This weekend I was privileged to be able to sit on the frontline for my university’s annual Powerlifting Varsity competition. From noon to 6pm in the evening I was blogging the entire event for Blue Bird, our sporting newspaper.
Coupled with tallying the final wilks scores at the end, it was a draining and taxing process: keeping track of the numbers, competitor weight classes and ‘no lift’ calls from the referee. I can only imagine how exhausting the day must have been for the actual sportsmen and women lifting the weights. At least the helpers like myself were treated to a warm Chinese takeaway mid-competition; the lifters, hived off into their own corner of the sports hall, had to make do with cold malt loaf, Lucozade and cereal bars to keep themselves fuelled.
Having said that, there was no place I would have rather been than stuck in that cold sports hall for over five hours. Everybody in that room went through a rollercoaster of emotions together: from the anticipation when the lifters’ new weights were announced for each attempt, groans of despair when the attempt failed, and a crowning moment of joy when our captain lifted over three times his bodyweight off the floor effortlessly, accompanied by a cheeky grin.
In terms of our students’ unions supporting sport, the University of Nottingham has taken the lead; on their SU blog they state: “We recognise the growing importance of sport on student well-being here at the University of Nottingham… As we have seen sport is not just a tool to develop your physical prowess, it is an integral part in managing ones mental health.”
How can we encourage this on campuses nationwide more generally? Welfare efforts often revolve around ‘non-competitive’ or activities more conventionally-understood as calming: such as meditation, mindfulness classes, and open art session. What might be need is to divest the image of sport at university as one in exclusive association with competing against another team.
Ultimately in our Powerlifting Varsity, only the top six wilks scores were taken into account for determining which University came out on top. For most of the lifters, the competition was about trying to be the best version of themselves as possible, without comparing their totals to anyone else. Playing a sport should be about being a physically stronger and faster, but also mentally more resilient and grounded version of yourself. The people in the audience should support you because they can see this, not because they can see you scoring against another team.
This leaves me thinking that mental health and sport can be analogous from many perspectives. Treat your mindset as something that continually encounters new challenges, each of which you have to overcome by improving your physical and mental tenacity. You also need the support of other people to do this.
Each challenge you overcome is a victory and a point scored. But ultimately that point isn’t one against another team or person: it is a point that is scored for yourself, and your benefit alone.
Hi there, my name is Vidya and I’m an undergraduate student reading History at the University of Cambridge. I grew up in Manchester, the birthplace of the Guardian and Suffragette movement; it was impossible not be continually aware of the power of activism, solidarity, and liberal politics. On campus I try to channel these incredibly charged ideas into practical action, particularly in regards to the welfare of students who identify as women. As a director for a student-run think-tank, The Wilberforce Society, I have overseen events on raising the participation of women in public policy, while also co-authoring a policy paper on sexual assault policies within higher education institutions. As a campaign manager for my University’s Women’s Campaign I am also organising a programme of activities to help female students tackle anxiety. In my spare time I enjoy powerlifting (still at a novice level, sadly), as well as living ethically to the best of my ability, such as by following a vegan lifestyle (#vegangainz). As an NUS Journalist I hope to raise awareness of the events taking place on campus that centre around the three concepts I mentioned before: activism, solidarity, and liberal politics. Whether in the form of an intersectional feminist reading group, to a disabilities rally outside the students’ union, you will be sure to hear it hot-off-the-press from me!