01 December 2023

SportsAid's One-to-Watch Award shortlist: Isabella Brown

When weightlifter Isabella Brown sets herself a target, rarely does she settle for anything less than exceeding expectations. The 19-year-old from Ashford, Middlesex was an acrobatic gymnast for 10 years before finding more sporting fulfilment through CrossFit training. 

Isabella Brown

The University of Nottingham student stumbled upon her talent for lifting the bar and, after being encouraged by her coaches, entered her first competition in 2019, breaking British records. Four years later, the country’s second-best female weightlifter has now been shortlisted in the top 10 for SportsAid’s prestigious One-to-Watch Award.

The annual Award, launched in 2006, recognises Britain’s brightest young sporting prospects and has previously been won by Olympic champions Tom Daley and Alex Yee and Paralympic gold medallist Hollie Arnold.

The top 10 athletes have been selected from around 1,000 rising stars, supported by SportsAid, across more than 60 different sports in 2023.

“It feels great to be nominated,” said Bella. “I remember always being on the cusp with gymnastics, but I didn’t want to quit because I loved the sport. 

“I had a bit of a hard time in it though, and as I started getting into my teenage years, it made me realise that it wasn’t worth the stress. 

“I’m a weightlifter, I’m built to weightlift, and they want you to look a certain way because they think if you look that way, you’ll perform better which isn't really the case. 

“In some ways, I wouldn’t be weightlifting without gymnastics, even though it wasn’t particularly nice at the time, but there’s no way I would be the athlete I am today if I didn’t go through that.” 

Bella still competes at junior level and claimed a career highlight bronze earlier in the year at the European Junior Championships. 

But when it comes to senior domestic level, all that stands between her and British champion status is established Olympian, World Championship silver medallist and sisterly mentor Sarah Davies. 

A member of the Commonwealth Games squad, Bella is on the cusp of senior greatness as medalling heights seem inevitable in years to follow on the world stage. 

“With Sarah Davies, I’d describe her as my older sister,” she said. “I joked with her “oh, you stole my medal,” because if she wasn’t at British Senior Championships or competing in my weight class because she didn’t want to cut, I would've won. 

“It’s good to see someone there that I look up to and I think it’s an achievable goal. I want to be better than her and I always say that to her. 

“I will get there, I’m new to the sport and I’m still young.

“Seeing people like her, someone who has medalled at World Championships, it is a goal that I can achieve, and I’ve just got to keep working at it and it will pay off.” 

It has certainly been a busy year for the teenager, who tackled moving away from home to university alongside her training and an unwavering commitment to her University Army Reserve Unit. 

Bella, who stressed the importance of balance, has realised what matters most to her over the past 12 months and admits it has been a challenging year. 

“I did struggle with trying to find that balance in my first year but now I’ve realised that what I do in weightlifting is a priority and that was a big thing I had to overcome,” she explained. 

“I want to join the army when I leave university and go to Sandhurst and do my officer training too. 

“It’s a challenge that is like sport, you constantly must push yourself to be better. It’s indirectly linked to the army; you constantly must better yourself. 

“I think it’s really important to have something away from weightlifting, for an elite athlete it can be quite overwhelming.” 

Alongside life in the army, Bella, who received her SportsAid support from the Backing The Best programme this year, will find the time and commitment to take her training to new heights with an ultimate target of making an Olympic Games appearance at LA 2028. 

The rapid rise of her upward trajectory makes the History student even more ambitious with just one year left of competing at junior level, and she will stop at nothing to one day earn a spot on an Olympic podium. 

“I’d like to try and get on the podium which, with hard work, will be achievable. 

“I’d also like to make a senior team next year and win gold at the Europeans and medal at the junior worlds next year.”

SportsAid’s annual One-to-Watch Award is backed by Royal Bank of Canada – a long-standing supporter of the charity celebrating 10 years of partnership in 2023. The winner of this year’s Award will be revealed in December with each of the top 10 receiving cash boosts and special in-person visits at their training environments to celebrate their achievements.    

Photo Credit – with thanks to British Weight Lifting