Siobhán goes from Britain’s strongest woman to powerhouse PhD researcher

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When it comes to brains and brawn, University of Northampton researcher Siobhán Hyland is tough to beat.

The 30-something from Northampton, who was once Britain’s Strongest Woman, now splits her time between competitive weightlifting and delving into the backgrounds of Nazi war criminals.

Siobhán’s in the thick of her PhD, which looks at Nazi war criminals who came to live in Britain after the Second World War and the Searchlight anti-fascist group which wanted to expose them living on our shores.

When she’s not hitting the books, Siobhán spends her time training, competing in and coaching Olympic weightlifting – and she’s found it’s the perfect release after spending hours researching the lives of war criminals.

“As a historian we are taught to look at things objectively and with a critical eye,” said Siobhán.

“But, a day looking at genocide photographs can be tough, so getting into the gym and throwing some weights around does really help.”

She added: “I went to watch the 2012 Olympics in London and watched the 87kg+ women Olympic weightlifters and was impressed. I decided to take up the sport to de-stress from my PhD and I have used it for my well-being ever since.”

Siobhán picked up a medal in her first national competitive outing in the sport, taking bronze at the virtual British Olympic Weightlifting Championships, this summer. The achievement’s even more impressive, given the disruption the pandemic has had on her training regime. 

“In lockdown I had to find places to train as the gym was closed,” she said. “I did have my coaching sessions via Zoom, but I needed a venue. I used my garden, my conservatory and the local garden centre very kindly let me use their car park out of hours. I am glad no one was there to see me.”

Siobhán, who is a vegan, has previously held the titles of Britain’s Strongest Woman, Highland Games Champion, and was also a World Strongwoman Championship competitor.

She said: “I remember going to my gym, Unit 22 in Northampton, and asking for a coaching session in Olympic weightlifting. The coach kept asking me whether I had lifted before, and as he put more and more weights on, I said I hadn’t, but I was the strongest woman in Britain!”

“It just goes to show that you are never too old to start a new sport,” said Siobhán, who competes in the masters age group (35-39) and the 87kg+ women’s class.  

“If you have determination, drive and commitment you can do it. That goes for a PhD as well. The latest Olympics in Tokyo showed there were more female lifters in the British squad, so Olympic weightlifting is getting more popular with women, and I would recommend any student to try it.”