Spotlight On... Powerlifting

Liam McGarry

It’s a Paralympic summer, but don’t just watch the sports, try them! 

Parasport's Spotlight On… series offers a quick glimpse into the world of a Paralympic sport – the thoughts, feelings, emotions and behind the scenes details that may be hidden to the outside world. 

In the next part of the series we spoke to powerlifting’s Liam McGarry, who broke the men’s British record in the +107kg category en route to silver at the World Para Powerlifting World Cup in Manchester earlier this year.  

Powerlifting made its Games debut in 1984 and is one of the fastest-growing Paralympic sports, considered to be one of the ultimate tests of upper-body strength.  

Liam told us all about his journey into the sport and why he thinks it’s so special.  

Tell us about how you got into powerlifting and your progression to where you are today  

I went to represent my spinal unit in the Inter Spinal Unit Games at Stoke Mandeville in 2017, and I had done an array of sports across the week. Then, on our final day, the person doing the powerlifting for us pulled out.   

Due to my sporting background, I just threw my name in the hat to give it a go. I ended up winning it with a lift of 137kg.

“After I had done the lift, a chap who was running the event gave me his card and a letter about Talent ID.   

“In 2019 I went to my first competition, which was just at regional level. I won bronze there and then later on that year, I became English and British champion. 

“At my second World Cup, I managed to take home the silver medal and while doing that I broke the British record. The record had stood for quite a while, and I became only the second British lifter ever to bench press over 200kg, with a lift of 202kg.”  

Why powerlifting over other sports?   

I've always been good at sports, but I've always sided with those that give me a little bit of an adrenaline rush. I think you definitely get that from powerlifting.  

Throughout the time I've done sport my main attribute has always been my strength. That's always been one of the main things for me, and I wanted to continue that. 

There aren’t many para sports that allow you to turn around to an able-bodied person and tell them you're better than them, but in powerlifting weight on the bar is weight on the bar.”  

What’s the one thing you now know, that you wish you’d known before getting started in the sport?  

“Just how much the sport can give you. One thing I didn't know at the beginning, which I do now, is that you can actually make a living out of it.  

“Once you get to a certain standard you can start applying to get onto the World Class Programme, and you then start becoming a funded athlete who has access to so many different resources.   

“When I first started, I was unaware of that part of the sport because I knew nothing about it, and I thought it was just non-disabled people that could get paid. It turns out I was quite wrong!”

What’s been your favourite memory in the sport so far?   

“It would have to be my silver medal in Manchester earlier this year, because from a sporting side of things I set a British record and won a medal on the international stage.  

“But I think most importantly, to me, it was one of the toughest times of my life because a few weeks before the competition my Nan had passed away from Covid-19. She was someone that everyone knew was quite influential in both my everyday life and my sporting life.   

“I didn't really have time to come to terms with that, I just had to park it and keep my head focused on my sport. Now I'm so glad I've done that because I was able to do things that I promised her I would.”  

What's the best thing about powerlifting?   

“You don't have to wait ages to see progression. It's great being able to see physical progress from week to week. 

“You see kilos going onto the bar almost instantly, and from a self-confidence and self-worth point of view it's great.”  

What’s something only a powerlifter would know or appreciate?    

“The way people load their bars! When I am just in a normal gym, I can get really irritated when I look at someone's bar, and it's got the loadings all over the place.   

“When I see people put tens in front of the 20s, it’s really annoying! I like to see it go from the heaviest out to the lightest!” 

What would you say to someone considering trying powerlifting?  

“Just get in and do it! The beauty with starting para powerlifting is that you don't need to find a club, you don't need to find people that are involved, you don't need to find a coach. You can just go to the gym and bench. That said, the staff at gyms and clubs will definitely be able to assist where required and make your powerlifting experience an enjoyable one.

“I know some people, especially people in wheelchairs, can struggle with balance if they've only got a normal gym bench. But there are solutions, for example putting another bench along the bottom, so you can put your legs up on it. 

“My advice would be to just go and do it, and don’t be scared.”


Gain an insight into the world of other Paralympic sports by visiting our Spotlight On… series hub page here.

Want to give powerlifting a try? Check out our club finder!