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Powerlifting pioneer Heidi Taylor (Wittesch) to be inducted into SA Sports Hall of Fame

Sport

Adelaide powerlifter Heidi Taylor, nee Wittesch, will join South Australian sporting royalty next month when she is inducted into the Sport SA Hall of Fame along with four other new inductees.

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Taylor, 63, boasts one of the most prolific careers in Australian powerlifting history, winning four world championships, six Australian championships, and breaking nine world records.

Her induction adds to a long list of accolades, which include being a three-time SA Sportswoman of the Year and a member of the Australian Sports Hall of Fame.

Taylor said joining the Sport SA Hall of Fame was “a real icing on the cake” moment in her long and storied career.

“I’m obviously thrilled and humbled because it’s been a long while since I’ve been involved in awards,” Taylor said.

“Especially to be involved in a more local state than a national thing, you feel like all those people that you were brought up with and you admired in all those sports around you that you’re suddenly in their company.”

Taylor will be just the second lifter inducted into the hall of fame, joining Port Lincoln weightlifter Dean Lukin – Australia’s only ever weightlifting Olympic gold medallist.

The Sport SA Hall of Fame was introduced in 2010 to recognise the outstanding achievements of athletes from South Australia.

Since then, 76 SA sportsmen and women have been inducted, with five of them – Sir Donald Bradman, Bart Cummings, Barrie Robran, Victor Richardson and Gillian Rolton – awarded “legend” status.

This year will see five new athletes join the elite club, and one current hall-of-famer elevated to legend status.

InDaily will be profiling all five new hall of fame members.

From junior athlete to powerlifting world champion…

Originally a track and field athlete specialising in discus, hammer throw and shotput, Taylor’s path to becoming an elite powerlifter was a fortuitous one.

By the time she reached 18, her athletics coaches wanted her to do strength training in the gym so she could compete at a senior level. Although she went into the weight room to improve her throwing distance, she ended up taking on a new sport altogether.

“I remember there were women lifting weights and powerlifting, and I thought well that’s pretty cool because… apart from athletics, I hadn’t really seen women lift heavy weights, and I realised I was doing actually more than some of the girls were at the same weight,” she said.

“So I sort of asked to join in and train with them because I thought that would speed track my strength program with someone who was specifically doing it, and they sort of talked me into competing.

“So I sort of stumbled across it really – I didn’t really go looking for it.”

It was not long before the Norwood athlete began to make her mark in her newly adopted discipline – leading the way in a sport that was just finding its feet.

“I felt like a bit of a pioneer, it was really good,” she said.

“Once I got into the sport, it was very accepting… there really wasn’t that sexism in it. The guys were actually quite impressed at what the women were lifting, and they quite enjoyed later on having combined men and women’s world championships together.”

But with little to no sponsorship money available for her sport, success would have to come while balancing a full-time career in botany at the University of Adelaide. Training had to take place outside of regular working hours, and annual leave would have to be used up to compete at events overseas.

While balancing work with her powerlifting “hobby”, Taylor managed to take home the bronze medal in the 60kg division at the first-ever women’s powerlifting world championships in 1980.

A year later she would go one better, grabbing a silver medal at the world championships in Hawaii, and then winning her first national championship back home. She would go on to dominate the national scene, winning Australian titles in 1982, 1984, 1986, 1987 and 1988.

While world titles would prove harder to come by, she finally broke through with her first gold medal at the 1985 world championships in Vienna, winning the 75kg division by default after the first placed finisher failed a drug test.

A year later she won her second world championship in Hestra, Sweden, defeating the field in what she says was one of the defining performances in her career.

“I think my second gold medal I felt like I really won this on my own merit, not default,” she said.

“And I won it quite easily, like I felt people were chasing me, I wasn’t chasing them.

“That was probably my six or seventh year of lifting and my second world championship that I won, and I thought, yeah, I think I can do this, I don’t feel like the underdog or, you know, just an also-ran, I actually feel like I am a champion now and I deserve to be here.”

Buoyed by this newfound confidence, Taylor would go on to win two more world championships (1988, 1989), two Oceania championships (1988, 1989) and one world benchpress championship (1989). She would also shatter a series of word records, most notably breaking the 500-pound (227.5kg) deadlift barrier.

“That was just a miracle,” she said.

“I think in every sport there’s this value, this time or this distance or something that you achieve and you didn’t think you’d ever do it.

“I never believed I could do it, I mean, I never got close to it again.”

Her incredible performances on the world stage brought more attention – both wanted and unwanted. And while the culture inside of powerlifting was healthy, she found herself dealing with problematic expectations from the public.

“With a bit of fame or a bit of recognition came the responsibility of being a role model,” she said.

“When I was doing public appearances, every time I said something, I was supposed to sort of sound more feminine and not be full-on.

“You have to be more modest and humble, yet still be confident and strong. It was pressure; I felt the pressure all the time actually.”

As her career came to a close, Taylor was able to retreat from the spotlight and watch as powerlifting’s status in Australia gradually diminished in her absence. Her induction into the Sport SA Hall of Fame will be her first major accolade since joining the Australian Sports Hall of Fame in 1991.

Still a botanist, Taylor currently works as a science lab technician at Immanuel College and lives in West Beach with her husband Michael Taylor and 21-year-old daughter Stefanie.

 Note: Due to new COVID-19 restrictions, the induction event planned for November 27 has been postponed.

Heidi Taylor now enjoys a quiet life in West Beach with her husband. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily.

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