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Power base is built on a strong sense of family

They are a tight-knit bunch at the Kilmarnock Amateur Weightlifting Club.

Members of close-knit Ayrshire club aiming to make Commonwealth Games in numbers
Members of close-knit Ayrshire club aiming to make Commonwealth Games in numbers

The camaraderie and companionship would make The Waltons look like a dysfunctional unit. In the merry midst of all the heaving, straining, huffing and puffing is the father figure of Chick Hamilton, the experienced, inspiring coach who seems to have carried more weight than Atlas during 35 years of dedication to the sport he loves.

"I lift every weight with them," the 49-year-old said as the countdown to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow continues to tick and tock in the background. "We had a sign up in the gym one time which said it was 140 weeks until the Games; now it's only 15 or something. Some of kids look up and say 'Christ, it that all that's left to go?'."

This weekend, Hamilton and his extended "family" will be in Anniesland for the Commonwealth Trials. For the likes of Peter Kirkbride, the Ayrshire Olympian who won Commonwealth Games silver in 2010, and the effervescent Georgi Black, the 2014 Games have already been scribbled into the diary.

For others, there is still a blank space in the schedule. The meeting in Anniesland is another stepping stone towards the summer showpiece but those stepping stones are running out.

The British Senior Weightlifting Championships in Coventry next month will be the final opportunity for those who are on the outside of the qualifying mark to hoist themselves inside it.

"We have four from the club already in but we have a great family down here and we want to get them all there," said Hamilton, who represented Scotland at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Canada.

"We've been together for a long time and nobody wants to be left out. Craig Carfray is only two kilos away from qualifying so let's hope he can do it on the day. Dale Cree is seven or eight kilos away. The Games might be too soon for him. But that might be in my eyes, not his."

Hamilton knows from experience how it feels to miss out on the big party, having come up short in his bid to make the 1990 Games in Auckland. "I missed out by five kilos, so it was a four-year slog to get to Canada the next time," reflected Hamilton, who was introduced to weightlifting as a teenager by the celebrated Bill Higgins, a former prisoner of war who set up the Kilmarnock club in 1950. "It took a while to shrug off that disappointment but I just made sure I would get there."

An honest, hard-working and straight-talking kind of fella, Hamilton is determined to ensure all those under his wing make the most of their opportunities. A strong work ethic and a good dollop of humility are the traits he likes to see shining through.

"Weightlifting kept me on the right road if you know what I mean," he added. "It gave me focus . . . and a good focus. I grew up in a big family. We didn't have much. I'll maybe have to say to some of the guys 'why were you not in the gym?' and they'll say 'oh, I didn't have the bus fare, my mam didn't give me the money'.

"I tell them I had to run three or four miles into Kilmarnock to go the gym when I started. I try to make them hardier. We also keep it low key. You can create someone that they are not. They can become big-headed and they can come out of the tight circle. We have 40 lifters in the gym and no-one is bigger than the club."

This sense of family is at the core of Hamilton's approach. Everybody is in it together and working towards the ultimate goal.

"People don't see what the likes of Georgi and Peter have gone through over the years to become a Games athlete," he said. "It's hard to go to the gym to do weightlifting every day. As a coach, it's knowing when to push and when to take our foot off the pedal.

"If someone is down one night we make up for it the next night. We take them for a beer or take them for something to eat.

"You need someone to share the highs and the lows and that's what the club does. The family will always be there."

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