The strongest woman in Europe quit sport. “You can’t earn more than me”

Aleksandra Mierzejewska, 29, is a former weightlifter. In 2018, she won the European Championship in weightlifting. In Bucharest she was the best in the +90 kg category, in two-fighters she gained 237 kg and defeated the Hungarian Krisztina Magát one kilogram, becoming the strongest woman on the continent.

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Piotr Wesołowicz: “I swear to competitive sports, I often think that I hate it” – you said in 2019.

Aleksandra Mierzejewska: And I finally dumped him, even though it is a bloody tough decision. I was burned out like a matchstick. My body was so scattered, I had brought myself to such a state that the doctors gave me five years to come back at all.

Are you talking about injuries?

– Yes, but not only that, because with an elbow injury I could lift 105 kg. Besides, I love and will always love the barbell. But my career has been poisoned by politics and activists. And even people whom I trusted utterly. I learned a strong lesson from life.

Let’s start from the beginning. It’s April 2018 and you won the European Championship gold a few days earlier. I remember today – we are sitting in full sun in front of your training room in Forty Bema, you are browsing fan letters, talking about your success. When did it go bad?

– It was a beautiful time! Preparing for the championship, I had pennies in my pocket, but also great determination. After the gold, the situation changed – I won sponsors’ support, gave interviews, because I wanted to promote the barbell so that it would not be associated only with doping.

But then strange attempts on the part of people from the Polish Weightlifting Association began. There was a growing bubble of expectations that now I should bring back gold from the World Cup or the Olympics. I felt I couldn’t have a bad day or the competition might not go my way. That I should be reliable, no matter what my health is. And yet I am only human!

It’s weird. You’ve talked about great things in the media – how sport has allowed you to overcome the weight complexes that self-confidence gave you. Then Poland saw one of the most smiling sportswomen.

– So you understand what situation they put me in and what happened in the relationship. In fact, this gold helped me overcome my overweight complexes, and I became more self-confident. 2018 was fantastic, successes in competitions, training, I was on the gas! But the new year has come. In March, two weeks before flying to the European Championships in Batumi, where I was supposed to defend gold, I broke my elbow.

The head sat down, the body sat down.

The barbell went over my head. I was on painkillers then, I didn’t feel anything bad had happened, I thought I had pulled a muscle. I decided that I would fly to Georgia, that I would take off, but I quickly realized that it was a mistake.

I have such a ritual: a few days before the most important starts, I totally “clean” myself. I don’t drink coffee, I don’t take powders, I only come back to it the day before the competition to stimulate myself and reduce pain.

But when I was in Batumi, about a week before the start, and started doing a “detox” from ibuprom, it turned out that I can’t even bend my elbow and the pain is so great, almost indescribable.

And yet I was about to snatch 100 kg! I got scared and started loading myself on drugs. I tried to forget that …

… that you have a broken elbow?

– It comes out (laughs). But I tore over a hundred kilos, unfortunately it did not give me a medal. And it started.

PHOTO KUBA ATYS

What started?

– Lamentation, complaint! “What is the result” – I heard it, even after I proved that I started with a broken elbow! Show me an athlete who will start with such an injury – well, maybe apart from Justyna Kowalczyk, because this is a real harpagan.

The doctor, who saw the condition of the hand, tapped his head, how miraculously I was able to climb onto the landing. I had to undergo surgery, especially since the chase was set against time. It was three months until the World Cup, so a month after the surgery, I was already starting to carry. It was, of course, a mistake, the hand swelled and turned blue alternately, there was no way to start. And then came the pandemic.

And you threw the barbell for good?

– Not right away, because I love and will love carrying. I was training in a room where it was around zero degrees, and the barbell was so cold that the skin on my hand was just tearing off. I was penniless, not having bread. And in such conditions, I reached the European Championship. I wouldn’t be able to quit it overnight.

On the other hand, I didn’t want to be an athlete who made it to the top and then it only gets worse and worse. Either I’m going for the gold again or I’m leaving. And I already knew that I would not be able to handle the first one.

Besides, I was disappointed with the people in the union. The activists and coaches with whom I worked for years, who were like family for me, abandoned me in the most difficult moments. Not everyone. There were and are good people around me, but some of them left me when I stopped being the best. It hurt a lot.

Today it amuses me – we are not China with a hundred of Mierzejewski’s. At this point, in women’s weights, there is no one in heavy weight! I left, Magda Karolak passed away, who was treated similarly. After Agata Wróbel, we were the only heavyweights. Today there is no one in it. And there is nothing to sculpt from, it must be 10-15 years. I hope they can now see the condition of the heaviest category in women. These are the effects of the previous government’s actions. Then I stopped fitting someone …

Let’s be clear – to whom, what does this mean?

– I will not talk about the names, people from the environment will know who they mean. What does that mean? For example, I applied for funding from the Ministry of Sport, which wanted to educate the best athletes for the role of a coach. I thought it was a good way for me – I know what the players need, I know the sport inside out. I submitted an application, but it never reached the Ministry. Someone in the relationship blocked it, put it in a drawer.

You know who?

– Of course. The man told me outright that he would not let me earn any better than him.

