By day, support worker Abby Carter helps vulnerable people overcome their problems; by night she lifts cars. Well, it’s one way to cope with the stresses of the day job – but her goal is to someday compete to become Europe’s Strongest Woman
“Be it flipping a tractor tyre or running with a huge sandbag, they are my therapy.”
IT requires a certain strength of mind to be a support worker in a homeless hostel. Not only are they carrying the weight of residents’ problems on their shoulders, they are required to weigh up sometimes difficult situations to decide how best to manage them.
Nobody said it’s an easy line of work, of course, but surely there’s an easier way to blow off a little steam than to follow up the working day with some actual heavy lifting? Not for support worker Abby Carter (pictured), who has set her sights on winning the title of Europe’s Strongest Woman.
By day, Carter works for Together Housing Group at its James Street Project in Darwen, Lancashire, where she helps people such as victims of domestic violence, people with drug and alcohol addictions, and people suffering from mental or physical health problems.
By night… well, by night she lifts cars.
After competing in the Northern Qualifiers for England’s Strongest Woman, Carter is training for the Europe’s Strongest Woman qualifiers. It’s a way of coping with the stress of what is otherwise a fulfilling job, she admits.
“I have been working at James Street Project for nearly 10 years, and absolutely love my job because it means I can help people to overcome personal barriers and become successful in life,” Carter said. “We support our tenants to become independent by addressing their individual needs which can be very complex.
“As you can imagine, it can be a stressful job, but it’s also very interesting and varied. I am totally inspired by the tenants who come to James Street Project because they were homeless and living chaotic lives, but still manage to turn their lives around despite having so many obstacles to overcome. The success stories give me huge job satisfaction, and I feel really proud to have been part of their journey.”
Carter says she channels any stresses of the job into her training. Conversely, she puts what she has learned during her training into practice during the working day.
“I try to give advice on changes that our tenants can make to live a healthier lifestyle, and encourage them to have a positive attitude,” she explained. “Obviously there needs to be a certain amount of self-discipline such as getting out of bed earlier, taking the time to cook healthy meals and being more active. Being able to relax is also really important, because some of our tenants lead extremely stressful lives.
“Small things like breathing exercises, going for a short walk and switching off their phone for 30 minutes can help someone to feel less tense. All of the above can help to improve a person’s physical and mental health, and they will reap the benefits, such as weight loss, fewer illnesses and improved sleep pattern – all without the use of medication.
“My job involves having to deal with some very upsetting and traumatic situations, but we can’t get emotionally involved and have to remain professional at all times. My answer to a stressful day is to go and lift something heavy – lots of times. Be it flipping a tractor tyre or running with a huge sandbag, they are my therapy.”
The 48-year-old only took up strength training last year, but even before she was “bitten by the bug” physical activity and sport has been a big part of her life. She has competed in various activities, such as judo, karate, golf, running and road cycling.
She’s also studying part time at Accrington College and is on track to qualify as a Level 3 Personal Trainer in July this year.
“Hopefully I can use this qualification to encourage people to overcome any barriers to exercising regularly, and to lead a more active and healthy lifestyle,” she said.
Last year, she joined a local gym to concentrate on strength training; having been told by various gym instructors that she was “particularly strong”, she’d decided to work on improving it. Carter was subsequently introduced to a personal trainer, Rolande Bradshaw, who clearly inspired her.
“I knew he had already taken part in several Strongman competitions and his passion about the sport made me really curious to see what is was all about, so I decided to go along to his next competition – if only to cheer him on,” she said.
“I was totally blown away by the enthusiasm and friendliness of the athletes. One particular female athlete always sticks in my mind. She was really struggling to move a huge weight and was on the verge of giving up, but the other competitors gathered around her and their massive cheers of encouragement practically helped her across the line – that experience was so inspiring that I decided I had to have a go myself.”
And she did, too – appearing in her first strong woman competition in Bolton last year.
“I usually train once a week with my coach Rhiannon Lovelace, who is currently the World’s Strongest Woman (lightweight),” Carter said. “She is preparing me to compete in a novice competition and also training me to enter the qualifiers for Europe’s Strongest Woman, which will obviously be extremely tough. And next year I’m going to have another go at qualifying for England’s Strongest Woman.”
She added: “Strong woman training is rapidly becoming more popular and it’s a unique sport where no one wants you to fail and absolutely everyone will cheer for you. Also, a year ago I would never have dreamed that I could deadlift 200kg, or lift a car, and I have achieved both of these challenges – with much admiration from the men at my gym!
“Besides the physical benefits such as building strength, losing body fat, burning a lot of calories, you will also gain confidence, improve self-esteem and you will also be welcomed by a new ‘family’ of strong women to support you along the way.”
But what do Carter’s actual family think of all this? “My family think I’m ‘mad’ and my friends keep asking if I will move heavy items of furniture for them,” she said. “Seriously though, they are all extremely supportive and think what I’m doing is awesome.”