A 34-year-old woman who was once so sick and feeble she could barely lift a 1.5kg dumbbell is raising money to finance a trip to Florida next month so she can take part in the World Olympic Weightlifting Championships.
Clare Dane, from Southfields, London, has suffered from a series of chronic illnesses throughout her life, including skin infections and seizures, which once left her stuck in bed for five years, taking more than 16 different medications and unable to work or walk unaided.
In total, Clare has four chronic illnesses – rheumatoid arthritis, epilepsy, postural tachycardia syndrome and fibromyalgia.
After being a “sickly” child, Clare’s condition worsened as a young adult, when she started getting skin infections so severe they left gaping holes.
She was diagnosed with epilepsy in her mid-20s and had to give up her dream of becoming a primary school teacher as her conditions worsened.
“I was so sick I had 10 years of pure misery,” said Clare.
Her life of misery changed one 2019 morning, when she decided to treat her chronic conditions with exercise, starting with small movements at home before building up to walking to the shops.
She is now a competitive weightlifter and weightlifting trainer, able to lift almost twice her 49kg body weight, and feels like she has been handed “a completely different life”.
In 2008, Clare began her teacher training, but just a few years later, in 2011, her health began to deteriorate. Clare was diagnosed with the superbug MRSA, which often starts as a skin infection and causes redness, pain and swelling, and her health went downhill.
Doctors could not tell Clare what was wrong, but her joints hurt, she suffered from random boils and cysts which would just appear, and eventually, she was so sick she had to give up her dream of working as a primary school teacher.
“I’d always been a sickly child but somehow managed. But once I was training to be a teacher, I got so many infections eventually I was told I couldn’t risk working in a classroom and so had to take a desk job,” she recalled.
In 2013, Clare started having seizures which, a year later, the doctors diagnosed as epilepsy.
“I was having one or two a month, but it was another 12 months before I had the diagnosis of epilepsy,” she says.
In 2014, as her health went ever more rapidly downhill, even her desk job proved too much and Clare, then 26, was signed off sick.
By the time she was confined to her bed, her heavy-duty medication was causing severe joint and stomach problems and Clare could no longer walk without help.
“My joints were really painful and the pain in my stomach, which was caused by ulcers and tears to the lining of the stomach which were side-effects of the medications I was taking, was unbearable,” she said.
“By this stage, I was living at home again with my mum because I couldn’t even walk without someone helping me.”
As her world got smaller and smaller, Clare woke up one morning in 2019 and made the dramatic decision to stop all her medication.
“I decided I was going to use physical movement to treat myself and help my body heal without medication,” she said.
It was a brave decision but not one supported by Clare’s doctors.
“Even my mum questioned whether we were doing the right thing because I did get worse before I got better,” she said.
“I suffered from really bad withdrawal symptoms, including sweating and shaking and nausea and insomnia, but I was determined to keep going.
“At first, I could barely move and struggled to lift even a 1.5kg weight. I would try and move for 10 minutes and would end up in tears for an hour because I was in so much pain.
“But I kept going, and after four or five months, I was looking and feeling better and everyone could see the difference.
“There was a hill near my mum’s house on the way to the shop and the first time I was able to walk there and back without having to hold on to someone else. I knew I was getting better. In fact, I was feeling better than I had done in years.”
Slowly, and with the help of YouTube exercise videos, Clare said she started to fall in love with physical exercise – so much so that she decided to qualify as a fitness trainer.
“I began rebuilding my confidence and was looking so much better; I had colour in my cheeks, my skin improved and I could move my body again,” she said.
In the summer of 2019, Clare qualified as a fitness instructor and landed a job at a local gym, where she was introduced to Olympic weightlifting, which sees athletes lift weights in the same way as Olympians.
She joined a class, got the bug, and soon began to compete nationally and internationally.
In March 2020, Clare hit a snag when the Covid-19 lockdown started in the UK and, as a vulnerable person, she had to shield herself for an extended period – but, undeterred, she trained and made her own gym at home.
“I got a piece of wood and made my own weights to train with in my bedroom,” she said.
“I was motivated to keep going because I was so terrified of being stuck in bed again. So it was a combination of determination and desperation.”
In the summer of 2022, Clare, who is 5ft4ins and weighs 49kg, came second in her category in the International Olympic Weightlifting competition in Poland.
Today, she coaches other weightlifters.
“I really fell in love with this sport and its intricacies. It is quite technical and so I enjoyed the buzz I got from keeping my brain busy this way,” she said.
On December 8 this year, Clare and her coach will travel to Florida so she can compete in the world championships and represent Great Britain – but in order to do that Clare needs to raise £5,000 to cover the costs of travel, gym wear and equipment.
She has launched a GoFundMe page and, having raised more than £3,000, is well on her way to meeting her target.
“I love this sport,” she said.
“Before I started weight training, I was stuck in the prison of my bed watching other people living their lives, but this sport has given me my life back.
“In fact, it has handed me a completely different life.”
Clare now deadlifts 110kg. Her ‘clean and jerk’ weightlifting record is 71kg and her best back squat weight is 90kg – almost twice her bodyweight.
Dr Margaret Ikpoh, vice-chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “It’s important that all patients on long-term medication don’t suddenly stop treatment unless discussed with their specialist, GP or healthcare professional overseeing their treatment plan.
“If a patient decides they want to stop taking their medication for whatever reason, it is important they discuss this by booking a non-urgent appointment to speak with the healthcare professional caring for them or at their next medication review.”
You can visit Clare’s GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/f/clare-world-matsers-weightlifting-championship