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How Lifting Weights Gave Me Back My Health and Energy

Jackie Fendler’s face burned with embarrassment as she tried to maneuver off the small dinghy and onto the larger sailboat.

She was already exhausted, and the sailing trip hadn’t yet begun! This was meant to be a fun day with her cousin, but Jackie wished she were anywhere else. Finally, legs shaking from the effort, she was able to haul her heavy, aching body up and rejoin the group. I was so looking forward to this trip, she thought glumly. Now I just want to disappear!

“I was used to being the ‘heavy’ friend, but this trip pushed me over the edge,” Jackie shares. “I was humiliated. Even shopping for souvenirs felt arduous. To make matters worse, I couldn’t even lift my carry-on into the overhead compartment on the flight home. The whole experience made me feel powerless and deeply sad.

“At 64 years old and 245 pounds, I felt stuck in a rut. I suffered from constant lethargy, and everything felt difficult. Simple tasks, like carrying the laundry up the stairs or walking my dog, were a struggle. I always had to stop and catch my breath. This had become my status quo. I began to think, This must just be the shape God gave me. There’s nothing I can do about it.

“After the disastrous sailing trip, I promised myself I would make a change, but I had no clue where to begin. Then, a co-worker lost 60 pounds and told me she felt more energetic than ever after exercising with a personal trainer at Bodies by Burgoon, a local gym, and my interest was piqued. I’d always fantasized about working with a personal trainer, and when I learned that the first session was free, I decided to try it. There’s nothing to lose, I reassured myself. I probably won’t come back after the first session anyway.

The Turnaround

“When I first arrived at the gym, I had no stamina or strength and no idea what to expect. But I was pleasantly surprised that my trainer, Jason, wasn’t intimidating. He was warm and encouraging. Since I was too weak to lift weights, he started me off with simple exercises, like lifting my hands above my head 10 times.

After the first session, my body felt achy, and I was so exhausted that I passed out on my couch for three hours! It was much more exertion than I was used to. But still, I found myself hopeful for the first time in a long time, and I surprised myself with my desire to book a second session.

“The workouts were tough, but Jason kept me motivated. He seemed to understand that I wanted to get healthy, not ‘skinny.’ During my third session, he turned to me and said, ‘I have a goal for you.’ I felt a sense of dread, sure that he was going to criticize my weight. Instead, he said: ‘You’re going to enter a weight-lifting competition in six months, and you’re going to win.’ I’m nearly 65 years old, I thought, laughing incredulously. He’s out of his mind!

“But my commitment began to pay off. When I lifted my first 45-pound barbell, I couldn’t have been more elated. Soon, I was looking forward to each session. As I progressed from barbells to dumbbells, I figured there was no harm in entering the deadlift competition Jason had suggested, though my expectations were low. To my complete shock, I ended up winning first place…and breaking a state record for my age and weight class! “Though I didn’t know it then, that was just the beginning of my weight-lifting journey. Today, I have a box full of medals and trophies. I train at Bodies by Burgoon twice per week and regularly compete in regional and international competitions. At the moment, my personal lifting record is 232.7 pounds!

“Though weight lifting makes me feel strong physically and mentally, and I’m even down 90 pounds, it’s also been a surprisingly spiritual journey for me. My new nickname may be ‘The Hammer,’ but I am much kinder to myself and at ease in the world. I think the better you feel about yourself, the more successful you feel in all areas of your life.

“A lot of people my age feel there’s nothing left to look forward to-I used to be one of them. At 64, I felt like I was dying. Now, at 71, weight lifting gives me goals to strive toward, and I love seeing my strong shoulders in the mirror. Age really is just a number! And these days, keeping up with my family and friends isn’t an issue. I know nothing can hold me back!”

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