Dianne Shay, a 71-year-old grandmother and retired banker, attended her first powerlifting competition in September 2017. She wasn’t there to cheer on a friend or one of her children; she was there to do two things: 1) compete and 2) crush it.
“After the competition, I was starving,” she says. “When I told one of the organizers I was leaving to get something to eat, she said, ‘No, I really think you ought to stick around.’ When they called my name at the awards ceremony, I was amazed.”
Shay won first place in her age and weight class of men and women with a 177 1/2-pound deadlift. But her win wasn’t a fluke. She’s never been one to shy away from challenges.
“My husband and I lived on 40 acres in Missouri when he was diagnosed with COPD,” Shay says. “The horses needed feed. The land needed bushhogged. I took over the chores and learned how to use a tractor. It was hard work, but it was fun.”
When her husband’s health declined three years ago, they moved to Weatherford, Texas, to be closer to their daughter, Lori. Two months later, Shay joined a gym.
“I decided one of us had to stay strong,” she says. “I wanted to be fit, toned and lose my bat wings — you know, that skin under my arms.”
Shay bored quickly of repetitive workouts and asked her trainer to show her something different. After a few minutes on the weight machines, she was hooked.
“The guys in testosterone corner, where they groan and moan, were very sweet to me,” Shay says. “If they looked at me and said, ‘What are you doing here?’ I’d probably be so embarrassed I’d never go back.”
The most important man in Shay’s life was just as supportive.
“My husband was all for it,” she says. “He could see the difference in me. It was my time, and it improved my attitude. When he passed away last year, I kept going back.”
Based on her enthusiasm around deadlifting, bench presses and squats, Shay’s trainer, Taylor Reid, asked if she’d be interested in a powerlifting competition.
“I said, ‘Sure. Why not?’’ Shay says. “Then I thought, did I really agree to this?”
Her daughter had concerns as well, but Shay felt safe. “I’ve been sore, but I’ve never been hurt and that’s because my gym family cares about me. They don’t want me to get hurt. They want me to learn how to get it right.”
From October 2016 to September 2017, Shay trained toward the 2017 RPS Texas GAINZsaw MASSacre in Austin. The biggest challenge she encountered along the way was the one in her head.
“Most of it was mental: ‘Can I do this? Why am I doing this? I’m too old for this.’ Then there’s the singlet you have to wear that shows every little inch,” she says. “I got past it.”
Even if she hadn’t, Shay’s massive cheering section would’ve drowned out the voice in her head. In addition to three rounds in the bench press competition, Shay “started easy” with a 115-pound deadlift, bumped up to 150 on her second try, then nailed 177 1/2 pounds for the win. She walked away with a medal, a ribbon “and a very big smile,” she says.
Two weeks later, Shay went to Cozumel — not to celebrate her victory, but to support Lori through an Ironman competition.
“We cheer each other on,” Shay says. “She’s been a really great asset to me.”
With one win under her belt, Shay has a new goal: another powerlifting competition in February.
“I just did a 195-pound deadlift,” she says. “My original goal was 185. I’m going for 220 now.”
She finds it much more beneficial to focus on those numbers than the scale. “I’ve fought my weight my entire life,” says Shay, who’s used MyFitnessPal for more than seven years. “The day would depend on what the scale said. I’ve finally backed off that and focus instead of what improvements I can make in the gym.”
Her weekly exercise routine includes cardio, stretching, lifting, kettlebells and many variations of deadlifts.
“Every time to go to the gym, it’s a challenge,” she says. “I never know what I’m going to do from day to day, but I always walk out of there saying, I did that.”
Written by Danny Bonvissuto, a lover of words, writing for a living, independent bookstores, chips, salsa and queso, sunshine, jeans, tank tops and running – but only if ’80s rock is involved. Her work has appeared in Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, Food Network Magazine, HGTV, WebMD and Plate magazine.