What does it take to climb a mountain of adversity as a child, to find yourself as an adult in a place of complete devastation? Sitting with the realisation you are deeply unhappy. ..
Words: Kirsten Macdonald
For one Australian woman, the decision to alter her life would carry an enormity and bring challenges she could never conceive of. The outcome? She has become the embodiment of grit, positive change and possibility.
Life was about to change dramatically.
“As a teenager, I would walk down the street with my friends, who were all thin. People would approach and look at me first; I always told myself it was because I was the fat one.”
“I always felt different from my friends, the outsider because of this. It is interesting though isn’t it? What we believe to be true, because those friends, my best friends to this day also had their own self-beliefs and insecurities. But at the time, my feeling of alone was big. People would look at me, and I always felt it was because of my size.”
The root cause of her attachment to food was forged in emotional distress, comfort eating and resentment eating. A toxic trio that would create difficulty in her life. “There were adults in my life who constantly told me I was fat and lazy, so I believed it, and ate to rebel and in spite.”
“I knew that not only would I have to make a total body transformation, but a total mind change. I started to see things so much clearer, I was abundantly aware of the mistakes I had made, both physically and mentally. I had two young children, I couldn’t go on being so unhappy, pretending to the outside world that my life was fantastic, hiding my tears, dreading that car ride home from work, back to that unhappy house, which was supposed to be a home.”
“But isn’t home where you should feel safe? You should be able to express yourself without concern of the consequences? I didn’t have a home, I was in a house, I was simply treading water, and I couldn’t stand it one more minute. My children are my world. You know the oxygen mask theory? You need the mask first so you can give the kids oxygen? So I left, I packed up my two children and drove away. I rented a house near their school and started living for myself again. I became a better person and a better mother because of that decision. My energy went just into my journey to health and that flowed through to my children.”
The dedicated mother had always enjoyed a passion for sport from a girl, and it was this that pushed her forward.
Bootcamp training, nutrition advice and a commitment to a gruelling transformation would fuel the next path Telia took.
“I started to focus on my love for weightlifting, training for a sport like that can be brutal. Training twice a day, 6 days a week. My children embraced my love for exercise, they would ride their bikes as I ran, they would come to training with me and sit quietly in the creche. Not once did they make me feel guilty about following my passion. They were proud of their mum, they would tell everyone at school that they had the strongest Mum in the world.”
The next step was competitive weight lifting. The last two years Telia returned home from the State Masters with a silver medal.
“Some would say that winning a silver was amazing. But for me, being second best in Queensland just wasn’t enough.”
In March 2018 Telia competed in the Queensland Masters Weightlifting Championships in Milton, Brisbane.
The trip to Melbourne for Nationals paid off.
“I achieved 6 out of 6 lifts, equal personal best. But do you know the best part, I won Silver! I didn’t come second, I won Silver! There’s a massive difference let me tell you. So do you know who I am? I’m second best in Australia for my age and weight category in Masters Weightlifting! I’m number one in Queensland, I’m the strongest mum in the world (according to my children.) But most of all; I’m happy. If people notice me now, its because of my hair, or something positive. My life is mine, no longer under the weight of so much.” The metaphor is not lost.
“I’d done everything right, trained hard, stuck to my diet, remained focused, I felt good. I couldn’t have done anymore more going into this meet. To be honest I don’t remember much about the day. I remember I was so focused, just took one lift at a time, didn’t think too far ahead, didn’t worry what the other lifters were doing, kept my mind clear from negative thoughts, those negative thoughts that were dragging me down for years.”
“I lifted in the snatch first, 3 out of 3 lifts, they were fantastic lifts and I was so damn proud of how I remained focused. I was equal first going into the Clean and Jerk, I knew what I had to do. When they announced that Telia Tonkin was Queensland Champion, I cried, I couldn’t control my emotions. For three long hard years I had wanted this so bad, and now it was mine! GOLD! Number one in Queensland! After I composed myself, I realised I had qualified from the National Champions in May to be held in Melbourne. I thought, you know what, I’m going to do this, bugger it! I’m going to represent my State at Nationals.” And so she did.
And you know what Ponderers? With cropped blonde hair, striking eyes and ornate tattoos, Telia is bold and edgy, funny and incredibly real. The attractive and tenacious woman is unapologetically her. The jokes come fast, and her brave and brutal honesty screams of an authenticity that is rare these days.
“One aspect I have noticed is that many people become so insecure about their partner making change, that they seem to get some satisfaction about making you feel guilty for putting yourself first every now and then. Or people who project their own stuff on you. Some people like to keep you in one space to make themselves feel good. This still baffles me. So many women stay in unhappy situations because they are afraid of the financial implications, they are afraid of being alone, all fear based.”
“Don’t lie to yourself, and act. Because the funny thing is, when you give yourself permission to find happiness, and seek it out- you are never alone because you find the most important person- yourself.”