Do you think you are TOO old to start a business, to go back to school or to get your body in shape?

Think again.

I bet most people believe you when you say that to them though, and you probably almost convince yourself that it is true. You are too old to redefine yourself after a certain age. End of story. No questions asked, even of yourself. Age is a great thing to hide behind. Isn’t it? Too bad it isn’t true. Just ask Ruth Deasy, a 62 year old Olympic weightlifter from Ireland. When we heard, “Olympic weightlifter,” we pictured Arnold Schwarzenegger who during his early years, competed in several olympic weightlifting competitions. Thank goodness she doesn’t look like Arnold. For one thing, she is much prettier! Do you know what Olympic weightlifting is exactly? According to all knowing, Wikipedia, our source for everything not super important, “Olympic weightlifting, often simply referred to as weightlifting, is a sport in which the athlete attempts a maximum-weight single lift of a barbell loaded with weight plates.” For the non weightlifting reader amongst us, “weight plates” are the big round weights on either end of the barbells. Weightlifting in general has been around a long time. Unsurprisingly, ancient Egyptian and Greek societies used it as a way to demonstrate a man’s strength and power. Today that is much easier. They just need a fancy car. The first olympic games held in Athens, in 1896, included weightlifting. Did you realize the olympics have been around that long? We pretty much thought nothing existed before we could see it on TV.

About now you are probably thinking that Ruth has been lifting weights all her life, and that this is not much of a story about redefining oneself if Ruth, like Arnold, has always lifted weights. But alas, Ruth who spent 40 years at a desk job did not take breaks at work, or go in early so she could stop at the gym first. She did not bench press her children when they were growing up. She did not have a gym membership or step foot in a gym until 2 years ago. While she was not overweight, exercise and weightlifting were not a priority for her. For one thing, she was a single mom after her divorce, working and raising two wonderful boys. She walked and she gardened but that was about it. She says with a chuckle, “since my children had grown, I had never lifted anything heavier than a bag of groceries.” Sound familiar to anyone? At least she walked. Many people don’t even do that.

Ruth’s sons are now in their twenties. Both have been weightlifting for years. She was never interested in joining them or the gym. She never belonged to a gym, nor did she want to. When she retired and went for her end of career health check up, it included a bone scan. Can we pause for a second. “End of career check up?” How fantastic is that? Way to go Ireland! Does your health plan or country have that? Ruth was diagnosed with osteopenia which is also known as low bone mass or low bone density. People with osteopenia have bones that are weaker than people who do not have it. This can result in fractures and eventually lead to osteoporosis, which Ruth was in the beginning stages of. Osteoporosis is more common in women than men, particularly women who have gone through menopause due to lower levels of estrogen. Avoiding it is very important in order to maintain good health and one’s ability to remain mobile. If you have weak bones and they often fracture, it will impact your ability to carry out even the most basic tasks and can potentially alter your quality of life, not to mention be extremely painful. Anything we can do to prevent it, we must do. After her physical, Ruth’s physician recommended resistance training.

What is resistance training exactly, you ask? Back to Wikipedia… Resistance training, also known as strength training, “is a type of physical exercise specializing in the use of resistance to induce muscular contraction, which builds the strength, anaerobic endurance, size of skeletal muscles and bone density.” To say Ruth was not thrilled, whether it improved her bone density or not, was an understatement. The thought of going to a gym and lifting weights, on a regular basis, sounded awful. Not only was she going to have to join a gym but what was required to get herself healthier was going to be a lot of work. Ruth did not want to be a gym goer or to lift weights but she is a smart woman. She knew her diagnosis left her with no options and in hindsight, that was a blessing. It literally changed her life, improved her health and made her already close relationship with her sons, even closer.

Ruth naturally turned to them, enlisting their help with learning how to begin approaching resistance training. Twice a week for several months, they took turns showing her how to warm up, a very important part of working out, and teaching her how to squat, first without a bar and then with the 15 kilo women’s Olympic bar. A proper squat is key to avoiding knee and back injuries. Doing squats and lifting weights to improve your health defeats the purpose if you hurt yourself every time you work out.

Ruth demonstrating her perfect form while doing squat.

Speaking of hurt, when Ruth first started lifting weights, she says her “sore muscles were like nothing I’d felt before” but over time it got better. “A proper massage and a hot shower helps.” Training properly also helps and is necessary in order to prevent injury. “I haven’t had an injury but as an older athlete I need to be vigilant to avoid it,” she says. She also says, “the mental challenge of sticking at it is hard, I won’t lie. I’m still a member at my local gym chain and I can top up my training there if I miss a club session — this has helped.” She is currently traveling with one of her sons and is mindful that she must include time for working out as part of her trip. Whether we are 62 or 22, working out is not just for when we are home and only when it is convenient. It needs to be a way of life. Just like eating the right foods needs to be. Ruth does not diet per se, but she makes sure to eat well. That is something she has always done but she has modified it slightly in order to incorporate some new needs due to her weightlifting such as eating more protein.

