While gutsy weightlifter Megan Signal waits to hear if she’s off to her first Olympics, she’s helping aspiring female athletes bridge the knowledge gap around wellness and support.
Megan Signal knows more than most what pushing your body to the limit can achieve.
The Olympic weightlifting hopeful will soon find out if she’ll represent New Zealand in Tokyo next month – a tremendous feat for the 31-year-old, who only got into sport and being active in her twenties. And who’s come back from a string of injuries and health issues, including being forced out two weeks before the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games by injury.
Signal’s health and fitness journey represents two extremes.
There’s her current life as an elite athlete, where she has ample opportunity and resources to learn how to be the best sports person she can be. And her former life as a regular member of the public who wasn’t entirely sure how to get healthy and had preconceived ideas about what that looked like.
It’s for this reason, and a few others, Signal wants to share what she’s learnt through the years with others.
So in amongst her preparation for both Tokyo and next year’s Commonwealth Games, she’s bringing an event to life to address the gap in knowledge sharing for women and girls.
Signal, who’s lifting career has been plagued by injury and setbacks, knows firsthand how life-changing the wealth of experience, skills and research available to elite athletes are. But she also understands the same information isn’t always easily accessible to the general public. That’s where she’s hoping to start changing things with the ‘Girls Locker Room’ event this Sunday.
“It’s just a really exciting opportunity to share that stuff we [athletes] get access to,” says Signal, who’s been building up to compete in the 76kg weight class in Tokyo. “When I tell people about it, I can’t get across how excited I am and how beneficial it is for girls.”
Signal has organised a panel of speakers who have the same passion around sharing knowledge, inspiration and motivation.
Former Black Fern and soon-to-be-mum Charmaine Smith, and entrepreneur Mimi Gilmour-Buckley will share the stage together at the gym Signal co-owns, to speak around the challenges of starting a business, how injuries can change lives and motherhood.
MMA champion Michelle Montague, Signal and Smith are happy to discuss the common stages they’ve dealt with through their own sporting endeavours, including body image challenges, nutrition practices and general health.
Signal hopes attendees will take away new tools to help them in their own sport or life journey. “I want every individual to walk away connecting with a story. Walking away going ‘Ok, I am not alone, I am inspired to do something with this’,” she says.
AUT PhD candidate Kimberly Santabarbara will also present on her research relating to menstrual cycles and how they correlate to training. Signal says the research is world-leading.
Learning about RED-S (Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport) – where the body is under-fuelled for the amount of training someone is undertaking, and the internal damages people could be doing to their bodies without realising – is on the table, too.
Signal had her own brush with energy deficiency when she was cutting weight to compete in the 64kg weight class, creating a hormone imbalance and she stopped having periods. Switching to the 76kg class, and seeing health experts, put her back on track.
Having set countless records in snatch and clean and jerk as well as being a business owner, Signal has mentioned in several forums the difference in what information is available to people who are not elite athletes and those who are.
“I train like an athlete because I am an athlete,” says Signal. “I then go and coach classes with the general population who train like athletes. They train just as hard as I do because they love it.
“But because they are not athletes, they don’t get told that ‘This is RED-S’, ‘This is the long-term damage you could be doing’, ‘This is what is healthy for the body’, ‘This is what’s not healthy for the body’, ‘Look out for these red flags’.”
There are similarities in both realities, but the delivery of information just needs to be different.
“The struggles we go through as an athlete are similar to the struggles that our members go through at the gym,” says Signal. “Different scenarios but really the same conversations.”
Signal’s friend Jennifer Davies, a retail manager, is taking care of the event. She initiated the idea four weeks ago over coffee, suggesting making it a fundraiser to cover Signal’s fulltime training in the final lead-up to the Games. Davies made things happen so Signal could concentrate on her training.
Like many athletes, Signal’s journey to these Olympics was interrupted by Covid-19’s abrupt arrival early last year. She needed to compete in six international events to snatch the Oceania qualifying spot, but that has since been amended to the events that had already been held before the world went into lockdown (she’d completed five).
She hasn’t been able to compete internationally in the last 15 months, but has had the national and Auckland championships, and an international online event and the North Island champs in the next two weeks to keep her in competition form. At nationals, Signal set an Oceania clean and jerk and total records in the 71kg division, while she won the snatch and clean and jerk at the Auckland champs in the 76kg weight class.
So what motivates Signal to share her experiences?
“It’s pretty simple, I get really excited that we’re going to be given a platform,” she says. “I know the gem is going to be in the amount of really genuine, organic conversations we’re going to be able to have.
“And I know people are going to be able to leave the gym and take that into wherever they’ve come from and that ripple effect is really exciting for me. That’s something I’m really passionate about because it just feels good.”
* The ‘Girls Locker Room’ event is on Sunday, June 20, from 10am at Functional Fit East Tamaki.