When you think of the term ‘women’s empowerment’, it’s unlikely that you think of women…
Meeting Elizabeth Craven, I was a little intimidated.
Now, when I say a little I mean a lot, and when I say intimidated I mean terrified.
Having worked in the fitness industry for years, I’d certainly heard Liz’s name before – hardly surprising given that she’s Australia’s Number 1 Power Lifter (and has been for three years running) and holds the Australia, Commonwealth and Oceania records for her weight class.
I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but it was different to what I got when I visited Liz and her home and her gym, Build Fitness, in Kambah.
Liz is warm, she’s encouraging, gentle, humble and friendly. At 52kgs, she’s little but has a giant heart.
When Liz asked me about my own training, I was a bit embarrassed. Don’t get me wrong: I’m proud of what I’ve achieved but in comparison to woman who’s about to compete at her third powerlifting world champions, well… I was in awe of her. Straight away, Liz was asking me about my training and offering to lend a hand.
A chance to train with Liz Craven? I wasn’t going to turn that down.
I’d come to Liz at an interesting time where I wasn’t improving – not through any fault of my coaches but because of what was going on in my head. I’d injured my back deadlifting and although I’d taken time to recover I was terrified of stepping up to the bar.
Well, Liz Craven saved my deadlift. Her understanding approach and encouraging nature fixed weeks of doubt and uncertainty and she brought back my confidence.
You might think that someone at such an elite level might not be able to identify with amateurs, but you’d be wrong. Liz is not someone who spent her whole life leading up to competition, in fact she never thought she would get to where she is today.
“I cannot believe that as a 41 year old woman, I’m representing my country,” says Liz. “I never expected that at all – I didn’t do sport at school, I did art. In my 20s I was a party girl – Josh Birch changed my life.”
Josh Birch is one of the founders of Crossfit 2600, who Liz started training with over six years ago.
“He got me into Crossfit, but we didn’t even realise we were doing Crossfit at the time.”
After competing in the 2010 Crossfit Regionals, Liz was training for the 2011 competitions when she found out she was pregnant with her daughter Abigail.
“After I had Abby I was trying to get strong again and was training at ACT Barbell. After only three months back in the gym my trainer told me that my lifts were good enough to go Nationals, so I thought ‘why not?’
“What I loved about Crossfit was the competition and the community, and I didn’t realise that there was such a huge community in Powerlifting as well.”
Liz trains in her gym with fellow local Powerlifters Schae Zarew and Clair Angel, both of whom are currently competing at the Powerlifting World Championships in Killeen, Texas until this Sunday, 26 June.
Having spoken to both Schae and Liz, it’s evident that their bond is deep. Both women are positively glowing in the appraisals of each other: Schae in her appreciation of Liz’s support, and Liz in her unwavering certainty of Schae’s capability.
“She’ll be number 1 one day soon” says Liz.
In her own journey to becoming Australia’s number 1 powerlifter, it didn’t take Liz long to progress once she focussed on her goal.
“As soon as I started I put my mind to it, my lifts increased until I was number 1 in Australia two years later – and the Commonwealth and Oceania, I can’t believe it.” Liz says, genuine surprise apparent in her voice.
“I didn’t deserve to go to my first Worlds in 2013, but I harassed my team coach until they got me a place on the team, and that changed my life. The Russian coach was watching me and he said ‘if I coached you, you would be number one in the world one day’, and in my head I decided to do everything that I physically could to become the best that I can.”
The following year, Liz competed in the World Championships in South Africa where she was placed 7th in the world. In the lead up to the 2015 Championships however, Liz had a bulging disc in her neck and was unable to use her right arm, meaning that she could no longer compete.
“It was hard, it was depressing. But I managed to get myself back up to the top again by the end of the year, by being smart and not pushing too hard.”
I asked Liz what it takes to compete at the Powerlifting World Championships.
“You’ve got to be obsessive,” she answered. “You’ve got to be driven and you’ve got to leave no stone unturned to be good in the sport because you have to get your food right, you have to sleep, you have to look at your videos all the time and ask what you can do better. You’ve got to work on the mental game too so that when you walk out you’re not intimidated. You can’t let it get to you. You’ve got to be calm.”
Liz says she hasn’t always overcome the intimidation, recounting stories of where she’s made mistakes – overbalancing, or not following the rules by failing to wait for the call.
“I’ve had some pretty sh*t performances but I’ve learned from them. I almost bombed at my last International, I missed my first two squats and then I just went ‘what am I doing, I’m frickin’ Liz Craven!” I went up there and squatted.”
From someone so humble in daily conversation, it’s endearing to hear that kind of arrogance from Liz.
“You’ve got to think like that, you’ve got to get all arrogant. I call it in my gym ‘you’ve got to turn into a gangsta’, so we put on gangsta rap!”
“I walked out there and I got the squat which was a record, and then I got all my bench press and I deadlifted 170kgs which was Commonwealth, Oceania and equal world record for Masters. Hopefully at this worlds I’ll break world record for squat and deadlift.”
While breaking powerlifting records, running her own gym and raising her daughter Abigail, Liz also has her own clothing label, Weights and Mates (can someone say #lifegoals?).
“I started Weights and Mates when I looked around and saw was happening in gyms all over Australia. All over social media there were people posting pics and videos of themselves lifting with their mates. There is a massive shift from us all going down the pub with our mates to hang out. Now we are all hanging at the gym, lifting, getting strong, eating and having fun doing it. I wanted to make a good quality brand that emulated this new movement.”
It’s a great message and perfectly communicates what Liz is all about. With a new HVY LIFT LIFE tees and new designs coming through (as well as Fleo Shorts boyshorts), it’s definitely worth heading to her website to check out some gear.
We are so excited to watch how Liz, Schae and Clair go at the Powerlifting World Championships and wish them the best of luck.