Lifting for the Lord
David Catchpoole chats with Olympian Deborah Lovely
Preparing for Beijing
Deborah Lovely lifts 108 kg in the Snatch event, smashing the Australian record, in February 2008. She went on to break the Clean & jerk (131 kg) and Total (239 kg) Australian records that same day. (Photo by Miles Wydall)
Deborah Lovely admits that when she first started lifting weights, she was not aiming to represent her country at the Olympics in that sport. She had simply wanted to improve her strength in hopes it might benefit her other sporting pursuits—especially the discus.
‘I came 3rd in 1999 in World Youth Championship discus and decided to get stronger for throwing by starting weights. I went to the gym and began training.’
And train she did. Within a year she made the senior Australian team as the youngest ever (17 years old) elite female weightlifter. She went on to represent her country in a swag of international competitions, including the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester (winning three Silver Medals), the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens (12th place) and the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne (lifting 115 kg in the clean-and-jerk to win a Gold Medal in the 75 kg weight class).1
Although Deborah can justifiably be labelled a sporting ‘all-rounder’, having received awards for her performances in top-level athletics, cycling and rugby, it’s weightlifting that has become her forte—and she’s currently training hard to represent Australia once again at the Olympics, this time in Beijing.2
So what drives her to endure the arduous hours of training, week in, week out—is it for the glory of proving she is the ‘fittest’ of her ‘race’, in classic Darwinian fashion?
Certainly not, says Deborah, a committed Christian—though you could be forgiven for not knowing that, for news reports3,4 of her successes sometimes edit out Deborah’s unashamed acknowledging of Jesus Christ during her post-meet interviews.
But she overcomes media ‘censorship’ of her love for the Lord through her own website5 and by strategically using her high profile as a successful sportswoman to take a message of hope directly to those who need to hear it. That’s the single biggest change in Deborah’s life resulting from her sporting victories—invitations for her to address schools and youth camps/events now come from far and wide.
As a teenager, Deborah won Australian Championship gold medals in various underage categories of the Hammer and Shot Put. But it was in the Discus throw that Deborah was the strongest, before discovering her talent for weightlifting. And as these pictures show, she’s pretty nimble too, when playing competitive rugby and soccer. (Photos by Brad Monk)
But doesn’t she mind having to drive, say, for two hours each way just to speak to kids on camp for half an hour, all with no remuneration?
‘The fact is, I have been blessed a lot, so that means I need to give (do) more. The big increase in speaking engagements is wearying, but I’m even more grateful to God, because of having been given that extra responsibility—it’s a privilege, not a chore.’ Deborah has recently joined a Christian radio network’s Cool Choices team, which visits schools and teaches kids about ‘making good life choices’.
Kids have questions!
Deborah helps out every year as a youth leader on a Christian ‘outreach’ summer camp, and she says that ‘there’s always lots of questions about creation/evolution from kids who don’t attend church.
‘The kids who do attend church have questions on that topic too, but generally for a different reason—they’ve encountered questions from their friends about creation/evolution, which they sometimes can’t answer.’
Deborah laughs at the notion that we’ve evolved, pointing out that she herself is a real-life demonstration against evolution.
For Deborah, it’s no problem to ‘give an answer’, as per 1 Peter 3:15, and she acknowledges the role her parents had in that. ‘Mum and Dad took us [Deborah and her siblings] to hear creation talks when we were younger, and bought swags of [creationist] books. We were brought up to accept Genesis as straightforward history, we talked about what a ‘day’ meant—an ordinary, earth-rotation 24-hour day. Sometimes I’m amazed to hear some people in the church don’t accept six-day creation. One thing that was a big influence on us was Creation magazine—it has been a huge help in equipping us to give answers to those kids.’
And not just kids. Adults, too, have questions.
‘Sometimes when I tell people that I’m a Christian, they come out with something like this: “I know that there’s a God, but to believe that God made everything and that’s how it came about, that’s too much.”
I said, ‘What about the abortion laws?’, and that shut them up.
‘Paradoxically, people I know who do science [at university] recognize that the supposed big bang couldn’t have created everything, but are unwilling to accept that the Creator is the God of the Bible.’
Deborah laughs at the notion that we’ve evolved, pointing out that she herself is a real-life demonstration against evolution. ‘I remember reading the interview with the spine expert [the late Richard Porter, formerly Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Aberdeen] in Creation magazine.6 He pointed out that the curvature in our spine is the opposite of that of the apes (our supposed evolutionary ancestors) because the arch of our spine is perfectly designed to give us strength in an upright position, while apes go about on all fours.’
Deborah smiled as she continued, ‘I’ll never forget the example he used to emphasize that point—he said that humans, in relation to their bodyweight, can lift proportionally more weight than a gorilla. Well, I, for one, am living proof of that!’
Photo by Miles Wydall
In cycling, Deborah won the 2005 Queensland open Keirin title, as well as winning gold medals in the 1 Lap Time Trial and Team Sprint.
As well as the many hours per week spent in physical training, and the increasing number of speaking engagements, Deborah somehow finds time to serve in the music team7 at the local church, and is a full-time student at Griffith University (Brisbane, Queensland).
