Powerlifter a powerhouse at 60 A weightlifting great-grandma even holds a national record.

March 22, 1991|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Evening Sun Staff

Gwen Patillo started lifting weights eight years ago as a way to reshape her body, something to just "move some things around a little."

At the time a 52-year-old grandmother, Patillo had never of heard of a "dead lift" or a "clean and jerk," and the idea of lifting just a barbell was somewhat intimidating.

Today, she's 60 years old, her grandchildren have children and her body is totally reshaped. Now she's nearly obsessed with getting stronger for her latest vocation: powerlifting.

"That's my goal these days and I think I've accomplished that in a lot of ways. I've got a lot of energy and it's put to good use," Patillo said. "I'm lifting weights that I never thought at any time I'd be able to lift. And I'm lifting them pretty easily."

Meet Patillo and it is obvious that she's not like most great-grandmothers.

For one, her handshake is a lot stronger than that of most men half her age. Second, trying to find a wrinkle or some other telltale sign of her age is futile.

Then, watch the petite Bolton Hill resident work out in the weight room of the YMCA on Druid Hill Avenue and witness what appears to be an illusion as she goes through a routine in which at times she lifts nearly three times her body weight. Even on a bad day, she can do a series of squats with 200 pounds of metal plates on her back -- and that's despite having had a knee operation three years ago.

"My grandchildren, especially the boys, think it's wonderful," said Patillo, who is divorced. "They like to hear about my competition and how much I lifted. My girls say just, 'Mama is just doing something else again.' But they must be proud because sometimes they take my scrapbook to work and show it off."

"My mother is very outgoing," said Gail Bolden. "She tries to drag me into it, but that doesn't work."

Patillo often works out with her son-in-law.

"Who's stronger?" said Bolden, weighing her mother and her husband. "I guess she is.

"People have a tendency to think that once someone reaches a certain age they have to sit back and stop being as active. She proves that's not true."

Patillo, a former model, began competing in 1983. She now has a roomful of powerlifting awards and she is listed in several national powerlifting publications as the American record-holder in the women's master classification. Last year, in the dead-lift category, she lifted 326 pounds, nearly three times her body weight.

"You do a competition and you begin to feel very competitive. It's like you feel high, you get hooked," she said. "I compete against anybody, not just the master's but against women in other categories. And I do well, too."

Patillo, who is retired, spends much of her time doing volunteer work at City Temple in Bolton Hill. But she spends as much, if not more, time in the YMCA weight room.

"We think about making her prove she's 60 sometimes when she comes in here," said David Thomas, a YMCA trainer. "She inspires all of us in here."

Patillo is the model he uses to motivate prospective weightlifters or ones who want to quit. Thomas assisted Patillo once in an exercise that requires two dumbbells.

"At first, she was using 35-pound dumbbells and everyone was kind of amazed. But she was just getting warmed up," Thomas said. "She kept on going up until she reached 50s in each hand."

Her day usually begins with a morning swim to get loose. She'll return to the gym in the afternoon and spend two hours lifting weights.

"It makes you feel real bad when you miss a workout," she said. "You feel as though as you're going to lose all you've worked toward and you want to punish yourself."

She usually works out alone. Men feel as if they might get upstaged, she said.

Said Patillo: "Men will help me, but most men don't want to work out with a woman who lifts almost as much as they do."

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