TOWN 'N COUNTRY
An oddball team started last year when a couch potato decided to get active. She talked her friend — a great-great-grandma — into powerlifting. They talked a few more women into joining them training on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the Town 'N Country Recreation Center with coach Bill Beekley.
The oldest is 92. The baby, 67.
These five women lifted a combined 705 pounds in the final round of the county's 33rd Annual Tampa Bay Senior Games last week.
Sometimes, Carmen Gutwirth said, seconds after she lifted 170 pounds and shook it off like it was nothing, "I don't even want to get out of bed in the morning. But when I get doing this and adrenaline gets going, I feel so good."
The team lined up along a block wall as Metallica played in the background at the All People's Life Center on Sligh Avenue. They cheered the men, taking their turns. One man lifted double his weight. A big man looked like Baby Huey, the women decided. Another told the women he was embarrassed that they outdid him. He made a joke about Viagra. The women giggled behind their hands.
Edith Traina, 92, calls Gutwirth, 70, her motivator.
"She dragged me here, kicking and screaming," Traina said.
Powerlifters were oddballs to her, she said, before she became one. Now she's amazed every time she adds 5 pounds.
It was Gutwirth who liked watching movies, theater and opera. She was unathletic and uncoordinated and didn't like to sweat, she said. But last year as her 70th birthday neared, her doctor told her that her bones were losing density. She decided to get off her couch.
When someone recommended powerlifting, Gutwirth said, "I laughed."
• • •
"Would you like to write something humorous?" Traina says, still waiting on the wall for her next turn.
Is there really any answer to such a question from a 92-year-old?
"My secret to longevity," she says, "is Geritol in the morning and a martini at night.
We laugh. She's up next. She grabbed a loaded barbell and hoisted it, a deadlift of 130 pounds. She stood smiling. Earlier, she had set a new personal best by bench pressing 50 pounds.
But I wonder: Is her secret really a drive to push herself?
Or is it her lighthearted take on life?
• • •
The women have heard the benefits of weight training for slowing osteoporosis. Exercise — weights included — also decreases the chance of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer. It can tone muscles and improve balance, critical for seniors to prevent falls.
Years are hard on a body, surely, but these women say they have fared well so far.
Sarah Hand, 75, had heart surgery to put in a stent in February and was just cleared to lift in September. She limited herself to an 80-pound deadlift at the competition, down from her previous 125 pounds.
Hand wants to get back to playing golf.
Trudy Daxon, 83, had one shoulder replaced. She surprised her doctor when she told him she was powerlifting. He said he had never heard of anyone with an artificial shoulder doing that.
Daxon got strong climbing the Alps in her homeland of Austria. She married an American soldier in 1953 and raised a family in 22 homes before her husband retired from the Army. Wherever they were stationed, Daxon was always active, teaching swimming for the Red Cross.
Traina has no health complaints. She remembers several minutes later that a pesky disc in her lower back slips out of place occasionally. A visit with a chiropractor fixes that.
• • •
The women competed in several activities of this year's senior games. They played basketball and pingpong and they danced. At home, medals hang in kitchens and living rooms. Or they've been recycled to hand out to children. Their relatives brag of the grandmas on Facebook.
As the women lifted, Curt Leimbach snapped pictures. "I can't keep up with her," he said. "She goes 90 miles an hour."
He's Traina's great-nephew. Clearly, he's proud.
"She makes us all tired just watching her," he said.
Traina outlived two husbands and has a passel of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, whom she often exposes to her "kooky" behavior.
• • •
The women wear sky blue T-shirts smudged with chalk used for gripping the weights.
"Come on, Sarah. Head up, hips down," coach Beekley said as he helped with the competition.
Daxon did a few steps to the beat of a song by Eminem.
Traina said she's tempted to turn it up. The others usually pick on her for saying it's too loud.
It's clearly a social event.
"We've discovered when we go to meets we meet interesting people," Traina said. "You compare yourself to yourself. You add a pound one week and another the next, and the surprise you feel doing something you didn't think you could do is magical."
Instead of exhaustion, they gain momentum to do other things.
The baby at 67, Diana Witt, goes last, lifting 170 pounds.
The older women usually laugh at her when she lifts, because she says: "Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God!"
Witt's face glowed and her heart pounded as she finished and joined her friends.
Then the women herded Beekley over for a group photo and draped their medals around his neck.
"He really earned all these," Hand said.
Beekley is speechless.
• • •
Gutwirth suggests lunch at the Golden Coral, but agrees to Hand's favorite: Olive Garden.
At the table, Daxon tears the paper from an end of her straw and blows through it, shooting the paper across at Hand, who admonishes her: "I thought we were going to behave."
The talk about how to keep their brains sharp. Sudoku and crossword puzzles. Hand prides herself on her ability to quickly finish a crossword puzzle every day. She almost got stumped earlier that week on the hint "second person." She wrote "you." But it was Eve.
They talk about tattoos and how a couple of carefully placed tacky temporaries earned Traina a reputation with her family.
"Your kids always think of you as different than you are," she said.
Her friends know she's up for anything.
Lunch over, she had business to take care of. She was going dancing that night.
"She's too lively for me," said Hand, looking forward to a nap.
The event was a great success, they agreed.
At their last competition, in Lakeland, the audience sat far back from the competitors, who lifted in front of a heavy curtain. It had been as somber as a funeral home, Traina said.
These powerlifters just aren't ready for that.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3431.