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Megan signals readiness to meet the Birmingham Commonwealth challenge

Despite Odds and injuries, Megan Signal is ready for the 2022 Commonwealth Games (RNZ Photo by Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Leilani Momoisea
Wellington, July 15, 2022

After facing devastating injuries, Megan Signal has made a remarkable recovery and has been selected to compete in the weightlifting women’s 71 kg event at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.

She did not know that the horrendous pain that she had felt just days ahead of her Olympics debut was her shoulder dislocation. When she accidentally popped it back into place, she started to feel like a drama queen. “I think it might be OK,” she told herself and her coach.

The weeks leading up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics had been a whirlwind of stress and uncertainty. Just hours before her flight to Japan, she attempted an empty barbell over her head. Her shoulder popped out once more. When she had finally made it to the Olympics, her shoulder popped out again. “Definitely not OK,” she would finally realise.

When she is backstage, Signal tries not to think. Thinking is done by her coach. She trusts him, and hence it does not matter what her competitors do. He watches a screen, looks at numbers intently. He will swivel around and tell her a weight to put on the bar. She gees herself up. Goes over her cues. A burst of energy is needed for the lift. When her coach tells her to sit again, she tries to conserve that energy.

Megan Signal is now lifting weights up to 118 kg (RNZ Photo by Cole-Eastham-Farrelly)

Signal had a frantic, condensed four days in Japan trying to get herself onto the platform. She recalls boxer David Nyika, who had overcome his own adversities to win a medal at the Tokyo Olympics, on a physio table next to her offering words of encouragement, trying to keep her positive, reminding her that all athletes have something going on and some kind of injury with which they are dealing. Signal listened, knowing that her shoulder was not in its joint.

“I do not know how I am going to put 100 kgs over my head,” she thought.

She pulled out just before she was due to compete, with some watching at home on TV still expecting her to walk out. The thought of having to tell people was tough. As was the thought of surgery. Exhausted, she told her coach, “I don’t think I can go through another one.”

The early years

There were no clues growing up that Signal had any capacity to become a world class weightlifter. She admits she was good at an 80 metre sprint, but laughs at the idea that she showed any hint of athleticism until she began CrossFit at the age of 22.

Injuries have not dampened the spirit of Megan Signal (RNZ Photo by Cole-Eastham-Farrelly

Just one year later she entered her first weightlifting competition, and continued to dabble in the scene while focusing most of her efforts on CrossFit. By 2017, about four years after her first competition, the dabbling had turned into a love for weightlifting, frothing over all the things to make herself better technically. By then, she and her coach and partner at the time, Callum Gifford, had started to connect with the weightlifting community, first with 2014 Commonwealth Games champion Richie Patterson, and as she progressed further into the sport, she began working with her current coach Simon Kent.

She had started out qualifying for nationals, then winning her first national championship, attempting New Zealand records, and then beating those records, and from there it was looking to international competition. The 2018 Commonwealth Games started to look possible.

Another injury

To believe in her abilities for a goal so lofty was not something that came naturally to Signal.

“It did not really feel like what I was achieving married up with who I was, or who I believed that I was.” Her mental performance coach told her to get out of her own way, and as her belief in herself grew, so too did her progress.

“The fear of failure is such a real thing. I think learning to fail was a big part of that process.”

Just as all the pieces were starting to fall into place, just as she had clarity that this is what she loved and what she wanted to do with her life, just as the 2018 Commonwealth Games were on the horizon, she would suffer an ACL injury. Signal was conditionally selected for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, but would ultimately not compete.

“Well of course initially, I thought the world had ended … It didn’t help that the surgeon told me my knee was never going to be the same again.”

Her surgeon was right, her knee never was the same again, but her obsession for the sport would soon spill over into an obsession for anatomy and injuries, and the learning of rehabbing. Training was her happy place, and while there was no pinnacle event to work towards, she kept going, kept training, kept working to get better.

Commonwealth Games  

With the 2022 Commonwealth Games now in sight, the journey to recovery had to be condensed, and it was more difficult than she had imagined – physically, emotionally and mentally.” It was hours of boring daily rehab, eating zero processed foods for a chunk of time to give her body every chance of healing, doing everything her physio asked of her to the letter, going to sleep early, waking up every day thinking about recovery, making sure her body was moving every day, while still looking after her mind. “It was such a grind and it was often done, it sounds so dramatic, but it was often done through tears.”

Signal has gone as heavy as 118 kg overhead for her clean and jerk in competition.

The Birmingham Games is Signal’s third team selection for a pinnacle multisport event.

It will be the first time she actually gets to step on the platform. “I am so ready,” Signal says, “This time, I think maybe I am a little more grateful for the positions in which I am because I have had to work so hard for them and I know how easily they can be taken away.”

Just before she makes her lift, Signal must be focused, calm and centred. At the same time, she needs to feel the energy coursing through her veins. She is about to lift a huge amount of weight.

When she makes the lift, she feels light and joyful. It is literally a weight off her shoulders.

Sometimes, a lift will feel heavier than she wants, it will not feel like she expects.

That is when she has to fight for it. When it is a struggle to stand up, she has to work for it. For a moment, she may not want to. Because it is really hard. It is a scary place to be in. But those are often the most rewarding lifts.

The above article has been published under a Special Agreement with www.rnz.co.nz. The above is an edited version. For full text, please visit www.indiannewslink.co.nz

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