Alex John is a British Champion in schools weightlifting but, as Bill Carne discovered when he visited SAW, the Haverfordwest teenager is very modest about his achievements . . .

The Strength Academy Wales in Haverfordwest is gaining a reputation as a place where people can go for conditioning and general fitness programmes – but also for starting the conveyor belt of young talent which is showing its collective prowess with Welsh and British junior champions.

One of the quintet of teenagers who comes into that category at SAW is Alex John, who attends the nearby Sir Thomas Picton School and at 15 years of age has really impressed coaches Simon Roach and Owain Rowlands with his innate skills, allied to total commitment that sees him train almost every day of the week.

Yet it is fair to say that Alex is something of a novice because he only took up the sport of weight-lifting as part of the 5x60 scheme in school which encourages youngsters of both sexes to take part in physical activity.

Alex had previously played football as a goalkeeper with a junior team at Haverfordwest Cricket Club but since he’s been involved at SAW there isn’t enough time for football because he is so focussed on his training in the gym.

Like all students in his year group, Alex was encouraged to take up a sporting challenge in his lunch hours or after school for 5x60 and he joined a handful of his friends in going along to try out the excellent facilities at Strength Academy Wales.

“We had a really warm welcome from Owain Rowlands,” Alex told us, “and although my friends dropped out one by one I enjoyed it from the very start.

“At first we focussed on technique and used just a bar, with no weights attached, so that I could grasp the idea of eventually getting the weight to do the work, rather than by trying to use brute force to heave it over my head.

“Simon and Owain are very safety conscious and so I wasn’t rushed at all – and I gradually grasped the techniques so that they are almost second nature – so that now I can focus on polishing the small details which will help me improve on my personal best lifts.

“The ‘Clean & Jerk’ was easier to get the knack of, because the ‘Snatch’ is more complex since the bar has to be thrown up aloft, with straight arms locked, in one movement, whilst in the ‘Clean & Jerk’ the bar must be lifted on to chest, a short rest taken, and then the bar is jerked overhead, again with straight arms locked.”

When Alex set out he was quite pleased when his personal best for the Clean & Jerk stood at 40kgs and although it was a little later that he registered a PB in the Snatch it was only just over 20kgs – but he was on the right road.

A measure of how much Alex has improved in the intervening 16 months is that his combined weight total has rocketed from over 60kgs to 162kgs, with 92kgs in the Clean & Jerk and 70kgs in the Snatch.

“Simon and Owain are great motivators,” Alex told us, “and I feel that I learn something, no matter how small, every time I attend SAW, with both always looking to emphasise the positives, and not look to criticise.”

“Training is very tough but worthwhile and as well as working at both lifts at least twice every week I also have conditioning work in my programme, which is helpful to my building arm and shoulder strength.

“Both coaches are brilliant and I have also been lucky to have total support from my parents, Alison and Barry.”

Alex’s first competition came in January 2014, when the Welsh Schools’ Championships were held at STP School and he came second in his category to Louis Thomas with a combined total of 95kgs.

“It was quite nerve-wracking,” he admitted, “because no matter how hard you train nothing prepares you for standing alone on the mat in front of other competitors and the crowd – but I was surprised at how supportive everyone was, even opponents, and I was successful with most of my six lifts, three in each category.”

But Alex clearly learned from the experience because in his next two club competitions, in Swansea and Pontypool, he came first and grew in confidence. It clearly showed when he again competed in the Welsh Schools’ Championships at the same venue and won the gold medal, which qualified him for the British Finals, held in Birmingham.

He joined SAW colleagues Naomi Pearce, Niamh Roach, Anita Madan and James Hart on that particular trek to the Midlands, accompanied by Simon Roach, and could see by the size of the crowd how big an event it was.

“So I was pleased, after a few nerves, with a lift of 85kgs in the Clean & Jerk, plus 60kgs in the Snatch, particularly since I had three successful lifts in both.

“I was thrilled to win the gold medal and delighted that the others all did so well, too.”

It was typical of Alex’s quiet and modest approach to his chosen sport that he hardly mentioned his success when he returned home, a fact touched upon by Owain Rowlands, back at the SAW gym.

“Alex has huge potential as a weightlifter and an example to others with his commitment and determination to just get on with the job without fuss – we think the world of him at SAW.”

Simon Roach, who owns SAW, added,

“We have still to see the best of Alex because he is young and relatively inexperienced, but if he can maintain his current rate of progress then he is sure to make a name for himself.”

We can only add that we have seen Alex John in a training session and couldn’t fail to see his work ethic and total commitment – and we wish this modest and assuming young sportsman continued success in his chosen sport.