Obviously no lightweight in the intellectual stakes, she is completing a double degree in Law/Arts in Criminology and Criminal Justice and repeatedly finds herself at the frontline of battle in the so-called ‘culture wars’. Deborah is both amazed and dismayed at the number of her lecturers, tutors and fellow law students who are apparently unaware of (or wilfully deny) the foundational basis of Law—that we have absolute moral laws only because there is an Absolute Moral Law-Giver, i.e. our Creator.8
‘I often hear: “Our country used to be Christian, but now we get to make our own laws”’, says Deborah. At a tutorial, she challenged that. ‘I said to the group, “Well, what happens when everyone thinks murder is okay?” They said that this would never happen, so I said, “What about the abortion laws?”, and that shut them up.’
Accusations against Christianity pop up everywhere, it seems. One of the prescribed texts claimed that Christianity was responsible for domestic violence. So Deborah refuted that in her research assignment, which she then submitted for assessment—and passed!
Maybe they felt intimidated, wondering if I was about to pick them up and throw them!
She remembers one occasion in particular when the lecturer made derogatory comments about references to the Bible in Law, e.g. saying something to the effect that ‘it’s just a throwback from history’. Deborah then went up boldly to the lecturer and stated that according to university policy (relating to all forms of discrimination), the lecturer’s statements were highly inappropriate. The lecturer then apologised to all the students in the lecture theatre!
Deborah has found that many people actually appreciate it when someone believes something strongly enough that they are prepared to stand up and defend it. She grins, and muses: ‘Maybe they felt intimidated, wondering if I was about to pick them up and throw them!’9
Photo by Brad Monk
Deborah Lovely’s successes have thrust her into the media spotlight today—a
long way from when she was just a ‘little sister’ trying to keep up
with her siblings. Deborah says she’s always been competitive. ‘It got
to the point where my two older brothers stopped playing sports with me as I became
so competitive and soon always won.’
Journalists love it when ‘celebrities’ share such personal ‘human interest’ anecdotes. But in stark contrast, news reports of her successes sometimes edit out Deborah’s unashamed acknowledging of Jesus Christ during her post-meet interviews.
It’s clear that Deborah is passionate about issues of law and society, recognizing the gravity of the situation facing the (formerly Christian) West.
‘In our Western democracies, we see that the people with the loudest voice are getting the laws changed; they’re the ones who don’t want to have Christian laws any more. Even in my short lifetime I’ve seen big changes.
‘The abandonment of laws against homosexual acts and abortion—we can see even America going down, right in front of our eyes. Well, the Christians must speak up! I’ve spoken out, writing 30 letters to politicians on different issues, but one sole voice cannot do it—we need more Christians to get their voices heard.’
I asked Deborah about the number of Christians in top-level sport.
‘Sometimes it feels like I’m one of the only ones,’ she said, ‘but joining the Cool Choices team was so encouraging—to meet Shaun Hart [footballer] and Fiona Cullen [hurdler]—to know that there are Christian athletes that I don’t often come across.
‘Actually, that was the stand-out best highlight for me about going to the Athens Olympics and the Commonwealth Games in Manchester and Melbourne—going to the Worship Services.
Only about 40–50 athletes, meeting together at a church service, but we had come from a multitude of countries, all over the world, coming together to worship God. Makes you realize, it’s encouraging to know that there are other people who believe as you do, so you’re not alone.’
Indeed, we are not.
References and notes
- Queensland Weightlifting Association, <www.qwa.org/Alist/lovely.ASP>. Return to text.
- Beijing 2008 Olympic Games—Official Site of the 2008 Australian Olympic Team: Ambassador—Deborah Lovely, <www.olympics.com.au/Education/Ambassadors/AmbassadorsDeborahLovely/tabid/326/Default.aspx>, 19 February 2008. Return to text.
- E.g. (along with ref. 4): Lovely day for weight of gold, The Age (Melbourne), <www.theage.com.au/news/weight-lifting/lovely-day-for-weight-of-gold/2006/03/21/1142703363749.html>, 22 March 2006. Return to text.
- Malone, P., A Lovely dilemma, The Courier Mail (Brisbane), <www.news.com.au/couriermail/story/0,23739,21278761-10389,00.html>, 23 February 2007. Return to text.
- <www.lovelydeb.com>. Return to text.
- Standing upright for creation: Jonathan Sarfati chats with human spine expert Richard Porter about his science and faith, Creation 25(1):25–27, 2002; <creation.com/porter>. Return to text.
- Deborah has achieved high-level awards for her piano and saxophone skills—and her friends say she is a ‘pretty handy’ drummer, too. Return to text.
- For more on this topic, see Zimmermann, A., The Christian foundations of the rule of law in the West: a legacy of liberty and resistance against tyranny, Journal of Creation 19(2):67–73, 2005; <creation.com/law>. Return to text.
- Of course staff would likely be aware of Deborah’s weightlifting prowess—e.g. her achievements are profiled on the university’s website: <www.griffith.edu.au/sport/profiles/content_deborah.html>. Return to text.