Australian Commonwealth Games weightlifter Eileen Cikamatana’s journey began with carrying pig feed

Eileen Cikamatana has been lifting weights since she was a kid, but not conventional weights.

The Australian citizen of Fijian origin grew up in a small village, where she helped her father with the shopping.

He had to take care of pigs, so naturally he needed a lot of pig food.

Cikamatana says she was close to her father growing up, as she did “boys’ work instead of girls’ work”.

At age 11, Eileen accompanied him in his truck, helped him deliver goods, then loaded 50-kilogram bags of meal mix onto the truck.

Cikamatana was born in Fiji but now splits her time between Sydney and Melbourne.(ABC: Michael Barnett)

She would also unload 50 kilogram gas cylinders for good measure.

So when a teacher asked her if she would like to try weightlifting, it was a no-brainer.

“When I started hearing about weightlifting, I thought it was only for boys until I saw girls from my island competing in the Olympics,” Cikamatana said.

“And then I was looking forward to trying the sport.”

Mind over matter

Once Cikamatana got involved in weightlifting, she was hooked.

And she says her mental toughness has been key to her success.

“When you start out, you get nervous and wonder if I can lift this weight or if I can’t,” she said.

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“That’s what drew me to the sport because it challenged me to break through my barriers and my fear.”

“In training, it’s your mind that takes over the body. And you have to really focus because you’re lifting weights.

“You really have to get into that relationship with yourself and the bar. Because the weights are dead weights, they don’t have feelings, but you do have feelings.”

Golden highs and post-Games depression

When Cikamatana was 15, she left home to move to New Caledonia, an established base for weightlifters in the Pacific region.

She really burst onto the international scene at the age of 18 when she won gold for Fiji at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

A woman lifts weights above her head.
Cikamatana has a breakthrough performance at Gold Coast 2018.(Getty Images: Dan Mullan)

It was an incredible high, but a low soon followed.

The Fiji Weightlifting Federation brought in a new coach who insisted she leave her training base in New Caledonia to return to Fiji.

Cikamatana knew it was not in her interest and she decided to follow her trainer Paul Coffa to Australia.

She received a Distinguished Talent visa, but the timing meant she would not be eligible to compete for Australia at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

It didn’t faze her.

“If I miss this one, we can always move on to the next one, which is 2024, and that’s our main goal,” she said.

“So I said (coach) Paul, ‘If I miss it to have a better future for me, I’ll go ahead because it’s a [once-in-a-lifetime] opportunity and I don’t want to miss it for the world.”

A female weightlifter shouts and punches her fist in celebration
Cikamatana is already looking towards the Paris 2024 Olympics. (Getty Images: Dan Mullan)

So she embarked on the move, settling in Sydney, but also spending a lot of time with Coffa in Melbourne.

“I’m proud of myself for how far I’ve come because I’m quite happy to adapt to the Australian way of life,” she said.

Birmingham golden goal

Cikamatana’s biggest outing to date as an Australian will come at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

A female weightlifter lifts a weight above her head.
Cikamatana is delighted to represent Australia at the Commonwealth Games.(Getty Images: Kelly Defina)

And having reached the peak four years ago, she intends to repeat the dose.

“It’s the greatest opportunity I’ve ever had, and for me, it’s a dream come true,” she said.

“Representing Australia in green and gold is just beyond my imagination.

“We are going for gold, nothing else.”

Cikamatana will compete in the women’s 87kg category on Wednesday, August 3 AEST.