'I just love the challenge': Meet the QA radiographer who's worth her weight

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AT HER demanding day job at QA, no-one would guess that Lou is a three-time European weightlifting champion who trains six days a week.

43-year-old Lou Herron, who currently lives in Havant after previously being in Portsmouth for most of her life, works full-time as a radiographer, managing the CT and MRI department at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham.

‘I was born and bred in Portsmouth, the only time I really went away was when I had a three-year post up north with the army when I was in Catterick,’ says Lou.

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But in her personal life, Lou trains six days a week outside of her 9-5 hours, working towards her goal to become an Olympic weightlifting world champion – and having already bagged three gold medals at the European Masters Championships – she’s well on her way.

Pictured: Lou Herron, training at Hampshire Barbell, Hilsea.

Picture: Habibur RahmanPictured: Lou Herron, training at Hampshire Barbell, Hilsea.

Picture: Habibur Rahman
Pictured: Lou Herron, training at Hampshire Barbell, Hilsea. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Most recently, Lou travelled to Raszyn in Poland, along with five of her fellow athletes from the Hampshire Barbell Club, last October and returned with three golds in a five-medal haul, plus a handful of new European records.

Lou won gold in the 40-44 category, breaking the European clean and jerk record.

‘I work 9-5 at QA and train six days a week, at home Monday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, and at the gym on Tuesdays and Fridays,’ she explains.

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‘I lift weights, firstly because it’s fitness and exercise, secondly it’s a head escape from work – but also I enjoy it. If I didn’t enjoy it, then I wouldn't do it, it has to be fun,’ she adds.

Pictured: Lou Herron training at Hampshire Barbell, Hilsea, Portsmouth

Picture: Habibur RahmanPictured: Lou Herron training at Hampshire Barbell, Hilsea, Portsmouth

Picture: Habibur Rahman
Pictured: Lou Herron training at Hampshire Barbell, Hilsea, Portsmouth Picture: Habibur Rahman

For Lou, joining the army after college at the age of 18 was a way to gain extra skills before she was able to join Hampshire Ambulance Service at 21, but she soon ‘fell into’ radiography.

‘I had no intention of doing radiography, but my commanding officer signposted me to the degree and I ended up doing the degree in the army and qualifying from there,’ recalls Lou.

‘I had always had an interest in medical professions from a young age, so it sort of sparked my interest.’

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‘I really enjoyed it and clearly I have done because I’ve been qualified for 20 years now!’

While she enjoys her fast-paced 9-5 day job, she faces daily challenges and often has to make tough decisions in a highly pressured environment.

‘We deal with a lot of very sick patients because a lot of our work – especially in CT – is cancer related, either through diagnosis or follow up treatments,’ says Lou.

‘We also deal with the patients from the emergency department who have been involved in traumas or are acutely unwell,’ she adds.

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‘As with most of the NHS, we’ve been under pressure for the last couple of years, specifically since the pandemic, we’re still trying to find our way through that. We’re not alone in that, that’s across the board in the NHS.’

Lou first stumbled across weightlifting when searching for new ways to stay active alongside the demands of her day job, and while training CrossFit one day in 2019 she was approached by the head coach of Hampshire Barbell Club, Przemek Borak.

‘In a highly pressurised day job, it helps to have an outlet to release that pressure,’ says Lou.

‘It was just by accident that I was in a different CrossFit box to where I normally trained, I was approached by the weightlifting coach who invited me along to a session.

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‘I went along and about four weeks later I did my first competition, and I won. Four weeks after that, I did my first European competition and I came third.’

Olympic-style weightlifting, Lou explains, is a sport in which athletes compete in lifting a barbell loaded with weight plates from the ground to overhead, with each athlete attempting to lift the heaviest weights.

‘My job and my sport are two different levels of pressure, but I’ve always been into sport,’ she says.

‘I love to train, but I also love to compete. I’ve always competed and I enjoy the pressure of competition, and there are definitely transferable skills.’

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Lou maintains that both her profession as a radiographer, and her love for Olympic weightlifting, are not as far removed as some may think.

Discipline and accountability play key roles in both trades.

‘I train six days a week and I make it happen. My sessions are two-three hours in length, training for three hours after work is hard. You’ve done a long day at work, so I split my session.

‘I get up and do half before I come to work, and the other half when I get home.

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‘No one’s going to make me train, that’s on me, but I also have to be accountable at work for my own decisions that I’m making,’ she says.

Lou is spurred on by her love of the sport, as well as the benefits she knows it has on her wellbeing.

‘It keeps me physically fit and able to do my job, but for your mental health you need to have a way to switch off from work otherwise it becomes all consuming,’ she says.

Not only has the sport helped Lou maintain her mental and physical health day-to-day, it has also helped boost her self confidence. And as someone involved in sport from a young age, she knows all too well that this has not always been the case.

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‘I’ve always been fairly sporty, I was a gymnast from the age of five,’ she says.

‘It is very much a sport where you have to be a certain size and there was huge pressure for that reason,’ she adds.

At the age of 17, after 12 years of training in the sport, Lou injured her back doing a somersault.

‘That kind of took me out of the game, you’re an old gymnast at that point,’ says Lou.

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‘But [weightlifting] is one of those sports, which is weird in the world of sport, where your body shape and size? No one cares.’

Lou says that the positive outlook on body image is not what drew her to the sport, but is one of the many aspects which has made her fall in love with it.

‘No one cares if you weigh 45 kilos or 145 kilos. That whole stigma that most of us have grown up with in life, where you have to look a certain way and you have to have a certain body shape, doesn't apply to weightlifting.

‘It’s purely about what your body can do and using your body for what it’s designed for, which I think is a really positive aspect of the sport, ’ says Lou.

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Olympic-style weightlifting involves two main lifts – the snatch, in which the barbell travels from the floor to overhead in one movement, and the clean and jerk, where athletes take the barbell from the floor to the shoulder, and from the shoulders to overhead.

Lou’s current personal bests stand at 76 kilos for her snatch, and 98 kilos for her clean and jerk. And she’s not finished yet.

‘I just love the challenge that the sport gives me, it’s such a technical sport so you're always learning but the coaches at the club make it enjoyable.

‘One goal that I haven’t achieved yet is World Champion, and I’d quite fancy a few more European records!

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‘I’ve got no intentions of retiring any time soon, we’ve got people in the club in their sixties and they're an inspiration to see them still lifting at that age.

‘When I competed at the English Championships in October, I was competing with girls 20 years younger than me. While I can still maintain those standards, I’ll happily stay in the sport.’

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