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Meet weightlifting sensation and proud Indigenous Olympian, Brandon Wakeling

06 July 2021

This NAIDOC Week 2021 we're celebrating weightlifting sensation and Indigenous Olympian, Brandon Wakeling. Before he jets off for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Brandon shared with us his incredible weightlifting journey and what NAIDOC Week means to him.

Tell us who you are, and where your mob are from?
My name is Brandon Wakeling, I am a Wonnarua man and live on the Gold Coast. I compete in the sport of Olympic Weightlifting and am prepping for my first Olympic Games. Other notable competitions to date that I have competed in include the 2018 Commonwealth Games, 2018 and 2019 Weightlifting World Championships, and the 2019 Pacific Games.

Outside of the sport, I am an ambassador for Deadly Choices, where we aim to help empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to make healthy choices for themselves and their families. Whether that be to stop smoking, eat nutritious food and exercise daily. It’s a role I personally find important, as I get to use my story and voice as a current Indigenous elite athlete to help provide positive health outcomes for the Indigenous community.

Tell us a little bit about you and your sport?
I first started the sport of Olympic Weightlifting in the last quarter of 2015 at the age of 21. Prior to this, I was just on the last few weeks on my 15th year of playing rugby league. I was very much involved in my own commercial gym training at the time to supplement my rugby league career.

My love for resistance training then led me to blindly follow a friend to try this ‘Olympic Weightlifting’ sport out, just to add some variety to the monotony that repetitive gym training can have. After this session, I instantly fell in love with the sport and over the next year I found myself solely dedicating myself to the sport of Olympic Weightlifting.

How has the Queensland Academy of Sport (QAS) supported you in your endeavours?
I have been with the QAS over my long Olympic qualifying period which started at the end of 2018. They have been a huge help over this journey to Tokyo. Whether it was the individual scholarship grant which I used to pay for travel to several expensive qualifying events in which I needed to compete in to be in the running for Tokyo. Also consistently working with QAS Physio Shane Lemke, who has had a huge impact on keeping my body looked after during the intense qualifying period.

What progress or milestones have been made possible because of this support?
I was able to fund myself to go to expensive events, including the Qatar Weightlifting Cup over the 2019 Christmas period, and the San Diego Open just prior to that. These competitions were needed for me to fulfill the requirements in the qualifying criteria for Tokyo.

What achievements are you most proud of to date?
My biggest achievement to date would be qualifying and competing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. As someone who started the sport at the end of 2015, I really had to apply myself to receive the qualification spot for this event in such short time (only the top ranked AUS lifter per weight category was selected). This journey was a massive test for myself physically and mentally, but due to achieving this goal, had set a platform for myself to continue my journey onto future Olympic and Commonwealth Games events.

What are you hoping to achieve with your sport moving forward? What are your goals (in the next three to five years)?
After competing at the Tokyo Olympics, my eyes will be set on the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, where I will aim to bring home a medal. Last Commonwealth Games I placed 7th as quite an inexperienced weightlifter (when I look back at it). I currently now sit as the 2nd ranked in my 73 kilogram category in the Commonwealth and will aim to achieve that top spot once Birmingham comes around.

Paris 2024 also will be in my sights, but I will be more focus on that post Birmingham 2022.

What does NAIDOC Week mean to you?
It is a celebration of the culture, history, and achievements of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It is a week that is personally special to me, and I love getting involved in local community celebrations throughout this week. Whether it is school celebrations, local community events or Elders programs, this week is all inclusive and celebrated by all.

Why do you think it is important for Queenslanders to celebrate NAIDOC Week?
Not only Queenslanders, but the Australian community have a great opportunity to celebrate during NAIDOC Week. Acknowledging and receiving education around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island culture is important due to the rich history of this land.

Please provide a 1-2 sentence response to the following: To me, the 2021 NAIDOC Week theme ‘Heal Country’ means…To me, the 2021 NAIDOC Week theme ‘Heal Country’ means calling for stronger measures to recognise, protect, and maintain all aspects of our culture and heritage for all Australians. It involves seeking greater protections over lands, waters, sacred sites, and cultural heritage from any form of damage/destruction.