Columbia's Older Women on Weights find fitness, friends in powerlifting

Saturday, July 21, 2012 | 9:17 p.m. CDT; updated 9:29 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 23, 2012
Women warm up and prepare to compete in the Power Lift competition at the Show-Me State Games on Saturday.

COLUMBIA — Louise Miller had a large void in her childhood.

“I didn’t like dolls and that was a problem,” Miller said.

Miller did not enjoy the typical hobbies of a young woman in the 1950s and '60s. But she was the fastest student in her fifth grade class, and commonly ditched domestic duties to play pick-up baseball with the boys.

However, Miller never had the opportunity to pursue her athletic inclination. She was unable to reap the benefits of Title IX, an equal opportunity law passed in 1972 that gave females the chance to participate in organized sports.

After 62 years of waiting, Miller had her first experience participating in an organized competition at this year’s Show-Me State Games. As a member of the Older Women on Weights team, she was one of the 15 Columbia powerlifters aged 50 to 72 competing in Saturday’s competition. Through the sport of powerlifting, the Columbia-based Older Women on Weights group promotes a healthy lifestyle and new experiences for older females.

The group was developed just over three months ago. While attending a weightlifting competition with her close friend, Linda LaFontaine, Miller was shocked to see the lack of female competitors. After watching a woman of the same age struggle to bench press 70 pounds, they felt confident they could become powerlifters and began training with LaFontaine’s husband Tom LaFontaine,who is a clinical exercise physiologist.

After a few weeks of training at Optimus Center for Health in Columbia, interest surrounding their training began to grow. Through word-of-mouth, more women at Optimus heard about powerlifting.

“We are old ladies,” said Miller. “We all like to talk a lot.”

However, just like Miller, many of the older females had limited backgrounds in organized athletics and were hesitant to try the male-dominated sport of powerlifting.  

Terry Douglass, 62, wanted to join the group, but her lack of competitive experience held her back.

“I didn’t want to embarrass myself,” said Douglass.

After overcoming their initial fears, team members began training anywhere from one to three times per week. Immediately, the older women saw the benefits of powerlifting.

“I’ve had more energy, lost weight, and gained balance,” said Douglass. “It’s really invigorating.”

Older Women on Weights members have also embraced being part of a team for the first time. Through team activities such as healthy grocery shopping and diet support group meetings, they have built strong team chemistry. Although many of the teammates knew each other before joining the team, they are amazed by how close they have grown in such a short period of time.

“It has been a great way of getting to know people in a new way,” said Miller.

In the face of competition for the first time, many nervous Older Women on Weights members relied on their teammates for support. The sea of powerlifters in purple “O.W.O.W.” T-shirts remained close together throughout the entire competition, coaching and cheering each other on.

The team had unexpected success at Saturday's competition. More than half of the women recorded personal records in the bench press.

Miller was proud of her athletic performance, posting a personal record of 90 pound bench press. However, she was more excited to spend time with her teammates and reflect on how competitive powerlifting has changed her life.

“It gives new self-confidence to older women,” said Miller. 

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