?'. The boyfriend I have now, on our first date we went on, I took off my jacket and I have big arms. He asked me "so how big do you plan on getting'. I don't know how I didn't just leave. Obviously now, we're still together and I'm glad I didn't, but I remember thinking 'what difference does it make to you?'. I don't train to get big, I train to get strong and if being bigger means that I can be better at the sport I love then that's what I'll do, but he didn't get it at all. He now comes to my classes and totally gets it now.

Weight training is a part of gym life and training to be stronger and faster, but I guess a lot of people still think of places like Venice Beach and Miami when thinking about weightlifting and think about the muscle men. Some do still lift to get big muscles, but now weightlifting is changing, but I guess not very fast if you're still being asked questions like that. Do you get asked about your size by men and from women?

Yeah, my new hairdresser who I went to last week asked me if I was planning on getting any bigger. My hairdresser is female. It surprised me, and again I had to tell her that I don't train to be big but train for a specific sport. She was quite shocked and then told me that it wasn't very feminine. I found it rude but I think for her as she is from another generation I think she just found it strange, whereas our generation I don't think they find it so odd. It is few and fair between though and it's usually from people that just don't understand training and who would never prioritise training. I think it's fine and I ended up inviting the hairdresser to my coaching session and offered for her to give it a go. She said she 'could never do that', and I knew she didn't mean it in a horrible way so I didn't take it personally either.

The commmunity of training created is so amazing. People admire one another and the effort it's taken to get where you are. I love this the most. I now train with quite a few girls now and we say things like 'your back looks good today' and then when I think about it, I think that it's quite an odd thing to say to your friend, but it's so encouraging and supportive.

So tell us, what is your training plan on a weekly basis?

I weightlift, so Snatch and Clean & Jerk, which are the main two moves that you compete in. You may have seen these in the olympics recently for example. The snatch is where you take the bar from the floor all the way over your head and the clean & jerk is where you take the bar to your shoulders and then from your shoulders to over head. I then supplement this with lots of squats, down lifts and compound lifts. I love the feeling of 'I'm going to die' so I do a lot of the hot and sweaty stuff like CrossFit and cardio work. I get endorphins from pushing myself, and I love it. I would say I weightlifting about four times a week and then I do the sweaty stuff about three or four times a week. My days are quite long, so I get about about 5am to go and train, and then I work full time and then PT in the evenings, so it's busy. People ask me why I don't just not train, but it's the only thing in the day that's just mine. Otherwise all I will do all day is just give. Training is the only thing that is just for me. Even if I get up at 4am and go and do it, I know that I will feel better about myself, even if I'm tired, I will make myself go and I will feel so much better in my body. It's a habit and non-negotiable now.

You must have been pretty fit to begin with to get involved in CrossFit?

Not really. All I really did was breakdance, and me and my friends were obsessed with it and we would dance all the time. It never felt like training and we'd never fuel our bodies right or do anything supplementary, we'd eat whatever and get no sleep. Then one of the boys in work invited me to CrossFit, but I had no idea what it was. I'm all or nothing though, so I signed up to do a six week programme of 3 sessions a week before you could go into their full programme. I signed up, paid my money and did the first session. I left thinking 'what was that!?', I was dying and I remember doing my first class and I came last on the circuit every time. I remember everyone had finished and was waiting for me to finish. I remember wondering how they'd all finished already. Because it's a really lovely community they were all clapping for me but in my head I remember thinking please just don't and remember saying to them all, please don't wait for me, you go on, but it's part of the community and they don't finish until everyone's finished. I was so unfit. So that was it and then I decided to go to a class every morning and loved the weightlifting part, which led me to find more weightlifting classes. I couldn't find any in Cardiff, but found one in Pontypool. I went and loved it.

Isn't it amazing when you find a sport or exercise that you love? It no longer feels like a chore and then you find the community and get involved with them. It really is amazing, isn't it?

It's really powerful. Me and my friends talk about it all the time as a lot of us compete in different sports and we talk about the balance of being an athlete and then sport becoming your whole identity. It's important to keep something that is just outside of that. I know I've felt it before when I've been injured and my friends have been injured, you don't know yourself when you haven't got your sport. So it's a balance between putting everything in and keeping a little bit back for yourself. Coaching gives me this whilst allowing me to keep a bit back for my own training. For example, I don't need to be training all the time to get the endorphins as I'm empowering other people to do it and getting their energy, which is something I absolutely love.

That's so big isn't, when your sport gives you a sense of belonging and identity. Plus it's a sport, it's competitive, even if you're competitive with yourself. When the time comes that you can't train due to retirement or injury, finding a way to be involved in that sport or community whilst not training yourself is hard. Being able to coach must have given you this balance so that you can still be part of the sport you love whilst not just solely training in it.

Yeah, it has.

