69-year-old with arthritis breaks state powerlifting record

A Houston woman is proving it’s never too late to be what you could have been. A couch potato from birth, Susan Townsend has taken to weight lifting in her late 60s, and this year she broke several state records in powerlifting.

At 69 years old, the grandmother and retired math teacher set state records for her age and weight category for the deadlift, bench press, squat, and total weight lifted. She even deadlifts her grandson.

So it’s hard to believe just a few short years ago she was walking with a cane due to decades of rheumatoid arthritis.

"I was in a lot of pain from arthritis, and I used that as an excuse,” said Townsend. “But at some point, I decided I had to exercise, and I began by walking to the mailbox and back."

She eventually built up the nerve to step foot in a gym.

"I began with 2- and 3-pound weights, and this was a huge workout," said Townsend. "Last Saturday I deadlifted 209 pounds."

It’s something she never fathomed she’d do. Even in childhood, she was left out of sports and games, but about four years ago she started training with personal trainer Nick Sarratt. He saw something more in her.

"About two years ago he said, 'You're not being challenged. You need to kick it up a notch. Let's go to the barbells,'” recalls Townsend. “I laughed. This will never happen. And the first time I picked up a barbell, I knew: this is what I want to do. I loved it."

"It's a product of a lot of small progressions week to week," said Sarratt.

To her surprise and delight, Townsend’s arthritis improved, and she lost about 45 pounds.

"It's given me a lot of self-confidence," said Townsend.

This year she got the wild idea to join a powerlifting competition. Surprising herself again, she set Texas state records: 84+ Masters 3A Raw Record 92.5 KG Deadlift, 84+ Masters 3B Raw Record 92.5 KG Deadlift, 84+ Masters 3A Raw Record 35 KG Bench Press, 84+ Masters 3A Raw Record 30 KG Squat, and 84+ Masters 3A Raw Record 157.5 KG Total.

"She was just so amped up that she'd broken a record," said Sarratt.

"See my Astros shirt?” asked Susan. “Jose Altuve is my hero. They told him he was too little and he went back and tried it anyway. So I am not too old. I am not too crippled. It's so easy to say, 'If I had done this when I was younger, maybe' or 'I couldn't do because' Go out there and try something."