Taking on some extra weight doesn't scare her


Health: At 66, Kate Kelly is a winner at pumping iron.

March 11, 2001|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Many older adults would like to lose weight, but 66-year-old Kate Kelly is interested in adding pounds - to her barbells.

Kelly is a weightlifter, and a national record-holder. The Arbutus resident loves to pump iron. She competes in the bench press, pushing a barbell up from her chest while lying on her back, and the curl, in which she bends her arms to draw a barbell from waist height up to her chest.

In December, she won two gold trophies - one for lifting 55 pounds in the curl, a national record for her age and gender, and one is for the state record in the bench press: 100 pounds.

"Here I am just having fun, doing what I love to do," says the native Baltimorean, "and I get a national record."

About two and a half years ago, Kelly decided to lose weight. She also wanted to become more flexible and keep active. She had retired in 1997 from her job as a corrections officer at the Anne Arundel County Detention Center, and says that after a year, "I was entirely too heavy and getting old."

So she started going to a health club. But soon she decided that she wanted a more low-key atmosphere, and hooked up with Mike Ochranek, who runs Body Shapers from a studio in his Elkridge home.

Now Ochranek is her trainer and motivator.

"I don't think I would go if he weren't out there waiting for me," Kelly says. "He is always so positive."

She started out using traditional exercise machines, but grew tired of them. Remembering that her sons and ex-husband had worked out with weights, she asked Ochranek if she could try it.

"She really surprised me," Ochranek says. "A lot of women don't get into weightlifting - they think it's a man's exercise. But the bar doesn't know the difference between a man and a woman."

Kelly has chosen a non-traditional sport for older women. Only about 10 women over age 60 take part in Baltimore-area weightlifting competitions, according to Brian Washington, president of United States Power Curl. He says there were about 110 men and women over age 60 at the last national competition, many of whom had been lifting for many years.

"I'm a very competitive person with myself," Kelly says, "so I've got to see some improvement." In addition to being stronger from lifting, she says her body weight went from 210 pounds to 170.

In addition to lifting, her workout regimen also includes walks around the neighborhood, "crunches" and leg presses. She says exercise has allowed her to stop taking pain medication for the arthritis in her hip. And Kelly says her doctor encouraged her to work out and to lift weights.

She first considered competing when she saw the results of a lifting contest and thought she could meet them. Ochranek also encouraged her.

She had a disappointing debut last fall, when she started with a weight that was too heavy and couldn't lift it. But at her second competition in December, she began with a lighter weight and used several rounds to get up to her record-setting lifts.

To train, she lifts twice a week. She is learning to control her breathing, to concentrate during the lifts and to use her feet for added power in the dead lift.

"It's so interesting to, at my age, train my body to do a new skill," she says. "I've learned so much about how my body works."

She sees the importance of a good diet and favors one high in protein with lots of water. She enjoys fruits, vegetables, cheese and fish. But she admits it is easy to let her diet slide, especially because she lives alone.

Kelly has always been athletic. In high school she played team sports and was a competitive swimmer. As an adult, she taught physical education at several schools, including 13 years at what used to be Archbishop Keough Catholic school, and she coached high school sports teams.

"She's always been really powerful," says her son, Tom Kelly, who recalls that she taught him to throw a football.

Tom, who owns a dental lab in Baltimore, says his two brothers and his mom's five grandchildren are proud of her accomplishments.

"Any time your mother is a weightlifting champ at 66," he says, "it's pretty impressive."

Kelly is more interested in inspiring people than impressing them, particularly the other seniors she chats with daily on the Internet.

"I have been trying to get them up off their butts, to just move," she says. "They say, `I have arthritis' or `I have diabetes,' ... but I say you can work around all that."

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