After being diagnosed with transverse myelitis in 2017, Liam McGarry didn’t see a future for himself.
His diagnosis resulted in a T12 spinal chord injury, dashing any chance of a rugby career for the 25-year-old from Dartford. But while receiving treatment at The Spinal Treatment Centre at Salisbury District Hospital, a new sport gave him hope.
That sport has also given him a shot at Commonwealth Games glory this summer and he will make his debut at a major Games when he represents Team England in para powerlifting at Birmingham 2022.
“I think this sport for me has just completely turned my life around and after going through my injury in 2017, it was a bleak future,” said McGarry, who is one of more than 1,100 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing them to train full-time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support.
“I didn't really see anything coming, but the sport has allowed me to thrive again. When some people ask me, do you prefer your life before or after your injury and now it is getting to the point where I actually have to think about it.
“Because it's something I'm immensely proud of. A lot of athletes go through what we go through and then still get to the elite end of sport, it is mind-blowing.
“You've got to meet all your targets and meet everything that's expected of you from an elite sport point of view, but also you've got the ongoings of everyday life.”
McGarry’s talent for powerlifting was clear from the beginning, winning his event at the 2018 Inter-Spinal Unit Games at Stoke Mandeville having only been drafted into the team on the day.
More accolades followed as he was named English and British champion in 2019 before international recognition came last year.
McGarry claimed silver at the Manchester Para Powerlifting World Cup, breaking the British record in the process, to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with.
And for the Loughborough-based athlete, his displays of strength on the stage reflect the strength off it.
He added: “I just hope that I can show through what I do on the stage, if you put the work in behind the scenes or in the gym, or whatever your sport may be doing."
With the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games set to inspire people and communities across the country this summer, McGarry hopes sharing his story will give others motivation to get involved in sport and turn their dreams into reality.
“The biggest thing for me is to show people that there's nothing really you can't get through or get past or over or whatever way you want to frame it.
“Nothing's ever serious enough for me, in my opinion, where you need to give up, and that's what I'd love to pass on to the next generation.”
The Commonwealth Games debutant is not feeling nervous that a large southern contingent will be travelling to the Midlands to cheer him on - in fact, he loves putting on a show.
“I guess the pressure that comes with representing your country and representing England on one of the biggest stages, you don't really get much more pressure than that,” McGarry admitted.
“Personally I thrive in front of people. I like to be a showman and I like to put on a little bit of a show.
“To do some celebrations, that’ll get people laughing, because that actually aids my performance in a way because I can just go out there and be myself.
“I know that everyone will hopefully appreciate that. I don't think it adds any more pressure because wherever they're watching at home or in the stadium, they're still watching.”
This summer, Team England, supported by funding raised by National Lottery players, will comprise of more than 400 athletes, and having secured his place on the squad, McGarry is looking to capitalise on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for medal success in his home country.
He is not putting a medal target on himself for Birmingham but he still wants to go big.
Powerlifting scores take into account the lifter’s body weight and with McGarry at the top end of the men’s heavyweight category, he is hoping biggest will also mean best.
He said: “The Commonwealth Games, because of the way it's scored, as a heavyweight man, you're up against it already.
“I think my biggest goal is to be the biggest bench there on the day in weightlifting. It is on a point-scoring system, which takes into account your body weight and how much lift.
“I think for me, just being in front of a home crowd, I think a lot of people in the crowd probably won't really know how to score and works and things like that, so in my head, the biggest, baddest bench on the day will get the biggest cheer, so I just want that to be me.”
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