COLUMBIA — Kate Walker began competitive powerlifting 3½ years ago. She is 61.
Last month, she represented the United States along with 12 other lifters in the World Drug-Free Powerlifting Federation Championships in Castleblaney, Ireland. Walker won gold in her age and weight groups.
Prior to competing, she used weightlifting to rehabilitate a knee that had been badly damaged by years of dancing. Her doctor recommended that she lift weights to help with her knees.
"He just meant as exercise, but I just loved it," Walker said.
She began to break state and national records, and holds a world record from the American Powerlifting Association.
In her age group (60-64), she qualifies in three lifts: the squat, bench press and dead lift. The total qualifier score for her age and weight group (70 kilograms, or 154 pounds) in all three lifts is 495 pounds, and Walker said she has lifted over 500 pounds.
In the dead lift, the qualifier for her age and weight group is 187 pounds. She reports lifting 245 pounds.
"I have always been goal-oriented," said Walker, who danced for more than 40 years until injuries caused her to quit.
When the doctor said no more dancing, "that broke my heart," she said.
She discovered powerlifting was a satisfying substitute.
"It helped me pick up where dance left off," she said.
Walker likes competition and says she trains hard — two challenging sessions and one light session each week. She works with Tom LaFontaine, the director at Optimus: The Center for Health. Her routines include pushups, bench presses, and back, leg and shoulder exercises.
"If you are a young athlete, like 19 or 20 years old, you might train more often. But with powerlifting, three times a week for the older lifter is plenty," she said.
Walker's coach gives her tough 50-minute workouts, and "I usually do stretches and other types of exercises on my own," she said. She has also been helped by Bill Duncan, a local powerlifter who attends many of the meets she does.
Traveling to competitions around the globe gives her a chance to find worthy opponents, "many of whom are younger," she said.
There are very few women who lift past age 50, and some of them are "great lifters" with world records.
"I plan to work hard to increase my lift totals, since I am a new lifter." Walker said.
"You know, there was an 80-year-old man at the competition from France who competed, and a 70-year-old-woman" with many world records, Walker said. "They did a great job and are incredibly inspiring to me."
When Walker first tried powerlifting, she said she was scared, but she decided to persevere.
"People were cheering me on because they said I was inspiring to them," she said. "I guess it's because of my age."
She likes showing others the excitement of achieving a goal and said it gives her a reason to pursue bigger goals.
"If that inspiration helps other people to meet their goals, then the job is well done," she said.
In June, Kate plans to lift at the World Drug-Free Powerlifting Federation single-lift competition in Michigan.