This week Bill Carne called in at the Strength Academy Wales gymnasium in Haverfordwest to chat to Naomi Pearce, who is already a Welsh champion in weight lifting and showing real potential after less than six months in the sport . . .

NAOMI Pearce only took up weight lifting less than six months ago and has already shown so much promise that she has won her first Welsh title and qualified for the British Championships later in the year.

Small wonder then that coach Simon Roach, who runs the Strength Academy Wales gymnasium in Haverfordwest, is delighted because Naomi in one of a group of talented young girls beginning to break through locally in the sport alongside some of the fellers who have already been heavily involved.

“Naomi joined us at the end of September,” said Simon, “after spotting what we had to offer in some literature doing the rounds, came along for a look and took to it straight away.

“She is totally committed, very quick to learn and helps create the special atmosphere that exists at SAW.”

Naomi had previously been involved in netball and hockey at STP School as well as playing in the former sport for Milford Ladies and West Wales. Throw in some street dance and even contemporary dance and it is clear that she is has always enjoyed keeping fit.

“But then I decided to try the SAW gymnasium and was made really welcome by Simon Roach and Owain Rowlands.

“Everyone is so supportive,” Naomi told us. “It is just like an extended family and it is such an enjoyable place to train that I usually go every week night for a couple of hours.”

Like everyone who starts at SAW, Naomi was taught about the safety aspects of lifting weights from the outset, starting off with only a tech bar that weighs seven kilos to get the idea of getting the weight to work in her favour, rather than trying to heave the bar aloft using just brute strength.

“We practised the ‘Clean and Jerk’ and ‘Snatch’ techniques and it took a little time before everything suddenly clicked into place and as confidence came so did the increases in weights added on to the bar and increasing my personal bests.”

One of the lighter moments surrounds the fact that, despite studying for a degree in Sports Coaching at Pembrokeshire College, Naomi is not the quickest at calculating the weights she has put on the bar.

“Some of my personal bests have come because I thought I was lifting less than was on the bar,” admitted Naomi with a chuckle, and it was only when Simon or Owain checked the bar that I discovered I had done really well in lifting more than I thought!”

Her degree course is led by Suzanne Thomas and Naomi studies a range of sports, plus general aspects like nutrition, physiology and anatomy – and puts in to practice some of her knowledge gained when she takes a couple of fitness classes at SAW.

It is fair to say that Naomi hails from a sporting family because her father Jamie used to play rugby for Haverfordwest and mother Emma played netball up to Welsh Development level. Younger brother Patrick (17) is a very promising rugby player on the Pembrokeshire Pathways’ scheme and also uses the gym regularly with his team mates, whilst her grandfather, Larry Henderson, is another great supporter of all she does, alongside mum and dad!

When she started out in weight lifting Naomi’s initial personal bests were 30kgs in the clean and jerk and 12.5kgs in the snatch for a combined total of 42.5kgs, which is the more difficult technique to learn, and in just four short months she has lifted them to respective totals of 62kgs and 46kgs – and an amazing increase to 108kgs!

It hasn’t been all plain sailing, however, because she gave herself a dead leg in a training session just a week before she made her competitive debut in the Welsh Open Championships at the National Centre for Sporting Excellence at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff.

“I could only do shoulder conditioning exercises in the week before the event but I still decided to enter after getting advice from my coach on the day.

“I was very nervous standing alone in front of lots of spectators who included mum and little brother (dad had to work!), but with great encouragement from everyone there I managed 56kgs and 42kgs – and I was thrilled with my third place!”

From there it was on to the Welsh Schools’ Championships, held this year at Sir Thomas Picton School in Haverfordwest, and Naomi won her 63kgs class with a combined total of 108kgs, to the delight of all those who were there watching.

“I was still nervous but knew what to expect this time,” Naomi said, “and I was pleased with the way that I managed to complete my lifts in both clean and jerk (63kgs) and snatch (45kgs) for my personal best total to win the gold medal.”

So now she is back training five times a week, always warming up carefully before going through her routines which help hone the sharpness of her techniques so that they come as a natural action, without any second thoughts.

“Concentration on each lift is the key,” she said, “and Simon and Owain have made me focus on what I am doing at every stage.”

Ask Naomi about ambitions in her sport and she takes time to answer.

“To be honest I just want to carry on improving whilst enjoying myself and I am going to work hard for a few regional competitions before the British Finals in Sheffield, where I aim to do my very best.

“I have also been invited to join the ‘Welsh Talent ID Squad’ in Cardiff which will mean four weekends there which I hope will also sharpen my techniques.

The Commonwealth Games will next be held on the Gold Coast in Australia and although it is perhaps a little early to contemplate such opposition it is clear that if Naomi can maintain her current rate of progress then anything is possible.

SAW boss Simon Roach told us, “Naomi Pearce has immense potential and it is in her hands how far she goes.”

And Simon should know because he, his brother Mark and late father Lynne all represented Wales in a Commonwealth Games – and wouldn’t it be nice if one of his protégées followed in his footsteps!