Nurse's stellar rise in aerial artistry and weightlifting

ABOVE and RIGHT: Alyce Stephenson and her twin sister, Emma, performing their aerial act.
ABOVE and RIGHT: Alyce Stephenson and her twin sister, Emma, performing their aerial act.

THERE aren't too many people in Ipswich that can claim to have hobbies as varied at Alyce Stephenson.

By day, the 26-year-old works as a nurse in surgeries, as if that doesn't deliver enough stories to tell at the next barbie.

By night, Alyce splits her time between performing as one half of an aerialist duo and flogging herself to the point of exhaustion in the hope of making next year's Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

Performing alongside her twin sister, Emma, who is also a nurse (twins think alike), Alyce has performed all over the state, and even overseas in the disciplines of duo lyra (working in a ring suspended high in the air) and tissu (hanging and performing on a long piece of fabric hanging from the roof).

Talking to Alyce about her passions, its clear she loves what she does, as she explained how she fell in what with what most of us would call "circus performance".

"Emma and I went on a cruise about seven years ago and saw this performed on the ship and we thought it was really cool," she said. "At that time, we didn't do any sport so thought we'd give it a go. So, we signed up and did it in New Farm, next door to the Powerhouse.


Alyce Stephenson hopes to qualify for the Commonwealth Games weightlifting team this month. COURTESY GARY HUNTRESS PHOTOGRAPHY.
Alyce Stephenson hopes to qualify for the Commonwealth Games weightlifting team this month. COURTESY GARY HUNTRESS PHOTOGRAPHY.

"While learning our skills, someone spotted us and liked the fact we were twins. She turned out to be an agent and we started doing work for her. She still gets us gigs all over the place.

"We've performed at the Workshops, SeaWorld, Movie World, at the Outback Festival in Quilpie and even went to Taiwan for a show."

For the past two years the sisters have been honing their craft, right up until Alyce realised she needed a lot more strength than she possessed to make it work

"To be honest, at the start, we started teaching ourselves. It's amazing what you can fine online and we spent hours and hours practising.

"I love doing it with my sister, its great fun, plus it's different, and people don't see stuff like that all the time.

"I'm not a creative person but it's the one outlet that I am. At the start, we realised we needed body strength to do it, so we both hit the gym hard and I got in to CrossFit. "Before then we couldn't even pull ourselves up to the top of the ribbon."

It was when she was doing CrossFit that Alyce discovered weightlifting and, these days, it's all she thinks about. Throwing herself into the sport, Alyce this month will head off to the biggest event of her life so far and, if she can win her weight category, will represent her country at the Commonwealth Games.

If you're wondering what it takes to get to that level, strap yourself in because this isn't for the faint hearted.

"It was only about two years ago I started weightlifting competitively and concentrating on lifting plus my technique. I took up CrossFit and, to be honest, I was sick of being the weak one all the time. It was frustrating for me that I wasn't good at it. So, I focussed on getting better, and getting good, which involved surrounding myself with people who lift weights."

Alyce recently had a body scan to see where she was sitting with her muscle mass. The results shocked her.

"Currently I weigh 50kg and about 45kg of that is muscle. I've always been little and I wanted to gain muscle so to say I'm happy with my training is an understatement.

"I committed myself to eating healthy, training hard and getting help with my diet," Alyce said.

"Even though I'm 50kg, I eat a lot...on average six times a day. Most people would think it's terribly boring, as I eat the same things most days, including lots of protein and carbs.

"I still don't see myself as strong but, despite that, my coach put me in a couple of local comps and I was Queensland champion at 53kg. My coach asked me how I felt about going down to 48kg and giving it a crack.

"I didn't want to drop weight, as I didn't think I could, but a sports dietician helped me and I've done four different weight caps now."

The former St Mary's College student trains six times a week, most days lifting much more than her own body weight over her head and in the back of her mind sits one get Ipswich to the Commonwealth Games.

"I like weightlifting because I enjoy the training, especially that hard slog part of it." Alyce said.

"There's something really satisfying about pushing your body to the limit, to get to that point of exhaustion. I just enjoy it, and you can see the improvement in your body, because everything you do is measurable.

"If you don't do the hard work, you don't get the results and I'm now competitive by nature. I'm also a perfectionist, like my aerial work, and I always want to get my technique right. I wake up every day and first thing that comes to mind is going training.

"I even dream about it. Does that make me obsessed?

"This is the biggest goal I've ever set and getting to the games is within reach because it actually is a reality. I've worked my butt off this year and I have no excuses. I train, I eat right and my husband is super supportive.

"I know that if I don't do it, someone else will and that's what drives me."

Alyce has taken the attitude that she must give this thing 100% or she will regret it for the rest of her life, and this positive outlook makes her the person she is.

"No matter what happens, I must look back on this time and say I gave it my absolute best and that's what pushes me every day...having the chance to represent my country would be the highlight of my life.

"The time is now. I want to take the opportunity I've been given. To make the games and win a medal would be the ultimate reward. I've done everything I can to get there so let's see what happens."