At 29, Emily Campbell is already an Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth medallist. The Nottingham-born athlete is now pursuing the goal of breaking through more barriers at the Olympics in Paris 2024. But how did she get here?
At secondary school, Emily took up athletics, a passion that carried over into her time at Leeds Beckett University where she also began to focus on developing her strength, specifically for shotput and hammer events. In pursuit of this goal, someone suggested that she explore weightlifting.
“A coach told me to sack off athletics and become a weightlifter,” she says. At only 21, Emily was unsure about starting a new sport, but “after six weeks of training, I maxed out that you needed to qualify for the British Seniors.”
She came back to Nottingham to seek out guidance from some of the nation’s best weightlifting coaches and it proved to be a turning point in her weightlifting career, leading to her first national then international titles.
Although only a few years into her stellar career, Emily has already noticed injustices in the industry. “I don’t typically look like an athlete,” she says, describing that her body shape is required to do her job.
Through her Instagram, Emily shares important conversations about body positivity and inclusivity in the fitness world, highlighting a gap in the industry for females like herself.
“It’s like the fitness industry became elitist. Being healthy is for everybody; it doesn’t matter what you look like.
“Accessibility to gym kit is ridiculous, so I started calling out certain brands, saying that they need to do better. It wasn’t to get sponsorship; it was to make them do the right thing. The industry has come a long way, but there’s still a huge amount that needs to be done.”
She is also vocal about the obstacles encountered by black athletes, emphasising that meaningful discussions addressing this issue have yet to reach satisfactory progress.
“Everybody thinks it’s a taboo subject, but people need to be educated. People need to not be afraid to ask the right questions,” says Emily.
Reflecting on Black History Month, Emily believes that we’re at a stage where we still need representation but argues it should be extended beyond a single month. “We need to develop it into an everyday thing. If we continue to grow, it’s going to become a more positive place,” she says.
Although Emily eventually became the first woman to secure an Olympic medal in weightlifting at Tokyo in 2021, she was met with hurdles throughout her journey.
In the initial stages of her career in 2016, Emily faced challenges as she juggled a demanding schedule of working 36 hours a week while dedicating 15 hours to training.
The funding for women’s weightlifting took a hit during this time, adding hardship for Emily and her fellow athletes to overcome. “I was constantly having to prove myself, but I think that extra ‘I’m going to prove you wrong’ mentality was the reason I was so successful,” says Emily.
Her passion for sports since her early years has found inspiration in the remarkable achievements of renowned athletes, with tennis superstar Serena Williams serving as her primary source of motivation. Emily has cited athletes Kelly Holmes, Denise Lewis and Jessica Ennis-Hill as further inspirations closer to home.
“Faces that look like me are out there doing amazing things. I didn’t realise at the time that they were inspirations,” says Emily, having since met the figures.
Through vigorous training and unparalleled passion, Emily won the silver in the women’s +87kg event. “It’s hard to put that achievement into words,” she says, reflecting on people finally taking the sport seriously as a result.
Emily describes the Olympics as out of reach when she first started her career, “but now the goalposts have moved… that’s really special for our sport. I always want to be the first but definitely not the last.”
As an athlete endorsed by Nike and actively striving to bring about positive change within the plus-size community, Emily hopes young girls will see her as a role model and believe that they can achieve great things. Her goal is to inspire confidence and empower girls to embrace their potential.
“I always say that you can’t be what you can’t see. This is why representation is absolutely massive in everything we do in life,” says Emily.
Now working with worldwide brands as a full-time athlete, Emily understands the responsibility that comes with her sporting life life. “It’s not going to last forever, and I’m just trying to make the biggest impact I can while I’m in this position.”
Looking to the future, Emily will put herself in the best possible position to achieve Olympic champion status. She says, “That’s the ultimate accolade that you have beside your name. I’m going to put myself in the best possible position to do that.”
To learn more about Emily’s journey, follow her here.
Additional reporting by Gemma Cockrell.