Home Weight Lifting The Weight of Injury Won’t Defeat Megan Signal

The Weight of Injury Won’t Defeat Megan Signal


LockerRoom Series

Forced out of the Tokyo Olympics on the day of her competition, Megan Signal has become adept at dealing with the heartbreak of injury – while trying to inspiring others – she tells Merryn Anderson in part 9 of our Out Into the Open series.

No one moment defines Megan Signal as an athlete. 

Not the knee injury that denied her the chance to compete at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Not her selection for Tokyo, her first Olympic Games. 

Not even her withdrawal on the morning of her competition at those Games – because of a last-minute shoulder injury – characterises who the 31-year-old weightlifter is. 

The idea of ‘no defining moments’ came from her coach Simon Kent early in their journey together.  

Signal had already worked through a string of lows and injuries in her career and the idea instantly resonated with her.  

“Our journey is ever-evolving, ever-changing, and it doesn’t matter whether you make it to your goal or not, there is no moment that defines who you are,” she says.  

Knowing her identity, not only as an elite athlete but also outside of weightlifting, helped Signal to not lose her sense of self when she was forced to withdraw from the women’s 76kg competition in Tokyo.  

“I’m in a space where I’m so grateful for all the work my coach has done with me over the last three years, because it was really quite surprising when this all happened. Even though from the outside looking in, there were lots of tears and I was struggling, I was genuinely okay,” says Signal.  

“I knew I was okay because we had made sure we had multiple conversations around my identity as an athlete, but also as a daughter, a sister, an aunty, a coach, a business owner – all of these other incredible things.” 

Megan Signal trains in her home gym in the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympics. Photo: Rob Ford. 

The morning of July 29, when Signal was due to fly to Tokyo to compete in her first Olympic Games, she dislocated her left shoulder at her final training in Auckland. 

“It had been niggly the few days prior, but because of the close proximity to the competition day, we didn’t really know anything about the injury. We didn’t know what was achievable and what wasn’t,” Signal says.  

Resting her shoulder, Signal knew things weren’t looking good when it dislocated a second time – this time with very little force while on a massage table.  

Then the night before her first competition lift in Tokyo, Signal told Kent: “Every part of my body is telling me ‘please don’t do this’.”  

Kent told her he was supportive of whatever decision she made, and ultimately, Signal opted to withdraw.  

“It was really important for me personally that we exhausted all our options before we withdrew. I can honestly say we tried everything,” she says.  

“I was trying to fight against it, but there comes a point where you have to listen.” 

Signal and her coach Simon Kent work on the mental side of the sport just as much as the physical. Photo: Warren Davie, Photofitt

Listening to her body and not overtraining is a challenge Signal is now facing in her recovery. Having to wait until New Zealand moved to Level 3 to have surgery, she’s only just been able to start seeing a physio in person.  

A fortnight ago, she got the all-clear from her surgeon to remove her sling, safety bar squat and jump, all while keeping her elbow tucked by her side. 

“Training for me is something I genuinely love doing and it’s a real pivotal part in keeping me mentally happy,” she says. “I genuinely love it so it’s hard for me to stop, especially through lockdown.” 

With no family or friends in Tokyo with her, Signal had the full support of the New Zealand weightlifting team throughout her injury. Lifters Cameron McTaggart, David Liti and Kanah Andrews-Nahu and coaches Tina Ball, Richie Patterson and Kent were all staying in the same apartment with her.  

She was concerned sharing news of her withdrawal with the team would negatively affect them, with Liti and Andrews-Nahu yet to compete. But McTaggart comforted her, saying they were there to support her journey as much as she was there to support them competing.  

“I knew I had them to lean on while I was over there and that was a huge relief for me, because I really was worried about bringing them down when I wanted to see them thrive,” says Signal, who told the team through a lot of tears.  

“That was a big, really comforting moment while we were over there, prior to telling the rest of the world I was withdrawing.” 

Returning from Tokyo without having competed, Signal experienced a range of emotions in her MIQ stay – a high being her letter from the New Zealand Olympic team. It had her official Olympian number on it – New Zealand Olympian #1493.  

“Each day was different. It was a long mourning process for me and I’d wake up some days and feel completely fine; I’d wake up other days and really not know what to do with myself and cry on my pillow for hours on end.” Signal is able to laugh about that two-week period now. 

Having suffered multiple injury setbacks near pinnacle events, Signal insists her goal-setting process hasn’t changed. Instead she’s changing the way she looks at her goals, so she doesn’t miss what’s in front of her.  

“I don’t look as far ahead anymore, and that’s not to say I’m scared to,” she says. “It’s just to say I know from experience that nothing is promised.  

“Even though the goals are still there – Paris 2024 is still there, next year’s Commonwealth Games are still there – I don’t get any closer to them by putting my blinkers on and gunning for that one qualifier or one competition. For me, I get there by staying a lot more present in my day-to-day and making sure I’m doing what I need to in my day-to-day. 

“I’m still a dreamer, I’m always going to be a dreamer and I love dreaming big. But I’m also a realist. I know injuries happen, I know things out of my control happen and it’s just about accepting that and dealing with that as it comes. But in the meantime, keep dreaming and I’ll just keep chipping away day by day.” 

Signal’s vulnerability and openness on social media aligns with her goals to inspire the younger generation.  

“I’ve had such a good response from people in terms of how it’s helped them. And for me, weightlifting is incredible but it’s not everything,” explains Signal. 

“There’s more to the journey I’m going through than just being able to lift big weights. A big part that’s really important to me is being able to inspire and help.” 

Megan Signal competing at the 2019 world weighlifting championships. Photo: supplied. 

Signal’s advice to anyone going through an injury is to continue showing up for themselves mentally, and not playing the comparison game.  

“Being able to determine when you’re comparing yourself to where someone else is in their injury, when you’re choosing to wallow, when you’re staying down for too long – you have to be aware of when that’s happening so you can pick yourself up,” she says.

Signal also encourages people to reach out if they need help, knowing what it’s like to be stressed and upset.  

“Be a lot more aware of the good things that are happening around you, the progress you’re experiencing, the love people are giving you, the support and help they’re giving you,” she says.  

“Be really grateful for that and just living happier, living lighter – that helps your recovery process.” 

At the end of February next year, Signal has the chance to make the cut for the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games in a local qualifier. But her focus for now remains on recovery.  

“It’s almost more important for me to have four more years of national championships and if I’m lucky, world champs if my body’s still good. That’s more important for me than trying to push to get back for one competition,” she says.  

“I do this because I love it, so I want longevity over one pinnacle event.” 

Despite every setback on her journey, Signal remains positive and credits much of that to her holistic approach to life as an athlete.  

“I hope that through all of this, in some way, shape or form, what happened to me and the fact that I’m okay and I’m able to keep trucking on is an example of how the conversation and the narrative can change with high performance and elite athletes,” she says.   

“So that when things like this happen, because they do happen all the time, our athletes – who are also humans – are okay.”  

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