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Weighing up his options

David Robertson

Finding it difficult juggling university studies, work and socialising? Imagine you were also an elite level weightlifter training three hours a day with a view to taking part in the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. Sound difficult? This is the reality of talented athlete and University of Glasgow student Callum Downie.

Originally from Aberfeldy, Callum attended a weightlifting club in Pitlochry before moving to Glasgow to study economics. He then entered the Palace of Art Centre for Sports Excellence, the home for talented athletes in the West of Scotland. A few years later he joined The Gladiator Weightlifting Club, a specialised centre in Easterhouse that has produced 300 Scottish, British, European and world-class athletes. His current club, it was here he met influential coaches Raymond Cavanagh and Martin Boland, who have helped him on his way to success in the British University, Western Districts, Scottish Seniors and Glasgow Classic tournaments, (where he also picked up the award for best male performer along the way). Callum’s achievements in carrying on the rich history of the Gladiator Programme are all the more impressive when you consider that he’s straddling succeeding in the world of professional sport with taking part in full-time higher education. During an interesting conversation, he told me:

“It’s very difficult to do both. I’m in the last year of my degree and have important essays and exams coming up. I train everyday so it can prove challenging fitting everything in. Since the club is in Easterhouse it can take a while to get to, and as you can imagine it’s a very different environment to the West End.”

Drinking is kept to a minimum. Nights out are rare. Food and diets are kept simple: lots of chicken and tuna. It’s a lifestyle unfamiliar to most students, and one that is best exemplified when Callum uses the university gym:

“When you’re lifting weights you need total focus and concentration. When I’m lifting at the university gym I’ll be giving it my all and a couple of people will pass the weights, obscuring my vision and taking away my attention. I realise, though, that it’s the university gym for everyone and I just need to make do.”

While highlighting the problems involved in training at the gym, Callum is also quick to point out the positive support he’s received through the university. He’s been a beneficiary of the university’s talented athlete support system and his application for sponsorship from GUSA was processed quickly and effectively. Since a lot of Callum’s endeavours come from his own pocket and “there’s not a lot of money to go about”, any funding he does receive is greatly appreciated. As Callum concedes, “you need to be at a good level before receiving a steady amount of sponsorship.” However, he’s confident that’s he getting there: “Next year I hope to attend the Commonwealth Championships in Malta and the World University Championships in Israel – I’ve already competed in Austria and Denmark so I’m familiar with weightlifting in foreign countries. I’m currently lifting 270 kgs and it’s my aim to reach 300.”

In an ideal world Callum would participate in these two tournaments before taking part in the Commonwealth Games. The chance to compete in a prestigious sporting event that’s taking place in his adopted home city would signal a symbolic chapter in his weightlifting career. “When I finish university I don’t think I’ll get a graduate job – it’ll be a part-time or casual job just to see me by. My sole focus upon graduation next year and 2014 will be training for the Games.”

But what about after 2014? Will he continue to train as a weightlifter?

He laughs. “Most students have their quarter-life crisis when they graduate. But I think my time for hard decisions will be after the Games.”

After our conversation we shake hands and leave. Callum has a humility, niceness and decency that is only matched by his dreams and expectations. As I watch him disappear into a crowd it strikes me that, despite the training regimes and physical workouts, he’s just an ordinary student studying for exams and struggling to balance his university and work commitments while dreaming of a happy and successful future. It’s just that with Callum, those dreams feature a Commonwealth Games gold medal around his neck.

If anyone is interested in sponsoring Callum then please contact the Glasgow Guardian.