History was made this year when Thammy Nguyen stepped up to the stage at the European Weightlifting Championships in Armenia and received a bronze medal in the 49kg division. Thammy is the first Irish athlete to ever win a medal for weightlifting (or “up-down” as her two kids call it) on the international stage.
Apart from weightlifting, the 26-year-old has many other accomplishments. Not only is she a professional athlete, but she is also a business owner, a wife and a mother of two - Lilly (aged 4) and Marc (aged 2).
Wondering what the definition of a superwoman is? Look no further.
THAM NGUYEN | MAKES HISTORY 🏋️♂️
Winning Ireland’s first ever medal at a senior weightlifting European Championships with bronze 🥉
Tham (49kg🇮🇪) with a 98kg Clean & Jerk 🏋️♂️#MakeADifference | #TeamIreland pic.twitter.com/iH2GkIczkg
— Team Ireland (@TeamIreland) April 16, 2023
Thammy immigrated to Ireland from Vietnam when she was six years old. She recalls how difficult it was when she and her father first arrived before her mother and younger brother (Nhat) followed a year later: “When I first came to Ireland, it was very daunting. I couldn't speak English and being the only Asian girl in the classroom, I felt like I didn't blend in.”
She is proud to share stories from her childhood as she notes how she learned the value of hard work and perseverance through her parents.
“My dad was working on €160 a week when we first arrived. And the rent was €120 a week. I don’t know how we managed.”
Thammy smiles as she remembers how her father’s interest in sport seemed to genetically pass down to herself and her brother. “I was always very active growing up, I did a lot of Irish dancing as well. That's probably how I got really strong legs!” she laughs.
She started attending the gym when she was 16. After sparking a conversation with a young woman who did CrossFit, Thammy joined a CrossFit gym. A coach at the gym noticed her performance and encouraged her to try weightlifting. Despite the stigmas attached to weightlifting (such as women become 'too bulky', it is a male-dominated sport, and so on), Thammy recalls how she was never bothered by the weightlifting stereotypes. After her first competition, she qualified for the Junior European Championships - becoming the first female athlete to represent Ireland at this competition.
When she was 20, Thammy opened her first eyelash salon, Thammy Lash, to fund her weightlifting training. Without additional funding, she found it more difficult to reach her goals in her sport. As her business continued to boom, she decided to focus on her entrepreneurial skills fulltime. In the years that followed, she opened another eyelash salon, launched a clothing brand (Complx Wear), got married, opened a CrossFit gym with her husband Mark Gough, and had two kids.
Meanwhile, Nhat had become an elite badminton player and went to represent Ireland at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. After seeing her brother with Team Ireland at the opening ceremony, Thammy remembered the goal she had set for herself many years ago.
Nhat Nguyen - Irish Olympian, and number 32 in the World in Badminton alongside Tham Nguyen - Ireland’s first ever medalist at a senior weightlifting European Championships. #Family #UpTheNguyens pic.twitter.com/03cc80qidb
— AllIrishSport (@AllIrishSport) April 16, 2023
“When he (Nhat) walked out of the opening ceremony, it hit me - one of my first goals was to qualify for the Olympics and I felt disheartened because I had not achieved that goal. So I said to husband, I want to go back to training and qualify for the Olympics. Do you think I could make it? Without hesitation, he responded saying: Yeah, I believe you can do it.”
With the help from Nhat’s badminton coach, she was able to find a weightlifting coach, Faizal Baharom, who had represented Malaysia at the 2004 Olympic Games. Thammy had nothing but positive things to say about her coach, whom she greatly respects and appreciates.
Heading back into competing would not be an easy task. Thammy had not competed for almost 7 years and she had just had a baby eight months prior. She had gained 20kg on each pregnancy and her pelvic floor had stretched to the point where she had to wear an adult nappy when competing.
“When women have babies, their bodies change and, unfortunately, the pelvic floor stretches, so it is harder to keep pee in. It is an embarrassing topic to talk about, but it shouldn't be. When you lift, there is an awful lot of impact on your body, especially when you clean and jerk, there is a lot of impact around the pelvic floor," she explained to Extra.ie.
"So rather than just be standing on the stage, having peed myself, I looked at wearing a nappy. It's just the reality and it's not something to be ashamed about.”
While Ireland exploded at the news of Thammy winning bronze at the European Championships, behind the scenes, she noted how emotional she was after winning the medal.
“I had a lot of personal and business problems before the European Championships that no one knew about. I felt like giving up many, many times before the competition because I was putting so much into training, financially and physically, and I felt like I was not seeing any rewards. Mentally, I was so fatigued."
"Only my husband Mark knew what had been going on and he knew how much the medal meant to me. I don't know where I'd be without him.”
Despite making history, Thammy showed her unwavering determination noting that the achievement was just another step towards her ultimate goal.
“My goal is the Olympics. And that hasn't been achieved yet.”
Olympic weightlifting consists of two lifts — the snatch and the clean and jerk — and scores are a combination of your best lift in each. She currently lifts a total of 173kg and she needs 183kg to qualify for the Olympics.
As it stands, she is in the world's top 20. With four competitions to go before the announcement of the qualified athletes, she is confident that her continued progress will book her a ticket to the Paris Games.
While Thammy has received €3000 after the competition from the Olympic Federation of Ireland through the Make A Difference fund, her odyssey toward Paris is still largely self-funded. Thammy has never received any funding since she started weightlifting, which highlights how deep her passion for the sport is.
“I have never gotten paid to do weightlifting. Other than the €3000 I received - which went towards my training camp over in Budapest - all these weightlifting expenses, including my own personal coach, I cover using my personal savings.”
Weightlifting in Ireland is considered to be an underdeveloped sport and receives around €55,000 per year to fund approximately 600 athletes. The board members are volunteers and do work for weightlifting in their spare time.
Thammy hopes to see more recognition and financial support be given to Weightlifting Ireland in the near future. As an athlete in a male-dominated sports, she also hopes to see women athletes receive more attention.
"Women in sports is booming at the moment but I feel like women's recognition and funding isn't being raised up to the same level as men in sports. That needs to change."
As dedicated as the bubbly Dubliner is to weightlifting, her love for motherhood is very clear. She credits her ability to juggle parenting and training to having a great support system.
𝐓𝐡𝐚𝐦𝐦𝐲 𝐍𝐠𝐮𝐲𝐞𝐧, who gave up competing for nearly seven years to start a business and a family, was in floods of tears after winning Ireland’s first ever European Championships medal in senior weightlifting 🏋️♀️
Read more 👇https://t.co/e9SEhpv6vq#MakeADifference |…
— Team Ireland (@TeamIreland) April 17, 2023
"I owe my thanks to my friends and family and especially to my parents and my husband, for their support on this journey so far. I'm grateful to my coach for leaving Malaysia to come over here and leaving his family to pursue my dreams. And also, to all the volunteers in weightlifting Ireland. I hope to be able to give back to the weightlifting community through this exposure."
Watching her brother’s consistency and dedication to his training, alongside her desire to set an example of fearlessness and diligence to her kids, motivates her to reach her goal.
Thammy's inspiring story proves that women are capable of more than they might think. She continues to encourage women and young girls to take part in sport.
"Sports is such a powerful thing and it's very good to try and push women into staying active. It shouldn't be considered a masculine thing to be training."
"If you want to get more fit or involved in training, or you have a goal you want to achieve and you haven't achieved it, put the hard work in and go and achieve your goal - because nobody else is going to achieve it for you."