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Weightlifting couple seek to ease heavy load

IAN ANDERSON
Last updated 08:09 01/07/2014
LAWRENCE SMITH/Stuff.co.nz

Mixing fitness, work and a relationship can be enough to make Commonwealth Games-bound weightlifters Richard Patterson and Pip Hale cry.

AIMING HIGH: Weightlifter Richie Patterson has his sights set on a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games.
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AIMING HIGH: Weightlifter Richie Patterson has his sights set on a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games.

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Richie Patterson and Pip Hale try not to take their work home with them.

But Patterson is pondering a change in plans.

The engaged couple will represent New Zealand in weightlifting at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow later this month.

Patterson is also Hale's coach, pushing the rookie lifter to new heights in training as they both seek Games medals.

But the duo are wary that separating training and home life isn't easy.

''Sometimes it crosses over and it gets a bit messy,'' Patterson acknowledged.

''Like if we have a bad training and Pip takes it home, or if I take it home ... and it ends up with two grumpy people at home.''

''It can be a thin line.''

Particularly after a second heavy week of training.

''In the first week, everyone is pretty good,'' Patterson said, ''but in the second week, emotions run high a little bit."

''I try to de-stress it by making fun of it, so we have the Cry Board - every time you cry in training, you get a notch on the board.

''I've been on there once.

''Sometimes you take that home and there's tears there too - I've joked about having the Cry Board at home as well. It could work quite well actually.''

Hale said the pair usually get around to talking it out - ''after getting mad and storming around for a little bit''.

''We're two very stubborn people that want to have it their way,'' Patterson adds.

''But eventually Pip gets it her way at home.

''She'll eventually get me to talk, and then we're good to go.''

''And then we have ice cream,'' Hale grins.

Patterson said when he first started coaching Hale, she was what he described as underweight.

''She was on a very, very clean diet, but she fell under the weight class that she'd be suited for. So I'm very supportive of Pip and I have ice cream a lot with her.

''I've managed to get her three kilos on, and I'd like to get another couple on.''

Patterson said the relationship moved from just coach to coach and partner quickly.

''We were just so comfortable with each other,'' he said.

''Pip asked me to coach her, we were spending so much time together.

''From day one when she asked me to coach her I had this vision in my head that she would be an incredible weightlifter. I really love that she was driven, very headstrong, she told me how it is.

''We spent more and more time together and it just evolved - there wasn't an exact moment.''

Patterson said while Hale is the boss at home, he's the one in charge at their gym Functional Strength on the North Shore that Patterson is the owner of and Hale also coaches at.

''It's great working in your own gym - you're surrounded by like-minded people, enthusiastic people, healthy people,'' he said.

''It's fantastic to be an athlete in a facility you're very much invested in and we can train basically full time.

Hale, 29, is a former competitive gymnast who took up Crossfit at the gym and then was converted by Patterson into a weightlifter.

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''The movements that you do in Crossfit relate to Olympic weightlifting - that's why I switched over really,'' Hale said.

''But Crossfit has open weight categories, so being smaller, it's really hard to keep up with the bigger girls.''

Hale said she has found her niche as a smaller weightlifter - after plenty of hesitation.

''It took a long time for Richie to convince me to stop doing Crossfit and just do Olympic weightlifting - probably about two and a half, three years.''

She has made rapid progress, to the stage where she is now a realistic medal chance in Glasgow after recently producing a total - 178kg, from a snatch of 80kg and a clean and jerk of 98kg - that would rank her in the top three in the Commonwealth.

''So now I think we're both sitting here thinking there's a medal to fight for,' an excited Patterson said of his charge.

Patterson said he took a holistic approach to coaching and training, and while he always pushed hard, had to be wary of injury.

''It's a tightrope you have to walk to get to the top.

''You have to walk the edge of the cliff, but you have to have the knowledge or the coaching.

''I'll push Pip as hard as I can, but then I'm trying to read body language to see when she's super-tired, or something's uncomfortable. She doesn't want to give in, or let me know she's giving in. So I have to read that.

''I want development - I want her to evolve and improve as an athlete. And if I'm too safe, that's not going to happen to the level we need to get to.

''For myself, I've got 16 years of training under my belt. I know my own body, I do my own programme and coaching for myself, so I listen to how my body feels.

''If I turn up on the day injury-free, I know I'm in with a good shot at that gold medal.''

Patterson said a major key to success in weightlifting was winning the behind the scenes psychological battle - something he was an old hand at.

''The main stage is about the final production,'' he said.

''I like to think of it as we're a stage actor - that is your platform, your time to shine and show them how good you are. But if you can make someone go out there and self-doubt themselves, you've won half the battle.

''If I'm out the back at the Commonwealth Games and I see the Australian lifter, or another lifter out the back struggling, I'm going to make sure they know I'm better than them.

''If they do a weight, I'll do the weight twice as fast, easy ... I'll look him straight in the eye before I drop it and I'll let him know that you're not going to win this battle today.

''If I can win that battle before he steps out, he might start looking at another lifter, the Indian lifter, thinking maybe I should start competing against him.''

Patterson said he took a long time to improve mentally after letting himself down at his first Olympics in 2008 in Beijing.

''I dreamt of this moment all my life and then I finally walked up to the stage, and the last thing I said to myself was 'don't stuff this up'.

''That was me, I'd lost. In another four years, I stepped onto the international stage and said 'show them how good you are'.

''The totally different mindset can be the totally different outcome of the competition.''

Hale said she's learning those aspects as well.

''It's about staying calm, barring up when you need to and having the confidence build.

''If you don't believe in yourself, no one else is going to believe in you. With so many years gymnastics background, I say to myself 'if you can get up on the beam, walk on this little beam and do tricks on that, you've just got to lift a weight'.''

The duo and the rest of the 12-strong New Zealand weightlifting team to contest the Games have to do so with little funding.

''As an individual we don't get any sort of recognition at the moment as we're not targeted as a performance sport,'' Patterson said.

''We have been given some campaign funding through to Glasgow - which has been of great benefit for training camps, medical support etc. We really have to go out and create our own networks really.

''It changes as you get older - when I was younger I was quite reliant on my parents and family. When you're young I guess that's a role your parents are happy to take.

''But now that I'm 31, you can't put your hand out to mum and dad all the time.''

While Hale is excited by her first opportunity on a major stage, Patterson will contest his third Commonwealth Games, to add to two Olympic campaigns.

''I know what I want - I'm not going back for a silver medal,'' he said in reference to his second-place finish in 2010.

''I had my heart set on that gold in Delhi.''

He initially thought that would be the end of his career too.

''So that's why I took on some athletes to coach - I thought maybe my career now goes in that path; I had a degree in coaching so I wanted to follow through on that.

''I took six months off, did some lifts again, did some NZ records and qualified for the London Olympics.

''Which made me think I was good to go again, good to hunt for that gold in Glasgow.''

- Waikato Times

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