What about the games? It is a performance for an athlete …

– I was very excited that I did not get to Tokyo. I missed a little. If there were old rules, I would have gone. I would have been trained differently. But the rules have changed – now, instead of a specific result, you had to collect points as often as possible.

They were introduced to screen possible doping users.

– To avoid the situation that someone sits in some wilderness for four years, cokes and trains, comes to only one qualifying round and has the best result in Europe or in the world. But the heavyweight players have it that their organisms wear out quickly. When we start at full throttle every two or three months, and then there are national competitions, our body crumbles. Mine with such intensity went completely off. I was doing 230-235 kg in double sided. And a girl with a result of 220 kg flew to Tokyo. I missed two starts.

That was the moment you said stop?

– At the end of last year, my fiancé, Robert, fell seriously ill with COVID. The moment when they take him from home to the ambulance, in which I am suddenly left alone, without someone I love so much, I will not forget for the rest of my life. Suddenly my whole world collapsed, I kept crying.

I spent the holidays standing in front of the hospital and staring at the hospital window on Szaserów Street. Then my eyes opened: that if I go to training camps all the time, I will destroy my health, I will miss what is most important. When he returned home after two weeks, I made a decision not to come back. I’ve thought everything through carefully.

You had what to live for?

– For a while, I conducted weight classes for people who, after eight hours at their desk, had the energy to go to training and break their own barriers. They are passionate people, great team and adventure.

But it was hard to live off of it, and I had to finally start healing, mending my health. I didn’t have a regular job, but I had an idea. As a child, I used to play with a hammer and a screwdriver instead of dolls. And I used to tinker with computers. It was my passion. I decided that I would try my strength in IT.

Did you have a CV?

– I sat down with him for the first time in my life! Interested? Weightlifting. Successes? A dozen, well, several dozen Polish records. Plus the Polish championship, the European championship …

And I realized that I don’t have “normal” photos. Here I am carrying, here is a tear, here is a toss. People, I don’t have a decent photo! But I got the job after the first interview – I work in the support department for a company that provides software for gyms and fitness clubs. I love this job! I can help, and for this I use my knowledge, I learn something new every day.

And imagine that for the first time in my life I got a real vacation.

First?

During your career, it happens that you are away from home for over 300 days a year, you only program for training, food, sleep, regeneration. In addition, you are an athlete all the time. In such a regime, you cannot afford poor sleep, a party, or alcohol, because it will affect your training, start and results. And suddenly two weeks off in the middle of summer …

And what did you do with them?

– I did not know what to do with myself, so I went to Cetniewo (one of the largest sports centers in Poland, place of training camps and preparation camps – ed.). Only after a few days did I get used to the fact that instead of going to training in the morning, I can safely drink Aperol (laughs).

Do you give yourself a door to return to sport?

– For professional sports – no. The start at the Olympics, all the preparations, years of sacrifice, would cost me so much that I don’t even know if we would be sitting here together, I would probably be in the hospital. When I grab the barbell, I feel like I still have strength. But the pain after training is indescribable.

Besides – will weightlifting be at the Olympics in Paris at all? The IWF authorities still do not want to cooperate with the IOC, and the fact that doping has been tolerated and concealed by top athletes for decades is commonplace today. And I have always believed that someone who does doping wants to take shortcuts. The scammers took our moments of glory.

But I do not exclude the possibility of returning to the barbell in a different role, especially since the authorities have changed in the relationship, there are new coaches and activists. The parochial approach – I hope – has been forgotten for good. I like what changes are made. And I have experience that I can share.

Memories are enough for me from a career. My mother, to whom I owe everything, keeps all the medals, cups and newspaper clippings. And you mustn’t touch anything! The sister laughs at me that my mother made an altar for me at home.

How is your life after life?

– On the one hand, I’ve always been a bit introverted, withdrawn. I like the eight-hour shift, when I can turn on a desk lamp, surround myself with three monitors and tinker with codes or databases, sipping tea and looking at the cat.

On the other – I can finally go out to the party! I have never been to Christmas, but I missed all the parties and various attractions. And recently, I’ve been dancing the night away. And you know what? I felt great!

Instead of trainings and training camps – everyday life is gray. Full-time, shopping. Are you sure you are not missing it?

Not that gray at all! I have my loved ones with me, I still train, but differently – I changed the barbell to cardio. I will miss the people who were there for me. However, we still talk to each other and keep in touch. After all, I spent more time with the staff coach than with my fiancé.

I rediscover life. And when I run out of COS, I can always go there on vacation.

Do you feel like a fulfilled athlete?

– Yes – I am not able to count the records and the Polish championship, nobody will take that away from me. I am also a multimedia champion of the European championship, because in addition to gold in 2018, I should also have a bronze in 2016 … (gold medalist Hripsime Khurszudjan from Armenia was disqualified for doping, Mierzejewska, who was fourth in Norway, automatically jumped on the podium – ed.).

Oh yeah, have you already got your medal? The decision that it should be returned to you was made in 2020.

– Not yet, but I check the parcel locker every day!

About David Martin

David Martin is the lead editor for Spark Chronicles. David has been working as a freelance journalist.

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