Sharlene Brunjes is not your usual senior. Just this month, at 67, she stood atop a podium, beaming, for having taken gold in the Canadian national powerlifting championships.
The South Aldergrove resident lifted double her body weight – 270 pounds – off of the ground into a standing deadlift to take her first national title.
“It’s never too late to get strong,” Brunjes encouraged.
“Anybody can do it, I was not always like this,” she said.
Three years ago, the grandmother picked up her first barbell after changing gyms. And eight years ago, Brunjes was told by a doctor she had osteopenia.
“It was the realization that I was following in my mother’s painful footsteps,” that led to action, Brunjes said.
If not, she was likely to incur osteoporosis – a bone disease where brittle bones put people at risk for significant injury upon falls and other movements.
Brunjes started slowly to rectify her weakening bones.
She used resistance training, first picking up a 5-pound dumbbell weight and performing a few curls.
Now she’s encouraging others over 40 years old to do the same.
“Just start any resistance training,” she suggests. “Even if it’s a 5-pound dumbbell. It’ll start building up your muscles.”
Two years after she curled her first weight from elbow-level up to her chest, Brunjes’ following bone density test showed a nine per cent increase.
“My doctor was flabbergasted,” she said, noting over the next few years Brunjes got herself out of the osteoporosis “danger zone.”
The grandma has since amped up her weight training in the past four years.
She’s now lifting dumbbells more than twice her weight in three tested qualifiers: a deadlift, squat lift, and bench press.
At nationals – from March 2 to 7 in Winnipeg, Brunjes competed against other women in their 60’s who weigh 63-kg.
The grandma shattered three provincial records with a 209-pound squat and 270-pound standing deadlift.
Her competition lifts equalled 568 pounds, which is much closer to breaking a national record, she said giddily.
Brunjes trained intensively for four months before nationals with Mitch Walls of Pro-Trainers Gym in Langley – and a regime that included clean eating and hitting the gym five times every week.
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Her fight for fitness, with the help of resistance training, has made a major difference in her everyday life.
“I was out with my granddaughter last winter and fell [on her backside] ice skating, but I didn’t break anything,” she said.
Brunjes said she is proud to have lifted beside women of all sizes, including those well over 200 pounds and young powerlifters weighing “no more than 100 pounds soaking wet.”
“That’s the beauty of powerlifting – you can be any shape, any size, and any age,” Brunjes said.
“It’s such a supportive environment.”
Her next goal is to make the Canadian national team to compete in the world powerlifting championships. One person her age and weight class is selected each year for the challenge.
She’ll try out again next spring.
In the meantime you will find Brunjes working out daily at PowerHouse Gym in Aldergrove.
“I’m not like your normal grandma I guess,” she smiled.