Powerlifter Natalie Blake is celebrating a national gold medal — and winning a place at a world championships.
The 35-year-old, from Newark, broke the national record and set a new personal best at the British Weight Lifting and Para-Powerlifting Championships in Coventry.
Natalie lifted 103kg as she won the gold medal in the 55kg class to qualify for September’s World Powerlifting Para Champ-ionships, in Mexico.
“I didn’t go to the British Championships expecting to win and break a record, so it feels great,” she said.
“It is good to have qualified for the worlds and to have got a personal best with a record.
“I didn’t know what to expect, I was just focusing on the day and seeing what happened.
“I had been training really hard and it had gone well, but you never know what is going to happen on the day of a competition.”
Natalie, a five-time Para-lympian, prepared for the national success by winning gold a few weeks earlier at the English Bench Press Championships in Horncastle.
The competition was open to both able-bodied and para athletes as Natalie set a new British record when she lifted 100kg in the 57kg class to take gold.
“I went there just aiming to enjoy my lifting and get in three good lifts, which I did,” she said.
“I am enjoying my lifting again at the moment.”
As well as preparing for the world championships, Natalie has also set her sights on winning a place in the GB team for the Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast next year.
'The highlight of my career'
She is hoping to repeat or go one better than the silver medal she won at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014.
“That is still the highlight of my career,” she said. “I want to save the feeling and memory of winning that medal because no one can take it away from me.
“But the Commonwealth Games, like the Paralympics, is hard and tough work. If I get to go to Australia I know it won’t be easy.”
That silver medal in Glasgow was the perfect pick-me-up for the dedicated athlete after a disappointing result at the London 2012 Paralympics following a head injury.
Her father and coach, Keith, said: “It is great to see Natalie back to her old ways again.
“She had a tough time after the disappointment of the London Olympics, but she is better now than she has ever been.
“It is hard when you are a parent and coach — you have to have two heads. But Natalie has accepted that over the years and we work well together.”
A return to Australia would complete a remarkable 18 years of lifting as Natalie started representing Great Britain in major competitions at the Sydney Paralympics in 2000.
Keith added: “Nothing has come up to the standard of the Sydney Games since. It is a fantastic city and the atmosphere was great.”
Natalie, who trains twice a week at Loughborough University as part of her Team GB Performance Plan, also trains at the PHP Gym in Farndon. She has started volunteering in the gym at Newark Fitness and Leisure Centre.
In the short-term her attention is on preparing for the world championships and the Commonwealth Games, if selected.
“I am focused on trying to get to Australia and am hopeful of selection,” she said. “In between there are some mini competitions before the big ones.”
Natalie, who was born with spina bifida that prevented her vertebrae developing properly, said it was too soon to be thinking about a possible sixth Paralympic Games at Tokyo, Japan, in 2020.
“I am taking one competition at a time and mainly concentrating on getting to the Commonwealth Games,” she said. “Then we will see what happens.
“I am not saying yes or no to Tokyo, I just don’t want to look at something that is still a long time away.”