Marge Prothman, former Canadian Ski Team racer and avid backpacker, recently found a new athletic pursuit in the sport of powerlifting.
There's nothing unusual about a women powerlifter these days. But at 77, Prothman is an exceptional female athlete and role model even for our fit community.
Earlier in November, Prothman won her first dead lift trophy after effortlessly hoisting 132 pounds at the World Bench and Deadlift Championships in Reno, Nev.
"It wasn't hard, I could have lifted a lot more," she said.
As a champion powerlifter in the Wood River Valley, Prothman has joined a growing community including former and current powerlifting champions Benji Hill and Wilma Cadavona.
They are all descendants of one of the original Wood River Valley powerlifters, Ketchum police officer Jerry Engelbert.
As a superbly fit senior citizen, Prothman has also joined up with another vital part of our community—the growing number of exceptionally healthy elder folk.
A lifelong skier who also relishes the workout of skate skiing, Prothman was looking for more activity after her husband Greg passed away in April 2004.
Her children, Greg Prothman and Carol Brown, presented her with the unusual gift of an eight-week strength training program with Diana Olsen, a local personal trainer.
Olsen describes Prothman as "disciplined and spunky," After a year as her friend and trainer, Olsen said she is "in awe" of Prothman and what she has accomplished.
"What is so amazing about this woman is that she exalts in her potential," said Olsen who was admittedly taken aback when she first learned of Prothman's plans to compete as a lifter. She soon realized, through Prothman's examples, that "age is not a limitation."
In the early fall of 2004, Greg Prothman began flying his mother to Seattle every weekend for three-day training sessions with Joe Head, owner of Headquarters Gym and coach of Team Headquarters.
Marge became an official team member and student of Head's. "He doesn't treat me like an older person, I just have to do my stuff," she said of her coach, fondly.
Meanwhile, Greg, 50, and his children, Jana, 20, and Michael, 18, all lift and were anxious to compete alongside their powerful family matriarch. "They thought it would be fun to have three generations lifting," Marge said.
Her first test came at Aberdeen, Wash. during a world qualifying meet. She stepped to the platform for her dead lift attempt of 120 pounds and nailed it effortlessly, a smile stretched across her face.
For this, Prothman was presented with the trophy of a double blade ax, the first and oddest of her awards.
Her trophy case was quickly augmented when she set her own personal best of 132 pounds at the WABDL (World Association of Benchers and Dead lifters) Worlds in Reno.
The entire Prothman family trounced the competition, with each generation setting personal bests. Son Greg set a dead lift best at 601 pounds; granddaughter Jana set a best and world record for her age and weight groups in both the dead lift (403 pounds) and the benchpress (189); grandson Michael dead lifted 468 pounds.
In all her competing, Prothman has never once grimaced; competition pictures show the consistent pleasant smiles of a dinner host. In two first-place finishes, she hasn't shown the slightest sign of exertion.
Diana Olsen is familiar with Prothman's ever-present smile. Despite the grunts and groans of her surrounding competition, Prothman always smiles when she steps up to the weight, Olsen said, laughing.
But behind her congenial face hides an ardent competitor. Hooked on competition, Prothman blames coach Head for the addiction: "He left me with a hunger and now I want more," she said.
Entranced with her new sport, Prothman began nosing around for other local lifters.
Soon she found Wilma Cadavona, a Wood River resident of over 14 years who brandishes a sizable stack of awards, diplomas and accolades signifying her many lifting triumphs earned over the past seven years.
Most recently, Cadavona, 52, of Bellevue and originally from the Hawaiian island of Kauai, won the Snake River Powerlift Championships for her weight and age.
Cadavona's resume of first-place finishes is lengthy. She is a three-time Idaho state champion who placed third in her first-ever event at 46 years old with a 245-pound squat.
A recreational lifter who had never once considered competing before that first event in 1998, Cadavona relishes the benefits of weight training.
She said, "I love it, I really do—for the whole being, your mind, body and soul and your spirit."
Cadavona's greatest success came at a World Championship event in Las Vegas in 2000. At that event she set world records for her age and weight in all three powerlifting events: squat, bench press and dead lift. Her records are 285, 175, and 350 pounds respectively.
Prothman first met Cadavona at the Albertsons in Hailey where Cadavona works.
"She was a really neat lady," said Prothman who then researched Cadavona's illustrious lifting career on the internet and "realized, oh wow!—she's really big time."
The two do not train together, but they clearly share in a passion for lifting and the joy of middle aged to late life sport. "I feel very lucky that I live in a town where so many people my age are active and can kick butt and go out and do it," said Prothman.
Prothman shows no signs of slowing as she ages.
She is a passionate hiker with designs on finishing the one half of the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest trail that she still has not conquered.
"My trail name is 'Marge the Old Gal," she said without a hint of self-consciousness.
Cadavona has set out on a yet another path, this time in body building. She is adjusting to the dietary sacrifices and aerobic requirements of body sculpting, but is positive of her future.
Meanwhile, Prothman's powerlifting career is only beginning.
To her competition for next year she said "watch out!" Though she does not yet have a concrete training schedule, sometime after Christmas she hopes to return to Seattle to train. Her eyes are fixed on a 150 pound dead lift.
"I know I can do it; I could do 152," she predicted, even though her coach tells her to take it slow.
Prothman is aware that she is unique and is grateful for it.
"I'm lucky to be healthy, but I'm old," she said. But for some, old age seems to be a flexible edict. Prothman's trainer Olsen is endlessly amazed at her increased strength over the past few months.
"We feel as though we are supposed to get weaker, but that is not necessarily the case," said Olsen. "Sometimes we allow ourselves to get weaker and Marge knows that," and has refused to let it happen to her, she said.
For updates on Prothman's travels, competitions and thoughts, visit her website at www.prothman.org/marge/.