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Weightlifter Rebekah is raising the bar
Sitting opposite Rebekah Tiler, she appears as any other teenager.
Pretty, chatty and fun, she's a typical 13-year-old. But Rebekah is far from ‘typical’. Although it is hard to believe as she sits in the Telegraph & Argus reception with her parents Chris and Emma, the Bingley Grammar School pupil is making a name for herself as Britain’s strongest child, and – if she carries on breaking records in her sport of weightlifting – she could be heading out to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Last year, she broke too many records to mention, including setting a new record total in snatch and clean and jerk in the 58kg class at the British under- 13 contest in Oldbury in the West Midlands.
In September alone, Rebekah, who has been praised for her technique, broke an astonishing nine British records at the Northern Weightlifting Bergson Trophy in Mytholmroyd, including two at under-15 level set by Britain’s best-known female weightlifter Zoe Smith.
And last weekend she travelled to Sweden for her first international competition – the Tri-Nations competition against the host country and Norway. Moving up to the 69kg bodyweight class, she smashed 47 British and regional records, in under-14, 16, 18, 20 and senior categories.
She often outclasses contestants far older than herself. In the British under-20 and under-23s in Lilleshall National Sports Centre in Shropshire, she set new Northern Weightlifting records in her class.
The British championships in Bristol in October saw her break an further nine records, taking gold as well as best female lifter of the day. At the Northern Schools competition at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire she took gold and was named best lifter of the day and broke another six records for the under-14 and 15 age group, lifting 73kg in snatch and 95kg in clean and jerk.
She was not the only member of her family on the podium that day, as her sisters Sophie, nine, and seven-year-old Lisa – who are following in Rebekah's footsteps – also bagged trophies.
Last year, all three competed in a competition in Ashington, Northumbria. Rebekah broke five British records, and each sister won their weight category, taking home three gold trophies. Sophie is British schools’ champion for her age group.
At home in Denholme, youngest sister Emily, four, is also trying her hand at clean and jerk, practising with a broom handle.
Rebekah was not much older when her interest was sparked. “I was about five when I started lifting weights,” she says, explaining how her dad used to body-build and she would copy.
Then, aged ten, the all-round athlete, started to concentrate on sprinting, winning both UK and county championships for 100 and 75 metres.
She could have gone further in athletics, but switched to weightlifting after well-known strength and conditioning coach Dave Bell noticed how strong she was as she was being tested at his performance centre in Lancashire.
“He noticed that she could lift weights that she would not be expected to lift at her age,” says Chris.
Dave suggested she try competing. “It was in Ashington, County Durham – and she won,” says Emma. Aged 11, Rebekah lifted 37kg in the snatch, and 55kg in the clean and jerk.
Chris and Emma were not surprised, and had commented on Rebekah's strength in her infancy. “As a baby she would lift herself right up and the nurses were amazed,” recalls Emma.
The summer Olympics inspired Rebekah, who, having been invited to train for Team England, and as a member of Team GB, is on the road to her own Olympic glory.
“I go to Leeds for Team GB camp weekends, where we are tested,” she says. “I’ll be training with them for the next four years.”
In common with all those people who aim to excel in sport, training schedules are demanding. “I train three times a week for two hours a time,” says Rebekah. “And I have to keep to a strict diet, with lots of protein, eggs and spinach.”
Adds Emma: “That is particularly important as competitions approach as you have to make sure you are within your weight category.”
Chris, who is still involved with body-building, advises his daughter and helps his coach Eddie Halstead. Emma also helps, providing refreshments at competitions. “We are usually away every weekend,” she says.
Adds Chris: “It has taken over our lives, but we really enjoy it. We are very proud of her, and of her sisters.”
As well as the Olympics, Rebekah is also focusing on the Commonwealth Games in Scotland in 2014 and hopes to take part in next year’s European youth championships.
“I'm really excited,” she says. Her school friends are backing her all the way.
“They think it’s great and and there’s a noticeboard at school showing all my achievements.”
Rebekah attends special camps where her speed work and reaction times are tested. She clearly loves her sport. “I just find weights really easy to lift. I like clean and jerk best,” she says.
Standing in her special heavy weightlifting shoes with her hands chalked, she loves the thrill of competition. On the sidelines, Chris and Emma try to keep calm.
“We get nervous,” says Chris. “Sometimes I’m shaking as I watch. I know Rebekah’s trained and won’t drop the weight, but it is nerve-wracking.”
With so many titles to her name, the future looks rosy. “I’m very excited about it,” Rebekah adds, “I really love it, and I’ve met so many nice people, too.”