Heavy lifting a way of life

Weight: A trio of competitive power lifters who train in Columbia shows that size and age don't limit success in the sport.

Howard At Play

August 25, 2002|By Nathan Max | Nathan Max,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Howard Sturman, Iain Burgess and Cathy Solan do not fit the stereotype of a power lifter. None has colossal size; their combined ages add up to 146 years, and they all work in white-collar jobs.

"One of the rarities between the three of us is we have no tattoos," said Sturman, who lives in Columbia's Hickory Ridge village.

"We're a little bit older," he said. "It catches people off guard, because they say, `At your age, you shouldn't be doing this kind of stuff.' But we all have the intensity level to compete. None of us are slowing down as we get older."

Another similarity of the three who train at the Colosseum gym in Columbia is their success.

Sturman, 44, who is competing this weekend at the USA Power Lifting Organization (USAPL) National Bench Press Championships in Bedford Heights, Ohio, holds the World National Power Lifting Federation record in the bench press for his age and weight class.

He set it in November with a lift of 375 pounds - approaching twice his bodyweight.

At 5-foot-10, 198 pounds, Sturman hopes he can break the USAPL record for the 40-44 age group, which stood at 382.5 pounds before the weekend.

"I have a shot at it if I do well," said Sturman, who is president of a medical supply company. "My goal ultimately is to bench press 400 pounds, or twice my body weight. I am almost as strong as I was when I was 23 years old, and I was lifting back then."

Sturman's comrades have been even more successful.

Burgess, 58, who coaches both Sturman and Solan, holds three national records for his size in the 55-59 age group.

At 5-3, 132 pounds, Burgess set the marks in three styles of lifting; he bench-pressed 220 pounds, squatted 352 pounds and dead-lifted 374 pounds in a 1999 competition. Official records can be set only in competition.

Burgess also won an International Power Lifting Federation silver overall medal in the 40-44 age group in 1984 at age 40. More recently, he won bronze overall medals in 1998 and 1999 in the 55-59 age group.

"I like coaching a lot, but I also still like competing," said Burgess, an engineer for 25 years before becoming a personal trainer.

"Sometimes coaching is harder, because you've got somebody else's lifts in your hands. If you're competing, and you screw it up, hey, it's you. You only have to look at yourself," he said.

At 5 feet and 97 pounds, Solan, who is Burgess' prize pupil, competes in the open division against lifters half her age (44). In the past four years, she has finished second against all competitors in her weight class and won the overall title in the 40-44 age group at the USAPL National Championships.

Although they still train, Burgess and Solan are both taking a year's respite from competition

Solan, who teaches horseback riding and specializes in dressage at the Columbia Horse Center, also has set three national meet records.

In 2000, she squatted 248 pounds, dead-lifted 292 pounds, and totaled 650 combined pounds in the squat, dead lift and bench press. Internationally, Solan took home the dead lift bronze medal last year in the open division with a lift of 297 pounds.

Solan's success is even more remarkable considering the circumstances of her entry into the sport.

At 31, she suffered a broken neck when a horse fell on her.

When Solan was well enough to begin rehabilitation, she did not fit the equipment because of her slight stature.

"There happened to be a power-lifting coach teaching at that gym at the time, and he took me aside and started showing me some of the free weights," said Solan. "And eventually I got into the sport. It turned out I was pretty strong. Then when I started training with Iain, my power lifting career really took off," she said.

For Sturman, who competes in the bench press, this weekend's competition gives him little margin for error.

Bench pressers must keep their feet firmly planted on the floor, with buttocks on the bench. The bar must stop on their chest, and they must show control at the top. If a lifter fails three times, he or she is out of the competition.

"In a basketball game or a football game, you have many areas to shine or to really [mess] up, whereas in a meet, when you lay down and lift that bar you might only have 30 seconds," Sturman said.

"It's akin to a gymnastics competition or a vault," he said. "You might have trained for six months for three attempts for a total of a minute and a half of competition. You're under the gun."

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