As Tia-Clair Toomey stepped off the medal dais, having won gold for Australia in weightlifting, the emotional turmoil she had been experiencing in the build-up to the Commonwealth Games began to hit home.
Toomey had entered the Games grieving the loss of her 17-year-old cousin Jade, who died following a car accident on the Sunshine Coast last week.
Amid the pain that had gripped her family she knew “she had a job to do” and that was winning the gold medal in the women’s 58-kilogram class.
But after that job was completed successfully with a dramatic victory at the Carrara Sports Arena on Friday night, the impact of losing someone so close to her made Toomey reflect on what really mattered most.
“As much as Jade was on my mind and the emotion was rolling, I knew that I needed to still stay focused to represent Australia to the best of my ability,” Toomey said.
“I made the decision not see family prior to the Games, so I was just solely focused on the Games.
“As soon as I saw my uncle and aunty and cousins, mum and dad, my grandparents… I think the emotions kind of just hit hard after I got off the dais last night.
“So, it was hard but what I’m going through is nothing compared to obviously what my uncle and aunty are going through right now.”
Toomey’s family is close knit and she enjoyed a tight bond with Jade and her twin sister Georgia.
The devastation of the loss of Jade was evident when Toomey met the media at the athletes’ village on Saturday morning, as at times she struggled to answer questions when overcome with tears.
“She’s going to be truly missed from myself and the family,” Toomey said.
“Last night was something that she was there with me and my family in spirit but I just really hope that she is proud of me.”
‘Life is so short’: Toomey puts Games win into perspective
As committed to her sports as Toomey is — the former track and field athlete is also the current CrossFit Games champion — the 24-year-old knows these endeavours are insignificant when compared to the grief being experienced by her family.
Tia-Clair Toomey IG: “And it’s over just like that. I didn’t get much sleep as I have just been thinking about what an incredible battle I had with the other ladies on the platform.”
“Going into the competition, obviously knowing about my cousin passing away and having her in the back of my mind, I was going out there to lift,” Toomey said.
“Because of that incident it kind of made me realise life is so short and you can’t take anything for granted, so lift as if it was the last lift and that’s kind of how I went into everything last night.”
It was Toomey’s final lift of the competition that clinched the gold medal, an effort of 114kg in the clean and jerk enough to pip Canada’s Tali Darsigny by one kilogram on the overall standings.
The Rio Olympian, who is based in Gladstone with her husband Shane where they own a gym, was proud she could perform under pressure, while crediting the support of her family as a key reason behind her triumph.
“A lot of my family members had never watched me lift prior to that live [in person],” Toomey said.
“So that was something that was probably gave me a little more momentum and gave me a little bit more hunger to go out there and just absolutely leave everything on the platform.
“It was a very special moment.”
Toomey, who regarded weightlifting as her “weakness” when she began CrossFit as a way of helping her track and field career in 2013, will now turn her attention to her other passion.
She is competing in the CrossFit Games in Madison in the United States later this year and is not looking too far beyond defending her title as the ‘fittest woman on Earth’.
More importantly, her immediate focus is joining her family to attend her cousin’s funeral on Monday and paying tribute to someone she loved so deeply.
“I know, obviously, being family and stuff, it’s a quite biased opinion,” Toomey said.
“But she was honestly one of the most kind, genuine little girls that was out there. She was one of those ones who was always there to help anyone who ever wanted a hand.”