Dairy farmer looks to weight-lifting for strength

A young Irish dairy farmer made her first trip to Calgary, not to shop for cattle but to participate in an international weight-lifting competition.

Abigail McLean, 19, finished fifth in the world for her age and weight class, competing against women from around the world.

When she is not in training or competing, she is working on her family dairy farm at Straid, Ballyclare, in Northern Ireland.

Located about a half-hour from Belfast, the farm raises pedigreed Holsteins and milks about 90 cows.

She works with her father and brother on the farm but this fall has enrolled in veterinary college at Warsaw University in Poland. She has already earned a diploma in agriculture from Northern Ireland’s College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise, Greenmount Campus.

“There is nowhere in Northern Ireland where you can do veterinary so I had to go away,” she said.

Probably half the class are Irish students who hope to ultimately earn an international degree. She wants to pursue a large animal practice because there is a shortage throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Life on the farm is similar to what it is in Canada, where everybody in the family works in the dairy. McLean’s job is rearing calves. The bull calves are kept until they are four- to-six-weeks old and then are sold to another producer, who rears them for beef until they are two years old.

The cows go out on grass as much as possible in an area where rain is almost continual. They sell milk to a dairy co-operative, and from there it eventually goes to Sainsbury’s, which has included high animal welfare and health standards in the contract.

“For our farm, it is more profitable. We don’t have the infrastructure to keep them in all year and our cows are better off,” she said.

Heavy lifting on the farm has not been a problem and thanks to her weight training, she has learned to lift properly and work is safer.

“I have never hurt myself power lifting. I hurt myself on the farm and I still have a dodgy wrist from athletics,” she said, explaining how an injury from throwing shotput caused some damage from her elbow to wrist.

McLean has been competitive since 2013 and is a European record holder, lifting 180 kilograms deadlift in the under-18 division. Her personal best is 190 kg, or 400 pounds.

At the Calgary competition, she bench-pressed 77 kg, did 147.5 kg in the squat class and 180 kg dead lift.

Her father is in the masters power lifting category in the 40- to 50-year-old category. Her mother was also involved in the sport.

“He is pretty good at the British level, but he hasn’t been able to go further because of the farm,” she said.

“Mom did it a bit and when she was training I would toss her weights around,” she said.

Relaxing between competitions in a pair of shorts and T-shirt, she does not appear to be an overly muscle-bound woman, but looks fit and wholesome.

“Power lifting is about strength, not looks,” she said.

Her parents set up a home gym in the basement and she trains for two hours, twice a week. Her diet consists of plenty of protein and carbohydrates.

“I do weight training and work with the cows,” she said.

She lifts for the Great Britain team of eight women. This is her fifth time representing Great Britain on the international scale.

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