“I can now out-lift most of the men I know”

Sussexsport Sport Scholar Poppy Joshi, 22, combines studying Physics and Astronomy with competing at an international level in powerlifting. In November she set a new world record in her category.

Poppy Joshi, Sussexsport scholar and Physics student

I started powerlifting competitively last year. I’d seen all these big guys doing it, and I thought I’m strong, I could do that too. I am the sort of person who wants to push themselves. One of the instructors in my gym told me about his coach, Callum Barney, who’s now my coach. I can now out-lift most of the men I know.

I received the sports scholarship after qualifying for the British Drug-Free Powerlifting Association’s national competitions last year. And then in November I competed in the junior section of the World Powerlifting Championships in Glasgow against countries such as Russia and the USA.

I wanted to break two world records — for the deadlift and the bench lift. But after I achieved 171.5 kg in the deadlift– beating the world record by 0.5kg — I had to be drugs tested. That didn’t give me time to do my last bench lift, although I’d already achieved a personal best of 75 kg.

Without the scholarship, it would be a financial struggle. It helps to pay for my competition transport, accommodation and entry fees. I get free physio too, which is great because I also play hockey for Sussex and I get injured a lot. The scholarship also gives me some academic flexibility, so if there’s a competition that clashes with an exam, my exam can be moved.

I usually get up at 5.45am and am in the gym as soon as it opens, and then I study for the rest of the day. In the run-up to the world championships I was also working out in the evening too. My friends thought I was mad. I’ve got a better balance now between my studies and my sport, although I am also a volunteer leader for Sussexsport’s This Girl Can Leadership Academy.

My first passion was horses. I wanted to compete in dressage, so I dropped out of A levels to train in PortugaI with an Olympic rider. I made it into the British squad for working equitation. I had the best time ever, but then I missed the intellectual life, so returned to college to complete my A levels. And then my horse broke its leg and we couldn’t compete.

I started off studying Neuroscience, but I really wanted to do Physics.I didn’t think it would be possible because I didn’t have maths A level, but Sussex suggested I do the foundation degree first. I had a rocky start, but by the end of the year I was consistently getting above 80 per cent.

Poppy explaining the Universe to schoolchildren on PrimarySpace Day

I’d love to become an astronaut. I think it’s the coolest thing to leave the planet, especially to do it for scientific research. I realise it’s a hard job to get into, particularly if you’re British. I really respect the UK astronaut Tim Peake.

I was lucky enough to visit NASA this year. My uncle, who lives in Florida, put me in touch with a friend of his who works there. It was incredible. I got to visit all the labs and to meet all the leading people in their field. I have never met people so enthusiastic about their work.

I don’t want to reach retirement and think, I really wish I’d done that. When I wanted to drop out of my A levels, a lot of my friends said don’t do that. But my mum also didn’t follow a traditional academic route, and she said I should do what I want as education will always be there. Taking time out was the best thing that I have ever done because of what I learned from it. It was a good experience.

Interview by Jacqui Bealing

This profile is part of our This Sussex Life series.
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