Small but powerful, Jenny Tong is breaking down stereotypes as one of Britain’s fastest rising talents in weightlifting. On International Women’s Day she shares how she is inspiring other young athletes to challenge the status quo.
Jenny Tong, 24, is a coach and lifter with Hallam Barbell Weightlifting Club who broke a British record for her efforts in 2019 and has been described as one of the country’s “fastest rising talents”.
She fell into weightlifting accidentally while at university but the sport has empowered her, helped her to embrace her body and become not just physically but mentally strong.
Jenny, recently became an ambassador for Pure Sport CBD, a brand which is building a community of elite and amateur athletes who cheer each other on while bonding over a shared love of the potential of CBD to aid recovery and improve overall performance.
Here, Jenny shares how weightlifting changed her life and how she is inspiring other young athletes to challenge stereotypes.
How did you get into weightlifting?
I was quite a party girl through college, I lived alone in London and let’s just say I made the most of my time there. When I went to university I decided I wanted to take up a sport to meet new people and live a healthier lifestyle.
I was looking through the list of sports available at the Sheffield University, initially I was hoping to find wrestling as I did Judo as a youth and thought there’d be a good crossover. As I got to the W’s there was no Wrestling but there, at the bottom of the list was Weightlifting. I pondered it and considered checking out the stall at the sports fayre .
The day of the sports fayre arrived and I spotted Strength Sports, but right next to it was Rugby.
As I walked past the Strength Sports stand towards the Rugby stand, a girl called for my attention: “You’d be good at Weightlifting” she shouted at me over the crowds – I sheepishly signed up for a free taster session and she was right, I was good and I’ve not looked back since.
This year’s IWD theme is ‘Choose to Challenge’ – what have you chosen to challenge with your weightlifting?
I don’t know if I can pick one specific thing that I’ve chosen to challenge. I’ve chosen to challenge myself in every way. I guess I’ve chosen to challenge my fear of being mediocre.
I choose to challenge every person who ever doubted me and every time doubted myself. I choose to challenge my past-self and every gender stereotype thrown at me along the way.
How does weightlifting empower you and how do you empower other young athletes through your coaching?
My entire childhood was filled with overt messages about what it means to be feminine and ideal beauty standards, of which I matched none.
I didn’t have a model’s legs or a ‘thigh gap’, I had short, muscular, athletic legs. For years I hated my body because I didn’t believe it was beautiful or worthy and as a result I didn’t take care of it – and then I found weightlifting.
I am so proud of my body and how hard it works. It’s achieved and overcome so much. I’m proud of every lump and bump, curve and lack there of. Weightlifting has empowered me to love and respect my body in ways I never thought possible, it’s taught me how to take care of it and reclaim its autonomy.
I empower young athletes to love themselves and their bodies unconditionally. To not be confined by beauty standards or stereotypes and to challenge their own implicit bias about the world around them.
What drives you?
In a world where we are constantly comparing ourselves to others, I strive to be the best version of myself, to push and challenge myself, to be kind, to grow and to be brave – to be the strong woman my mum dreamt of me becoming.
More importantly, I’m driven to make my younger self proud. When all is said and done, I want to look back on my life and know that I did everything I could to be someone that little girl would have looked up to. No matter what life throws at you, when you show up, stand up and know your self-worth, anything is possible.
What does being strong mean to you?
To me, being strong means to persevere, to be resilient, to look fear in the eyes and do it anyway.
Being strong means being kind and compassionate but respecting my own boundaries and speaking my truth no matter how uncomfortable it may be. I am strong physically and mentally not just for myself, but for every other little girl with big dreams. We pave the way for them to realise their potential.
What are your top tips for staying physically and mentally strong?
My top three tips for staying mentally and physically strong are:
1) Self-reflection – “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul”.
Check in with yourself regularly and hold yourself accountable. Are you the best version of yourself? Are you being true to yourself or are you simply appeasing others? Inner strength comes when you truly get to know yourself.
2) Do the basics first. Never underestimate the power of sleep, nutrition, hydration and recovery. Even the best training program in the world will fall short if you’re not taking care of your body. Invest in yourself always.
3) Stop being soft. Life and training are tough, it’s a fact. Dig deep within yourself to find what drives you, look fear in the eyes and do it anyway. I believe we are all capable of so much more once we accept that nothing great ever came from comfort zones.
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