British Powerlifter with Down Syndrome Serves as Inspiration After Double Gold Win


A British powerlifter proved that despite the odds thrown at him, he can do anything if he sets his mind into it.

Dan McGauley won two gold medals in both the raw and equipped bench press in the European Bench Press Championship held in France. Competing in the under 59kg weight category, Dan benched 154 lbs. (70 kg) raw and 198 lbs. (90 kg) equipped—meaning with a weight belt and gloves.

The 33-year-old has Down Syndrome and was born with a heart condition. He also has autisim and is deaf in his left ear. For someone who was told that he’d “never achieve anything,” he’s now representing his country at many events.

The amazing thing about Dan is he inspires able bodied lifters as well as people with disabilities. —Judith, Dan McGauley’s mother

His mother, Judith, recalls, “We were told he wouldn’t walk, he wouldn’t talk. He wouldn’t go to school, he wouldn’t achieve anything.”

Dan underwent two rounds of open-heart surgery when he was only two years old. Judith revealed, “They didn’t want to do his heart surgery because they said he’d never make any valuable contribution to society.”

He was already a world champion, four-times Commonwealth champion, and British champion, before his European debut earlier this month. His latest victory has been hailed as an inspiration for besting able-bodied athletes.

“Loads of people have said to us that they go to work and come home after a long day and it’s an effort to go to the gym,” said Judith, who is also into powerlifting. “But that they see Dan there, smiling and laughing despite all his problems, and it gives them the motivation they need.”

Like any mother, she is proud of her son’s achievements. “The amazing thing about Dan is he inspires able bodied lifters as well as people with disabilities.”

Dan’s sport even inspired her to take up the sport, train and compete. Judith has won first place in her age category at games in Canada and South Africa, and bagged silver and gold medals during the European Championship.

When Dan describes the sport, he makes it sound so easy and effortless. “I just pick it up and then put it down, safety man says ‘down’, and that was absolutely marvelous,” he said in an interview.

Judith said if given the option, her son would spend 24 hours a day in the gym. “He’ll say that this is his happy place.”

She believes Dan’s autism is a factor for him to enjoy powerlifting because of repetition. “When he’s powerlifting, he likes carrying out the same routine over and over again – it comes naturally to him. When he’s underneath the bar that bar doesn’t know him from anyone else – there is no distinction made because he’s got problems.”

Dan’s trainer Kitty Burroughs had nothing but praise for the young athlete for his perseverance and who doesn’t let his disability hinder him from reaching his goals.

“Dan is very special because of his commitment to the sport. I think other people can just turn up and train at the gym. For him to come that often and work so hard, it’s much harder for him to just turn up and work that hard on the platform.”

Judith is grateful for the love and support Dan gets. “He’s so respected all over the world because people know the training that goes into equip lifting – but it’s the discipline that he really enjoys,” she pointed out. “He is just a brilliant person. He loves the sport and everyone around him supports him doing it.”

Joyce Dimaculangan
Joyce Dimaculangan
Joyce has more than 15 years experience writing news, industry articles and blogs for the private and public sectors. Most of her career was spent writing technical documentation for a software company in the Philippines. She earned a B.A. in Communication Arts with a concentration in writing from the University of the Philippines, Los Baños. During her leisure time, Joyce pursues her interest in reading fiction and playing with her dogs. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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