Louise Mather puts music on pause for Glasgow 2014

Team Scotland weightlifter Louise Mather. Picture: PA
Team Scotland weightlifter Louise Mather. Picture: PA
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GIVING yourself whiplash could never be considered ideal preparation for the biggest sporting moment of your life. That’s why Louise Mather is putting her love of music on the back burner until this summer’s Commonwealth Games are over.

A successful musician, who has gigged in front of tens of thousands across Europe, she is focusing all her energies on giving her best performance yet, hoisting more than her own bodyweight as she aims for a medal in the weightlifting competition.

“I’ve been in an electro rock band called Any Color Black for the last eight years,” says the Glasgow-based freelance photographer and videographer. “I’m the singer and I play guitar. We started off as a four-piece then ended up as a two piece because we’re difficult to get on with. No really, we are. But we’ve done really well.”

That’s the thing about Mather, there is an engaging honesty to her. She knows her strengths and her weaknesses but she also wants to succeed and knows how to channel all her traits constructively.

“We’re actually really good. We were offered a big gig on a boat as part of the Sound to Sea festival but I had to say no because I tend to get whiplash after a performance – if you watch the videos on YouTube you’ll understand why. So I couldn’t go into one of the biggest weightlifting contests of my life needing a rub down before I start!”

The music has been a part of her life longer than the clean and jerk or the snatch, which is why she says there is no valid comparison between rocking out with a like-minded crowd and competing as part of Team Scotland in Glasgow.

“People say I shouldn’t be fazed by the crowd in Glasgow because I’ve played in front of 20,000 people in Germany.

“But this is really different – I’m in spandex making pain faces so it’s really different from being caked in eyeliner with my hair over my face and running back and forward across stage. People also say I should be used to talking to the press but this is terrifying.”

An unlikely athlete, she is also far from the average rock chick. “It’s funny because we’re the geekiest band you’d ever meet. If we had some travelling to do the next day we’d be in our beds early. We were always like ‘yeah, let’s drink Jack Daniels’ and then secretly go to bed. So we always tried to portray a bit of the rock‘n’roll lifestyle, and there were occasions, obviously, but we were very careful about it.

“One of the reasons I got into weightlifting is that I’m a perfectionist and it was the same with the band. If we went on stage and I knew that we hadn’t really had the right preparation I was uncomfortable and it’s the exact same on the platform. I have to feel like I’ve done everything possible to give my best performance.”

That attitude allied with the unwillingness, conscious or otherwise, to conform to stereotypes has earned Mather her place in the Scotland team.

From no female representation at any previous Games to including three women weightlifters in this year’s squad, there is growing interest in the sport and greater strength and depth as a consequence.

“It’s exciting, isn’t it?” says Mather. “We had five girls in the training squad so we outnumbered the boys from quite early on. There’s a great camaraderie between us all and it helps to have that support because we all have the same issues.

“I’m not sure why there are so many girls coming through. I think weightlifting has gained a little bit of popularity from exposure through things like CrossFit. That certainly exposed me to Olympic weightlifting. Maybe it’s just that women are now more comfortable with lifting weights. I was just glad to find the sport.”

Mather played football at university and also did hockey and athletics at school. But she is still relatively new to weightlifting, having found the squats a welcome alternative to running when she wanted to combat the effects of a student lifestyle.

“I’ll have been weightlifting for almost two years by the time we finish up at the Games. I did the whole university ‘beer and take-out’ thing so I was looking for a way to be healthy in a way that I enjoyed. It’s important to really love what you do otherwise you have to drag yourself there. That being said, there have been occasions where I’ve had to drag myself to weightlifting.”

Those moments haven’t been frequent enough to divert her on what has been a steep learning curve.

From the basic CrossFit squats at uni, Mather then dabbled in a bit of powerlifting thanks to some pointers from a guy she got chatting to on Twitter.

“He taught me the basics of general strength training and I did that for about a year. But then I went to the Olympics, taking my sister for her birthday, and we went to see what would be my category – the women’s 69 kilo. I got really excited, I really loved it and decided I should have a bash at that sport.

“I tried to teach myself how to do it, training in my basement with this old rusty bar which I would never dream of training with now. So I was trying to teach myself the movements I was seeing on videos on the internet. Then a friend of a friend knew my coach Ray Cavanagh, so she got me to go in to see him one Friday afternoon and he said ‘yeah, I think we’ve got something to work with here’ so could you never leave! When the qualification standards for the Commonwealths came out, he thought they were possible targets for me if I trained really hard. So that’s what I did. It’s been a pretty fast transition but it doesn’t feel that way. I feel like I’ve spent the last ten years of my life in the gym!”

There’s none of the rebellion or the feigned indifference one might expect from a rock star pretending they’re too cool for school. Mather is genuinely excited and delighted that last week’s team announcement means she can now talk openly with family and friends, who had already bought tickets in the hope they would be able to cheer her on.

“The Armadillo is the venue for the weightlifting at the Games. The last time I was in there was to see Journey, whose best known song is Don’t Stop Believing. So I’m returning to the place where I heard the original uplifting song.”

As a backing track to her life, it seems pretty appropriate and, thankfully, doesn’t demand much head banging.