So, where do you train at the moment and what would you advise other women if they wanted to be involved in the sport?

I teach at The Hanger on Penarth road in Cardiff. I teach on a Tuesday and a Friday and then when there's more interest we'll put on an introduction to weightlifting blocks of four weeks course. People can come once a week for four weeks. There I'll teach them the basics, and once they've completed those four weeks they can enter any of the classes. However, if there are no blocks running you can still come to the Tuesday or the Friday classes, as long as you let me know so that I can plan something that's more supportive for a beginner. The classes on a Tuesday, there's one at 6pm and one at 7pm, the 7pm is supportive for beginners. Then the class on Friday's is at 6pm. People are welcome to come.

I'm definitely going to come!

Please come! Last week, my 6pm class on Tuesday was all men and then my 7pm class was all women. It was such a nice environment and it's so different to coaching men than it is to coach women. Men just don't listen to a word that you say. It's not even that I'm a female, they just don't have capacity to listen in the same way women do. I will give them a set of exercises, I turned away and came back into the gym to find them all doing different exercises, apart from the one women who said 'I thought you said to do front squats?' and I did, but all the men were doing back squats. I have to be more direct when coaching men, so when I'm with women we'll have a nice chat and it's a lovely environment. When I'm coaching men I need to tell them the bare minimum to get them to go and do it, because I find when I distract them with conversation they forget what I said. So, that's learning for me.

What about if people don't live in Cardiff, or if people are nervous about coming and finding their community in the gym and being a complete beginner. What would you advise?

I would say just give it a go and go and do it. People say to me 'I'll come when I'm stronger or fitter' but I say they should come right now and they will get fitter and stronger by doing it. No one judges, but it's the same in life, we think to ourselves that we'll be happy once we've got a certain job or certain thing, but you should be happy right now and live in the now. I would say just come.

My instagram is @sofly_fitness_. 'So Fly' was my breakin' name and breakin' gave me so much confidence that I didn't want to lose it. If people are interested in coming then just drop me a message and we'll sort something out.

I completely agree with you. I'm painfully shy, but by going to yoga classes, becoming a runner, going and trying sports that I have wanted to try but felt too nervous too, it gave me the confidence in my ability to do things. Now I'm much less nervous and shy about doing new things or things on my own.

I'm exactly the same. I had to have counselling when I was younger and my shyness would stop me from going somewhere and doing something. I had one lady who came to my classes once who was so nervous about coming. She contacted me beforehand and I arranged to meet her outside of the gym to walk in together. I know how it feels and didn't want her to feel the same.

Also, 'So Fly', I love it. This makes me think about the fact that breakin' is also a male dominated sport, and that's something you did before your love of weightlifting started. So you've always been part of a sporting world that is predominately male led.

At the start of going to breakin' classes I was awful. I would go to classes and then think that I would practice in between, then I'd go back to the class and still be awful. I thought to myself about how much pressure I was putting on myself and thought why don't I just go for me with no expectations and then I started to really get into it. I wasn't really conscious about being the only girl that went, but for a time I was and then other girls started going. I started teaching in Willows High School in Cardiff and some girls started coming to the breakin' classes, and then they would start training with us outside of school. I suppose I never thought about being the only female, bar one, that was doing it. The other female was so inspiring to me because I thought that if she could do it so could I.

Love it! Before we wrap up our conversation we can't not talk about The Goddess Project. Tell me all about it.

It's a female empowerment programme using dance, fitness, and self exploration. The idea is to connect you with other goddess from across the UK and try new things. We really wanted to use it as an opportunity to celebrate women. We have three workshop days that start on the 19th September, and you're one of our guest Goddesses, which is amazing. We have three guest Goddesses at each workshop day. The idea is to celebrate women as teachers and those who attend classes. I suppose part of it came from people being surprised that I'm a female weighlifting coach and then we wanted to find other women who are making a difference to others and their sports. We want to give them a platform to share and celebrate what they do. As well as at the days of workshops, we also have a five week plan where people can attend all of the workshop days, as well as affirmation sessions, Well-being Wednesday and coaching opportunities. It's all about female empowerment and being accountable to someone, which I think is really important. We will be setting some goals and then working towards them in a community that is empowering and inspiring. You never know what connections may come from it. It's basically a chance to celebrate being a Goddess.

It's so brilliant and I am so excited to be part of it. Women interact and communicate in different ways to men, so having this support network is massively empowering when you come together with likeminded women into a collective space. It's powerful.

It has been a complete pleasure speaking Soph, thank you.

If you would like to speak to Sophie about attending one of her weightlifting classes, or taking on weightlifting as a sport, follow and contact her on instagram @sofly_fitness_. And to find out more about The Goddess Project give them a follow @the_goddess_project_21 (there's still time to sign up!!)

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