Vermont weightlifter starts late, but excels
ALBURGH — Sometimes, even as she looks around her house at all the plaques and trophies and medals she’s earned, Barbara Boyer still can’t believe what she’s accomplished.
Boyer, of Alburgh, in May became the first woman inducted into the New England Local Weightlifting Committee Hall of Fame. With her membership already in the National Masters and the World Masters halls of fame, it’s her third induction. And she did it all after the age of 58, in the past dozen years.
“I don’t feel any more special,” says Boyer, a grandmother of 14 who turns 71 on Aug. 19. “It is just almost overwhelming. I did all that? It sounds stupid, but in a way it surprised me to see it in black and white.”
Boyer’s weightlifting career started after she came to Jackie Simonsen Brown, who managed the weight room at the Collins-Perley Sports & Fitness Center in St. Albans, seeking help to rehabilitate a shoulder injury. After four years of working on general fitness, Brown noticed Boyer’s natural athletic ability and strength, while Boyer noticed she missed lifting weights in her routine.
Brown then asked if Boyer would be interested in beginning an Olympic-style lifting program with her coaching. The sport involves two techniques: the snatch and the clean-and-jerk. In each technique, competitors have three tries to complete a lift. The highest weight they successfully lift in each technique is totaled, and participants compete against one another based on age and weight class.
In 2002, at the age of 58, Boyer competed in her first Vermont state championship competition after taking to the sport quickly.
“She loves to work hard and that’s what makes it easy,” Brown said. “She has the desire to work hard and stick with it. Older women seem to be that way. It builds confidence, self-esteem, it’s a good way to meet people and develop friendships.”
Boyer said the work doesn’t seem so hard to her.
“People walk up to me in the gym, for instance, doing curls, free weights. Older gals say, ‘My God, I would never be able to do that.’ And I say, ‘Listen, I started with three, five pounds. All you have to do is make a commitment, be ready, take your time, no rushing, and you’ll get there,’” Boyer said.
Since beginning competing, Boyer has traveled all over the world, to Australia, Hungary, Edmonton and France. Events offer no prize money or sponsorships, just ribbons, medals, and recognition within the tight-knit weightlifting community.
Boyer has done well enough to earn plenty of success as well as recognition. Boyer owns 15 records recognized by the New England Local Weightlifting Committee, more than any other lifter, along with 12 national, three Pan American, six American, nine world and six World Games records. She has been named Best Lifter in her age group at every national and international event, a total of 22 times.
At the 2008 Nationals she won the women’s Grand Master award as best lifter over all age groups. At the 2007 Nationals, she was given an award for achieving the Masters Grand Slam in 2006 — winning the National, Pan American, American and World Championships in one year.
The ceremony for the New England Local Weightlifting Committee Hall of Fame was held on May 24 in Springfield, Mass. She was elected into the National Masters Hall of Fame in 2009, and the following year was elected to the World Masters Hall of Fame during the World Championships in Sydney, Australia.
Both Boyer and Brown say the New England hall was the most challenging and prestigious induction of the three. It involved a four-year nomination process, spearheaded by Jim Fitzgibbons of Rhode Island.
“As her coach, it’s quite awesome,” Brown said. “You look at what a role model she has become and think, ‘Oh wow.’ It’s difficult to appreciate when you are so close to it all the time.”
At the age of 71, Boyer lifts no more than three times a week while training, and Brown stresses the importance of muscle recovery for senior athletes. When asked how much she could lift right now, Boyer, who isn’t currently in a training program, said, “Oh, if I tried to lift anything right now Jackie would absolutely kill me.”
Boyer now spends most of her time with her 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, and taking care of her husband, Danny, 69, who recently underwent a back procedure. But she has no intention of slowing down in the weight room.
Boyer plans to enter a three-month training cycle soon in preparation for the American Masters Championships in Savannah, Ga., in late October. She still has her eye on the World Masters Games, held every four years, the next one in New Zealand in 2017.
With friends all over the world and weightlifters much younger approaching her at competitions for photographs, the sore muscles that come with training don’t seem so bad.
“I’ll go as long as I can. Everyone asks me that,” Boyer said. “My husband is my priority but I don’t want to retire. I want to keep doing it as long as I am able to physically and it’s fun. When it stops being fun I’ll stop doing it.”
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