Crossfit Rotorua weightlifter Anja Jennings is living proof that strength comes in all shapes and sizes.

It seems every time the 15-year-old takes to the lifting platform, records tumble.

Two weeks ago she competed in her first weightlifting event, the New Zealand Secondary School Championships, and broke the national records for both the snatch and the clean and jerk in the under-15, under-53kg girls' division.

Anja's performance qualified her to compete at the New Zealand Junior Olympic Weightlifting Championships, held in Auckland on Friday, where she beat both records again.


She lifted 53kg in the snatch and 64kg in the clean and jerk - both were 1kg increases on her previous records - and finished fourth in the open women's 53kg division, missing out on the podium by just 1kg.

Her coach, Crossfit Rotorua owner Munro Waerea, said it was an intense experience.

"When she finished all her lifts she was sitting in third place, but there were two other girls still vying for a podium spot. We had to sit and watch, waiting to see what would happen, but we were happy with her result regardless.

"Just to have that rush and seeing those other lifters realise 'oh, Anja is a threat', that was really cool to see. She was up against some veteran lifters who have been there, done that, with professional, experienced weightlifting coaches."

Another NZ record lift for the books! Beat her previous National record by 1kg taking it to 64kg. You're a champ Anja #FinishStrongRestLater #CFRallDay

Posted by CrossFit Rotorua on Thursday, 20 September 2018

Anja had to show mental strength, as well as physical, during the event. She failed her second snatch attempt of 52kg, which was equal with the record she already held, meaning her third and final lift was crucial. Despite the pressure, she still put the weight up a kilogram and successfully lifted it to break the record.

"You would think she'd been doing it for a long time. We had a big job to do, keeping her composed and just reassuring her all the time that she's capable. Building confidence was a really big part of competing, she's the most experienced lifter we've got now.

"She's pretty much created a pathway and carved it out for anyone else who wants to do the same," Waerea said.

Anja said she was annoyed when she missed her second snatch, but she "just knew" she had to get the third.


"I just had to slow down. The set-up on the one I missed was real fast. It was a relief to get the third one, I was really happy."

One of the highlights for Anja was meeting Commonwealth Games and Crossfit Games competitor Alethea Boon.

"It was real cool, just to be in her presence. After my snatch she came up and congratulated me on my records."

Crossfit Rotorua weightlifter Anja Jennings, 15. Photo / Stephen Parker
Crossfit Rotorua weightlifter Anja Jennings, 15. Photo / Stephen Parker

She has a lot in common with Boon, who represented New Zealand in artistic gymnastics at the 1998 and 2002 Commonwealth Games, before returning in 2018 as a weightlifter.

Anja is a former gymnast as well and when she started doing Crossfit her biggest weakness was weightlifting. An eagerness to dial in on and improve that weakness has seen her become one of the best young weightlifters in the country.

"Weightlifting was a hole in my overall performance, so i worked on it harder. I enjoy it, being able to lift more than my own body weight is pretty cool. Munz is an awesome coach, he encourages me heaps."

The ultimate dream for Anja is to represent New Zealand in weightlifting, although she also has her eye on a spot at the Crossfit Games, which she came to close to achieving this year.

She finished the Crossfit Open in the top 200 worldwide in the 14-15 age division which won her a spot in the online qualifier. The top 20 in that go to the Games. Anja finished 64th, which made her the best in New Zealand for her age group, but was not enough to make the Crossfit Games.