Reckon all teenage girls do is shop, share hair and makeup tips and swoon over popstars? Gayle Ritchie meets the teen sisters breaking the stereotype…
In a gym in Pitlochry on a Wednesday night, teenage sisters Holly and Rowan Morrogh Bernard are pumping iron.
They’ve come here straight from school – as they do three to four times each week – to lift weights and train for competitions.
Both are champion weightlifters (they can each lift a barbell stacked with weights that weigh more than a grown man) and between them, have broken nearly 300 Scottish records.
At just 14 years old, Holly is the British under-15 record-holder, while 16-year-old Rowan took gold at the 2016 Scottish Senior Championships.
She’s also a national weightlifting referee.
Meanwhile, their 10-year-old sister Rosie is the current British champion in her weight class.
So why weightlifting? “We both did equestrian vaulting (Holly was the Scottish champion) and gymnastics, which was all about core, flexibility, strength and speed,” says Rowan.
“A friend was into weightlifting so I thought I’d give it a go when I was 11, as did my wee sisters later on. It’s a good atmosphere in the gym and after a while, we started to take it seriously.
“Weightlifting burns fat, keeps you fit and makes you strong. Some girls fear it’ll make them big and bulky but they’re confusing it with bodybuilding.”
Increasing numbers of women and girls are taking up the sport thanks to clubs like the Pitlochry Amateur Weightlifting Club encouraging informal weekly beginner sessions.
And watching the sisters in action, it’s clear they absolutely love it.
Unlike many girls their age, they’re no shrinking violets; they talk (and lift) with absolute confidence.
During each 90-minute training session, they focus on practicing two moves – the dubiously titled “snatch” and “clean and jerk”, plus strength and conditioning exercises like squats and dead lifts.
Without getting too technical, the objective of the snatch is to lift a barbell from the ground to overhead in one continuous motion, while clean and jerk is a composite of two weightlifting movements.
“You only get three chances to do each lift in competition,” says the girls’ training partner Ian Robertson. “And there are so many rules and ways of failing, like if you bend the elbow.”
Ian disagrees with those who believe weightlifting is bad for teenagers.
“You can lift weights at any age really, as long as you focus on technique and not on lifting heavy weights,” he says.
“It’s a very technical sport and you tend to see less injuries than in other sports like rugby, football and hockey.”
While many teenagers gorge on burgers, chips and sweets, Holly and Rowan are sensible eaters, filling up on protein and healthy produce from Atholl Estates, where their dad Dominic works as a deer stalker.
With heavy training schedules, the girls struggle to find time to socialise – although they’ve made a lot of friends at weightlifting competitions.
“Friday nights are spent in the gym rather than out with friends,” says Rowan.
And while the girls admit that some of their classmates think their hobby is “odd”, most understand, thanks to the influence of social media, fitness models and celebrities who lift weights.
“A lot of girls do rugby and do leg lifts, squats and exercises that are maybe traditionally thought of as things boys and men do,” says Rowan.
“It’s more about promoting a positive body image.”
Holly in particular is keep to maintain a feminine, polished appearance, and sports slicks of eyeliner, lipstick and perfectly manicured nails.
In terms of personal bests, Rowan has achieved 80kg clean and jerk and 64kg snatch, while Holly has achieved 63kg snatch and 73kg clean and jerk.
The girls’ next competition is the Scottish Schools Championships in Glasgow on January 15 and the British Age Group Championships in Yorkshire in February, with the aim to qualify for the European and World Youth Championships.