Cheer on our heavylifter for God

My faith got me from a CrossFit club to a world stage

When Aussie weightlifter Suamili (Sua) Nanai found out he had been selected to compete in the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, his immediate response was to pray.

“We were training when the releasement came out … I just prayed to say thank you to God for allowing me this opportunity to present my gift to the world and to be able to praise his name with it,” Nanai revealed in a pre-Games interview with the Western Australian Institute of Sport (WAIS).

Nanai will compete this Thursday morning, August 4 (Australian time) – at 1.30am in his hometown of Perth and 3.30am in eastern states, streamed on 7plus. This 27-year-old gentle giant – who lifts in the super-heavyweight class, for those over 109kg – has only been a competitive weightlifter for three years.

“My faith is important. It doesn’t make it easy, but it makes everything possible.” – Suamili Nanai

Nanai – who originally hails from New Zealand – first took up weightlifting as a hobby and a means of keeping strong for his favourite sport: rugby union. Meanwhile, he continued to work full-time for the Royal Australian Navy as an instructor at the School of Maritime Warfare, based at HMAS Stirling naval base in Western Australia.

But then his coach from the navy encouraged Nanai to consider taking weightlifting more seriously.

“He just said, ‘Hey, you could probably do well if you took a program.’ And the whole weightlifting journey started then,” he told WAIS.

In his first competition in June 2019, Nanai qualified to compete at the Australian championships just a few months later. By the end of 2020, he was ranked number one in Australia in his weight class and tenth in the Commonwealth.


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Behind Nanai’s Commonwealth Games’ selection are his coaches – Jay Saxton and her husband, Andrew Saxton, who formerly competed internationally as weightlifters. As well as coaching, Jay is now also a technologies teacher at Regent College, a Christian primary school in Perth. She is one of the two coaches in Birmingham with the Australian weightlifting team.

Nanai credits his coaches with enabling him to reach an elite level in his sport.

“I’ve been blessed to have Andrew Saxton as my coach, who is a two-time Olympian and multiple Commonwealth Games competitor. So he’s actually walked the distance that I’m trying to walk.”

Suamili Nanai with coaches Andrew and Jay Saxton

WA weightlifter Suamili Nanai with coaches Andrew and Jay Saxton.  Photo: Regent College – used with permission Regent College/ Used with permission

As well as finding a mentor, his other hot tip for budding athletes is to “go to church and praise and do what I do!”

Nanai still made time for church in the lead-up to the Games, even during the final 12 weeks when he was training full-time, with two sessions a day.

“I volunteer a lot with my church, so we’re going to make sure that that balance is still always there,” he said in May.

“My faith is important,” Nanai continued. “It doesn’t make it easy, but it makes everything possible. That’s what’s helped me get through these last two years and got me from literally being a novice person lifting in a CrossFit club to now lifting on a world stage.”

While Nanai and his coaches have spent countless hours paving the way for a gold-medal performance at the Commonwealth Games, Nanai is clearly pinning his hopes on much more than his training. His repeated motto on social media says it all: “In God we trust.”