A Winnipeg woman who won gold at a world powerlifting championship over the weekend says she started strength training later in life as a way to keep up with her grandchildren.
Although Gail-Ann Breese, 62, stayed active throughout her life, she began to feel sluggish in her late 50s and went on the hunt for ways to gain energy. She stuck to various forms of cardio but never considered strength training until a friend mentioned it and directed Breese to a trainer.
“Certainly when I started it, I had no idea that I would end up as the world champion powerlifter,” she told host Marcy Markusa during a Tuesday interview with CBC’s Information Radio.
“I’m riding a bit of a high these last few days.”
Breese’s trainer educated her about bone density and muscle loss thats comes after mid-life, she says, and that strength training can help counteract it. Together, they formed a fitness plan for Breese.
She attended her first powerlifting meet in December 2019 — an all-day event including including three squat lift, bench press and deadlift attempts.
“I remember when I first went out on the platform, [I thought] ‘Oh please don’t fall flat on your face,'” said Breese.
She would go on to qualify for powerlifting meets provincially, nationally and in western Canada, leading her to join Team Canada at the World Classic & Equipped Masters Powerlifting Championships in St. John’s, where 520 athletes from 30 countries competed earlier this month.
Breese says she was one of four Manitoban women to compete in the world championship, where she won two gold medals — one for the deadlift and one for weight lifted overall, after lifting a total of 700 pounds over three categories. She also won a silver medal in the squat lift category and a bronze for the bench press.
Her family is proud and supportive of her powerlifting journey, although “I’m sure they’re tired of eating lean chicken for dinner,” said Breese. Her granddaughter plans to dress up as a powerlifter for Halloween this year, she said.
Breese is at her strongest thanks to powerlifting, and says many older women have called her their inspiration. Powerlifting has also helped Breese through retirement, keeping her active and social during that transition, she said.
The powerlifter’s advice to others wanting to achieve their fitness goals is self-investment, education and consistency.
“Make yourself a priority,” she said. “Set some time to go to the gym… Learn about nutrition, learn about what you’re eating and then just be consistent.”
Breese’s coach and fitness trainer, Dino Camiré, is the owner of One Family Fitness Centre in Winnipeg. He says a lot of people may write off Breese’s success as her having a “special gift,” but the reality is that she had a goal and stuck to it.
“A lot of people think it’s enough to just pick up a dumbbell and do that a couple times a week,” he told CBC in a Tuesday interview. “But you have to actually increase that load… for the rest of your life just to maintain your muscle mass to offset the changes with aging.”
Camiré says Breese has tripled the weight she can lift over her three years of powerlifting, meaning she increased her weights by one per cent each week.
“It’s very slow, very gradual, but you have to be consistent,” he said.
As a fitness geek in his late 30s, Camiré says Breese inspires him to keep doing what he’s doing and that “anything is possible.”
Breese also inspires others in the same age bracket, he says, which is a demographic that he is seeing pick up the sport more often as a way to gain and maintain bone density and muscle.
Camiré says he is very proud of Breese and looks forward to what her future holds.
“Now we have a world champion that lives here in Winnipeg, Manitoba. That’s crazy.”
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