Since beginning Olympic weightlifting, Ruth has noticed her body composition has changed. Her disappearing waist has reappeared. Who wouldn’t like to see his or her waist again? Her body is firmer and although her weight hasn’t changed, she looks thinner. Nice! Most importantly though, both her cholesterol and blood pressure have gone down. How many of us take medication for high cholesterol or high blood pressure? If the idea of seeing your waist again didn’t do it for you, lowering both cholesterol and blood pressure, without medication, should motivate us all to look into weightlifting. And bonus, Ruth’s skin looks better and her mind is sharper. All things combined have contributed to a happier Ruth. Again, all without medication. Imagine that?

Ruth’s being trained by her sons was to be short lived. After a few months, they informed her that they were sure she was ready to leave the comfort zone of working with them and that it was time to take her weightlifting to the next level by working with a trainer. For sure the roles had reversed in the Deasy family, where the mother no longer pushed the sons to face their fears and undertake all they can in life. Now the sons were pushing the mother to go out into the world, and they were right. Rather than working alone, Ruth decided to join a club where people interact more than they do in a regular gym. For the most part, in a regular gym you work out on your own. You get more support in a club and it is more social. Ruth signed up for a woman’s beginner course at a club in Dublin that is dedicated to improving the quality of strength training and athletic movement called, Dublin 8’s Capital Strength Club. There she connected with club coach, Harry Leech, one of the top weightlifting coaches in Ireland who had previously been a competitive weight lifter himself. Harry took over where Ruth’s sons left off, and Ruth never looked back.

Ruth with her club coach, Harry Leech

Ruth says, “the club’s athletes were a fair representation of the sport in Ireland. The surprising fact is that the two fastest growing groups in Olympic weightlifting here are 1) Women and 2) Masters (35 years and over).” She says she “was astonished by the number of women training and how it completely changes the dynamic in a room.” Since she began, Ruth has been working slowly and steadily to add the number of kilos she can lift and to add new weightlifting movements such as the “clean and jerk” and the “snatch,” to her barbell repertoire. While she admits she is “way behind” the “women in their 20's and 30's” she trained with when she started, she is working her butt off to move from the beginner level into the novice class. Her mentor, athletics coach and former international heptathlon competitor, Lucy Moore, told her not to “compare” herself “to them,” because “their bodies are completely different” from Ruth’s body. The reality is, even if their bodies were identical to Ruth’s body, it is irrelevant. We compete against ourselves when we exercise. The goal is to always do better than we did previously. Ruth is a prime example of that. No matter how sweet it sounds, our speech about competing with ourselves appears to be lost on a determined, Ruth. Today, a huge fan of Olympic weightlifting, not to mention someone who is really good at it, Ruth wants in on competing.

Clubs are not only for support and socializing. They are also known for training members to compete. Ruth is starting to think about how that all works. Women began competing in the sport at he Sydney Olympic games in 2000. Since then the sport has been booming and with still little research stats, sports scientists are scrambling to find out why women, just like Ruth, are so good at the sport. One reason may be that it is less about muscles and more about skill and technique. Women tend to be perfectionists so no big surprise there. Retired, Ruth, has plenty of time to train and is happy that while Olympic weightlifting “is big amongst older women in Australia, the USA, the Nordic countries and the UK, there are few of us oldies in Ireland.” That means less competition for Ruth who has many venues in which to compete. Her sons are all over that idea! They tell her she can definitely “get a medal,” and that she needs “to start planning!” She says she’s “not sure about that but this non-sporty person is just a little tempted…” We have news for Ruth, we think under that “non-sporty” exterior, a very sporty person was waiting to emerge which is exactly what happened at age 60!

We will take Ruth’s being “a little tempted” as a “yes” and look forward to following this 62 year old’s evolving from weightlifter to competitive weightlifter and welcome yet another transformation from Ruth when she is in her 70’s and then again in her 80’s when perhaps she will venture on to other Olympic sports such as fencing, speed skating and maybe even boxing. And why not? She is only 62. She has plenty of time to train…

Whether you are in your sixties like Ruth, older or younger, the decision to begin weight training is an individual one and should be undertaken with the approval of your physician. If you are given the green light to go ahead, and we hope Ruth’s story has inspired you to do so no matter what your age, here are some things she has learned during her experience she thinks might be helpful for you as you begin your own weightlifting journey:

  • Find a gym that is close to home or work so going is easy for you.
  • Find a friend or family member to train with.
  • Be patient.
  • Don’t forget to have a snack not less than an hour before training.
  • Never skip stretching all over before training. That’s before the warm-up which can’t be skipped either.
  • Drink water before, during and after training.
  • Stretch after training if you can but certainly before going to bed that night.
  • Eat something nutritious and filling within an hour of stopping.
  • Older athletes need longer rest times — our bodies recover more slowly.
  • A proper massage can help your muscle soreness but only on a non-training day.
  • People think you must eat a special diet but unless you’re going to pull a truck in Ironman, any healthy home-cooked diet will do. Just make sure there’s plenty of protein and carbohydrates.

You can follow Ruth on Instagram

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Old is NOT a fact. It’s a State of Mind. If we want to change the way the world looks at aging, we need to stop looking at ourselves as old as we age.

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Old Cow

Old Cow

Old is NOT a fact. It’s a State of Mind. If we want to change the way the world looks at aging, we need to stop looking at ourselves as old as we age.

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