Joyce Luke Interview

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At the age of 41, gym-owner and athlete, Joyce Luke is delighted about her renewed focus on her love of weightlifting.  After earning her CMS rank in both Olympic Weightlifting and Kettlebell Sport, she is proving to the world that lifting heavy loads can be a “joyful expression of a strong woman.”


Joyce Luke is the American record holder (68kg+ division) in the 20kg Biathlon as well as the 16kg and 20kg Snatch events.

Inspired by her recent achievements in dual weightlifting sports, ICKB Master of Sport World Class, Melissa Swanson, reached out to Joyce to find out more about her life experiences.  We are grateful to both of these powerful kettlebell athletes– here we learn not only of Joyce’s historic basketball achievements, but also of her master’s degree in sport psychology.  Enjoy!

Melissa: How did you get involved in kettlebell sport?

Joyce: I started playing with kettlebell sport in 2011 when I met kettlebell sport athlete, Henry Marshall in Austin, TX. I was inspired by the fact that Henry moved to Austin just to practice kettlebell sport and I was immediately hooked by the challenge, power, endurance, strength and grace kettlebell sport athletes displayed! So I took up any knowledge I could find starting with Valery Fedorenko and the World Kettlebell Club and –the Ice Chamber girls– very inspired by you guys!!  All of that led me to open conversations with national and international athletes and champions, Masters of Sport like Catherine Imes, Igor Morozov, and Denis Vasilev, Jeff Martone.  As a gym owner I was in a good position to learn and also share experiences with more people.

Melissa: We know you have a strong athletic background. Will you please share with us the various sports you have competed in?

Joyce: Ok I started weight training with my daddy when I was 8 and from there explored most every ball sport. So I think I tend to be naturally strong and whatever talent I had took a lot of work. I fell in love with basketball and it was pretty much my life –who I was– I played most of my life actually–all the way through professional level.

After an injury and considerable amount of burnout from the game I started coaching and Olympic weightlifting. I loved weightlifitng so much–I think because it is so aggressive, very technical and really just putting myself against myself. I took in a lot of solitude just chipping away putting the pieces together and really enjoying just me and the barbell. For me, olympic weightlifting is the kind of sport where training and competition can both blow your mind, really just take me to different levels –just the practice it takes physically and mentally– I love the challenge of the day to day practice and the challenge of pushing my limits in competition.

Melissa: You are a CMS in Olympic Weightlifting. Are there any parallels between that and kettlebell sport? Does one help you with the other, or vice-versa?

Joyce: I was so shocked when I went back on a weightlifting cycle after training kettlebell sport for about 6 months. After shaking off the technique cob webs–My lifts were solid and I hit personal bests really early! I have to think that the kettlebell is just an all around (I call it) nuts and bolts tightener. I would say that kettlebell sport does help me with my Olympic lifts–overall strength and shoulder integrity–yes! But not the other way around. I’ve found it much more difficult to get back on the kettlebell sport train after eliminating it for a weightlifting cycle. But that makes sense, it’s really about specificity and what I want to get out of it, right? And of course endurance takes longer to get back (and quicker to lose) than strength. These days I lean towards complete enjoyment out of all of my practice, really embracing the experience not as a do or die, but as a a joyful expression of me as a strong woman.


Recently I have combined both into my training to hold the lines–maintain, but both kind of suffer. Of course for any competition plans I focus on one. As far as parallels, well, I think mostly in the mental aspect. There’s a fundamental and obvious difference between heavy as hell (1 rep max) and going kind of heavy for as long as hell (10 minutes!) mentally and emotionally during both I have found myself in a similar dark place.  And I have also grown in many ways from my experience with both sports.

Melissa: What is your favorite kettlebell lift, and why?

Joyce: Snatch! It used to be a huge fight for me. I used to love jerks because they came easier for me, maybe it was the power aspect and as a beginner I could really muscle through jerks. But man I fought the snatch so much and didn’t even care about it. But I stayed on a program Denis Vasilev gave me and then one day I got it. Something I always tell students–let it come, let it happen. And it’s still happening, and I love it.


Melissa: Do you prefer to train alone or with a group?

Joyce: I prefer to train most often alone–I mean I find that’s just how it works out anyway too. I played team sports growing up, and even then I put in a ton of hours practicing alone, I love that feeling of my own mastery, distraction, toil!  There’s definitely a place for the group or partner training in my heart but I’m very particular sometimes what practice I’ll do in a group verses what I like to practice alone. And we’re talking about training here. I really love to exercise or play outside with other people.

Melissa: You always seem quite composed on the platform. Do you have a philosophy on competition? How do you keep yourself calm and ready?

Joyce: Oh man I haven’t thought of myself quite like that, but I definitely know that’s me.  I think immediately about a book I read and studied when I was about 14 –like in 1988 or so– called Basketball FundaMentals: a complete mental training guide (by Jay Mikes).  It’s funny to think about it but really– I have engrained imagery techniques, body rehearsal, reading my tension levels, breathing exercises, dealing with pressure and dealing with my emotions–all kinds of mental, emotional, and physical practice- It’s all in that book! Of course I’ve come a long way since then and have had many influences (actually my masters degree is in sport psychology) but essentially, for me I think it’s all about being prepared on as many levels as possible. Maybe my dad had a role in this too.

So my philosophy I think has always been master the skill and master myself.

A free throw, a max clean and jerk, the 7th minute turn around in a snatch set–so many opportunities for preparation!  I really have little control over a lot of things but through practice and experience I can at least look like I’m in control- HA! And, when all hell does break loose I get some more information to take into my next practice, onto the next field or court or platform! I’m so over being crushed or identified by my sport performance– I’m not attached to it as my identity as I had been before with basketball.

I can do all of this for no other reason than I like it and I enjoy it. When it becomes something else I can let it go. It’s very freeing after trying so hard to get somewhere for so long–and maybe even for no real reasons (to me or for me). So for me it is pure enjoyment, play, learning and mastering something new for the pure hell of it and joy of it and because I can.  I also enjoy hard work and making hard work look easy.  :)


Melissa: Who are your kettlebell mentors, and why?

Joyce: Catherine Imes is one–I think she was an early leader in the sport and was also key to my beginning. I think she has integrity and is very generous, sharing her experience and the early years of the sport here in the US -it made an impact on me to learn more and to start coaching. Then I was very fortunate to meet and learn from Igor Morozov too–I think he is a good teacher of the sport for me because he really took the time to go into deep programming theory which I love, especially the level of mastery to suit different people–body type, age, different lifting style. Igor really gave me a glimpse at mastery nuances that could be too much for some people but has provided years of information for me to go back to. Also I love Denis Vasilev. He is a gentle giant in the sport and his programming theory differs in that he really streamlined his template style program into simple steps.  He really makes a difference for me as an older athete and coach when it comes to sticking with a consistent type of mindful practice that may seem like not enough, but makes a huge impact over time.

Melissa: What is one of your greatest accomplishments in the sport, and what are your current goals?

Joyce: I think one of my greatest accomplishments in the sport is building and leading a team of lifters. This sport is still relatively new here and it definitely takes something to develop the sport–community, coaching, setting up a strong structure for the sport to succeed in Texas and the USA. I want to expand our team, share lifting, coach, and continue to host competitions. I’d like to achieve MS myself in Snatch or Biathlon (IUKL) by next year. I think it really takes something to stick with kettlebell sport and I’m not in a hurry to reach any end- I really want to enjoy the sport as long as possible!