North Carolina's Ruth Ann Calais is a powerlifting World Champion. This opening statement may conjure up visions of a behemoth hulk of a woman with massive trunk and limbs, but Ruth Ann is nothing like that. She is a trim, fit 5-foot 5-inches tall, 120 pounds with just 17-percent bodyfat.
Competing in the Grand Master Division at the World Natural Powerlifting Federation (WNPF) Championships in Atlanta, Georgia, in November of 2007, she set three World Powerlifting Records: Bench Press, 121 pounds -- Squat, 231 pounds -- Dead Lift, 286 pounds. That's not bad for a 61-year-old grandma who first walked into the gym at 52 and didn't start competing until age 55. Those lifts put her in the WNPF's list of the top 20 lifts of all time in her weight class, and that includes all the 20-, 30- and 40-year-old lifters. Ruth Ann is stronger than many, if not most, men.
Ruth Ann began weightlifting in her 50s so she could better care for her partially-paralyzed mother, who'd had a stroke. Her trainers, noticing her unusual strength, encouraged her to take up powerlifting. Due to this training, her percentage of bodyfat and her bone density, which had been low, increased significantly -- to healthy levels. As a result of this strength work, Ruth Ann said, "I feel better at 61 than I did at 40" -- and she's stronger than at 20. Ruth Ann is not a one-trick pony, however; she also enjoys the sports of water slalom and snow skiing, hiking, in-line skating and mountain biking and is a 4.0 USTA-rated (United States Tennis Association) tennis player.
Having been diagnosed with slight lower spinal scoliosis in her 30s and later with the beginnings of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, Ruth Ann first went to the gym to find a way to build stronger bones and muscles to prevent injury with her care-taking duties and to prolong her ability to participate in the sports and other vigorous activities she loves. Being competitive by nature and really enjoying weightlifting made powerlifting competition a natural fit for her.
Ruth Ann's advice for you: "I would advise anyone wanting a lifestyle change to visit a gym, talk to a trainer, get their impression of what can be accomplished, [and then] take slow / small strides first to see if this is your niche." She also suggests looking into participating in the Senior Games, which encompasses everything from archery to swimming to basketball. Ruth Ann finishes with, "Even if you are not competitive, exercise is essential to keep mentally and physically young. It helped me to be able to lift and carry my parents when they became impaired / invalids."
Ed Mayhew is a speaker and the author of Fitter After 50 and Fitter for Life www.FitterForLife.com