Like most 50 something women, she got herself a gym membership so that she could get in better shape, look less flabby and better in a dress. Twelve years later, at 62, Jane Stabile’s intentions haven taken a tangent – “Wanting to be in a lower weight class is a much better motivation to lose some fat rather than looking good in a dress,” says the powerlifter, who has broken several world records.
As we chat at Total Performance Sports, where she currently works as their business manager, Jane explains to me how she’s spent most of her adult life as a non-athlete, with barely any physical activity.
Her first trainer quickly realised that she was one of the stronger trainees that he had worked with, and taught her the squat, deadlift and bench press. “Lifting heavy things appealed to me,” she says casually, “But I can’t catch a ball. I’m not good at other sports.”
Since her trainer wasn’t a powerlifter himself, learn the lifts is all she could do at that point. She then found another gym in Maine where her strength was put to good use – she was trained by two powerlifters and attended her first two powerlifting meets. “It was at my second meet that I heard about Murph, and I’ve been coached by him since,” she says.
Powerlifting is a strength sport, where athletes have three attempts at lifting maximal weight on three big lifts – the squat, bench press and deadlift. In the last 10 plus years that she’s been lifting, Jane has set and broken quite a few world records in the 67.5 kg, 75 and 82.5 kg weight classes in her age category. To put things in perspective, she can squat 402 pounds (182 kgs), deadlift 375 pounds (170 kgs) and bench over 200 pounds.
Recalling her first world record as one of the most exciting memory in her lifting career, Jane talks about her final attempt on the deadlift. “I felt really good and wanted to go up in weight by a little on my last lift.” Her friend pointed out that she was only 5 pounds away from a world record and urged her to add those extra two tiny plates to the bar. After some hesitation, she went at it and a world record of 170 kgs was set, “It came up, and wasn’t even that hard!”
With lifting as much weight as she does at her age, concerns about safety, joint health and what not, are bound to arise. Jane, who has never suffered even a single injury so far, puts it simply, “Powerlifting badly is not safe for your joints. Squatting properly is a lot safer for your knees than not squatting at all.”
But surely she must take some extra precautions when it comes to recovery. Does she go through measures like contrast showers? “I don’t want to suffer!”, she laughs. “I just spend a lot of time in the bath tub.” Take a long bath after a hard deadlift workout is her straightforward advice.
Sandeep and I had the privilege of watching two of Jane’s training sessions – one squat and one bench press – as she preps for a meet later in April. Earlier that day, Jane broke into her new bench press shirt and hit some heavy singles, and finished off her training session with some dumbbell rows and band-assisted pull ups. Clearly a lot more collected about her awesome training session that one would expect, Jane says that the best thing that she likes about powerlifting is that everyone is always cheering for everyone, even competitors. “Its an unusual sport,” she says. While she admits that she always loves seeing her records being broken, her competitive streak kicks in and she is quick to add, “As long as I can keep making the records, the younger ones can come and eat them up.”
Speaking from experience, she says, “Don’t worry about how people perceive you as a woman. Just go out there and lift.”
I’ve always whined about how I started lifting a little too late at 24 and that I missed the opportunity of ever being able to be a competitive lifter and doing well at it. I guess I won’t ever be doing that again.