Sue's double life as a sporting powerhouse

SUE HOLLANDS has one of the best-behaved classes in St Thomas's Primary School in Bradley, Huddersfield.

And it comes as no surprise.

Not only has she taught at the school for 20 years, she has just been crowned World Champion Powerlifter for the ninth time. It would be a brave pupil to take her on.

But Sue, from Ravensthorpe, says her young charges, aged five and six, aren't all that fazed by her World title.

"I often hear them saying, 'You are really strong, Mrs Hollands', but also 'My dad could do that'," says Sue, who will celebrate her 60th birthday next year.

She was a 47-year-old mother-of-three when she first started to lift weights.

"It all happened by accident really," explains Sue. "I have a friend who goes to the same church as us and she suggested going to the gym with her. One day someone suggested that me and my daughter Marie have a go at powerlifting. I'd never lifted anything heavy before in my life and knew nothing about powerlifting. I never went on the machines again."

Sue was hooked.

"I took up powerlifting training two or three times a week at Steelman Powerlifting Club. It was such a challenge and totally new to me."

Although she really liked powerlifting Sue never really thought of it as anything other than a fun and interesting way to keep fit.

"I'd always been quite into sport at school and played badminton, but just for fun, and that was what powerlifting was to me, I'd never thought about competing.

"I was a teacher and mum- of-three, I wasn't really looking for any extracurricular activities. I literally came across the sport by chance and have never looked back. It's all about determination, self-belief and technique."

But then coach, Barrie Nelson, a world-renowned powerlifter who died last year, persuaded her to compete.

"My daughter took up powerlifting at the same time as me but she started competing six months before me. We always went to watch her and then one day I got this call from the coach who said it was about time I started competing.

"He taught me proper techniques and he had wonderful enthusiasm and a wonderful philosophy."

He questioned why the world champion and world record holder had to be Russian and not a primary school teacher from Dewsbury.

Being a competitive person, Sue worked and trained hard, and it soon paid off a couple of years later after a successful World Masters championships.

"When I was quite incredulous at what I had done, Barrie said, 'Someone has to be world champion, why not you?' I thought actually that's a very good point and not one I can argue with. Little did I know what that one comment would lead to, I am forever grateful for Barrie's belief in me."

Sue is now a record breaking Powerlifting champion, holding the World Squat Record in both the 82kg and 90kg classes and all four (squat, bench press, dead-lift and total) British records in both 82kg and 90kg classes.

At open age level Sue has represented Britain at the Western European Cup for each of the last four years and even lifted at the European Senior Championships in 2008, becoming the oldest ever British woman to do so.

"The difference between weightlifting and powerlifting is that we have three disciplines and we never lift over our heads."

She is also nine times World Champion, having recently defended her title at the World Masters' Powerlifting Championships in Pilsen, Czech Republic, cheered on by her devoted husband Tony.

Former bank worker and now lollipop man, Tony surprised his wife by turning up in the audience. He struggles to travel to watch Sue compete though as competitions are normally held abroad – last year's was in Palm Springs, California and next year's is in Canada.

But when Tony went into Dewsbury bus station he was stunned to see there was a direct bus from Dewsbury to Pilsen for 54.

It took him 28 hours to get to the Czech Republic and then he had to hide behind a pillar while Sue competed in case she spotted him and it put her off.

"I couldn't believe it. When I'd finished competing and got changed he was waiting for me. Everyone else had known except me. But he is a romantic."

It was nearly a repeat of the first time Tony had seen her compete in the same country 10 years earlier, at Sue's first international competition.

Then he secretly drove the 1,000 miles from Dewsbury to the Czech Republic in his old Fiat Tipo.

"It was the biggest shock in the world. Then he told me he'd driven and I couldn't believe it. The first thing I asked him this time was whether he had driven, and he said no he'd caught the bus.

"He really likes surprising me and I have no idea what he will do next. He has been a tremendous support to me and is really proud of everything I have done. He did have a go himself, but he decided it wasn't for him. He come along and watched me train – he's very good at making the tea," she laughs.

Despite her success and many world-renowned achievements, Sue has yet to secure a sponsor and relies entirely on personal funding for the competitions she attends, which can run to thousands of pounds over a year, in kit, loss of earnings and cost of the trip.

As an unpaid sport, powerlifting is not deemed a profession and is yet to be recognised at Olympic level.

"I dread to think what it has cost me since I started competing," says Sue. "You have to pay to go to these competitions and they are often held a long way away. I also have to take time out from school, so while I am travelling and competing I am not being paid."

Sue estimates that every time she competes in Europe it costs her a minimum of 1,000 and she has already started saving for the World Championships which take place close to Niagara Falls in Canada next year.

Although Sue would like the sport to get more recognition, she says she is in two minds as to whether it should be an Olympic sport.

"When I watch weightlifting its a genuine spectator sport. But I can't say the same for powerlifting, unless there is someone particular you are watching, it isn't a brilliant spectator sport."

Although it costs Sue a small fortune to follow and compete in the sport she loves, she has no plans to hang up her weights any time soon.

"I will go on as long as I am able, as long as I am fit and as long as I can afford it," she says.

"There is a guy at the club who is in his 80s lifting massive weights, so he is my inspiration."

As for her daughter, Marie, who also took up the sport, there is no real family rivalry although there is possibly some good friendly competition.

"We compete in different age groups," says Sue. "I am in the over 50s."

Seeing Sue reading stories to her adoring five and six-year olds it is hard to imagine Sue in the gym, lifting a staggering 440lb in competition – the equivalent of two grown men.

"When people hear what I do, they expect to meet muscle woman.

"I have some muscles but I am not a body builder. I am just normal."


Powerlifting is a strength sport, which is divided into three events, squat, bench press and deadlift. The maximum weights lifted in all three events add up to the powerlifting score in a competition. No weights are ever lifted above the head

One other obvious difference between weightlifting and powerlifting is the fact that weightlifting is an Olympic sport while powerlifting is still fighting it out to enter the Olympics.

Weightlifting events such as snatch and clean and jerk rely on speed, strength, and technique to lift the most weight.