Journal of Gerontological Nursing

Epilogue: SILVER STRENGTH

Abstract

A lifetime of energeticpursuits! That's what Helen Zechmeister has had. At the everyoung age of 78* Helen now can boast of being a world record holder, a TV star, and an inspiration to hundreds of young people. She can boast, but she usually does not.

Helen's dedication to a lifestyle devoted to physical fitness started many years ago. A New York native, she earned her master's degree in physical education and then worked as a gymnastics instructor and also as a skiing instructor in Austria.

An appearance a few months ago on the television program "That's Incredible" highlighted her recent career as a competitor, on the international level, in power lifting. She states that she had been working out at a local gymnasium and discovered that she seemed to be stronger than anyone else in the over-50 age bracket.

About two years ago, she asked her coach, Norman Manoogian, if she could begin to train in power lifting. His initial hesitancy to allow her to proceed was overcome as she advanced through the various weightlifting categories, each time assuring him of her abilities to progress. She now holds what is called the "World Record" in the Master Division, eligibility for which begins at age 40. The countries of Sweden, Russia, and Germany do not recognize female senior citizens as being eligible for world class records, so there is no way of knowing, she said, what the records in those countries are.

A glimpse of a typical day's activities for Helen leaves one a bit breathless. The schedule would tire even a much younger person. Her morning starts at 5:30 AM when she and her husband Joe, also a weight lifter, rise to a breakfast of tea and toast. They leave the house at ?AM to jog together for two and one half miles every day. Helen says she has "a little time to take it easy" three days per week, while her husband goes for his weight-lifting training session. At 9AM every day, they swim one to one and one half miles. At 1 PM every day is Helen's weight lifting training session. She says her 19-year-old partner and she "help each other" as they train.

Helen has maintained sufficient flexibility to be able to perform a straddle split and put her forearms on the floor in front of her! Her "personal best" records to date (that makes them national records, too) are 220 pounds dead-lifted, 88 pounds bench-pressing, and 125 pounds squat.

Helen's daily existence is not all huffand puff and lifting lead. She is also a member of -several organizations, including a rose society and a cactus society. She raises over 200 rose bushes on her property and also grows many cacti and succulents.

Physically, Helen has the vital signs of someone many years her junior. Her blood pressure is 120/70 and her pulse rate is usually between 55 to 56 beats per minute. Her husband's blood pressure runs about the same as hers, she commented, but his pulse rate is even lower, at a rate of 50 to 54 beats per minute.

How does Helen's personal physician feel about Helen's prowess in weight lifting? "When he saw what I could do," she replied, "He began to believe that I was not overdoing it." She says that her doctor has pictures of her at competition in his files. Her only physical complaints are those of a slight case of arthritis in two of her fingers and an occasional bout with sciatica, which she says is relieved when she does some work with the weights.

When asked what she…

A lifetime of energeticpursuits! That's what Helen Zechmeister has had. At the everyoung age of 78* Helen now can boast of being a world record holder, a TV star, and an inspiration to hundreds of young people. She can boast, but she usually does not.

Helen's dedication to a lifestyle devoted to physical fitness started many years ago. A New York native, she earned her master's degree in physical education and then worked as a gymnastics instructor and also as a skiing instructor in Austria.

An appearance a few months ago on the television program "That's Incredible" highlighted her recent career as a competitor, on the international level, in power lifting. She states that she had been working out at a local gymnasium and discovered that she seemed to be stronger than anyone else in the over-50 age bracket.

About two years ago, she asked her coach, Norman Manoogian, if she could begin to train in power lifting. His initial hesitancy to allow her to proceed was overcome as she advanced through the various weightlifting categories, each time assuring him of her abilities to progress. She now holds what is called the "World Record" in the Master Division, eligibility for which begins at age 40. The countries of Sweden, Russia, and Germany do not recognize female senior citizens as being eligible for world class records, so there is no way of knowing, she said, what the records in those countries are.

A glimpse of a typical day's activities for Helen leaves one a bit breathless. The schedule would tire even a much younger person. Her morning starts at 5:30 AM when she and her husband Joe, also a weight lifter, rise to a breakfast of tea and toast. They leave the house at ?AM to jog together for two and one half miles every day. Helen says she has "a little time to take it easy" three days per week, while her husband goes for his weight-lifting training session. At 9AM every day, they swim one to one and one half miles. At 1 PM every day is Helen's weight lifting training session. She says her 19-year-old partner and she "help each other" as they train.

Helen has maintained sufficient flexibility to be able to perform a straddle split and put her forearms on the floor in front of her! Her "personal best" records to date (that makes them national records, too) are 220 pounds dead-lifted, 88 pounds bench-pressing, and 125 pounds squat.

Helen's daily existence is not all huffand puff and lifting lead. She is also a member of -several organizations, including a rose society and a cactus society. She raises over 200 rose bushes on her property and also grows many cacti and succulents.

Physically, Helen has the vital signs of someone many years her junior. Her blood pressure is 120/70 and her pulse rate is usually between 55 to 56 beats per minute. Her husband's blood pressure runs about the same as hers, she commented, but his pulse rate is even lower, at a rate of 50 to 54 beats per minute.

How does Helen's personal physician feel about Helen's prowess in weight lifting? "When he saw what I could do," she replied, "He began to believe that I was not overdoing it." She says that her doctor has pictures of her at competition in his files. Her only physical complaints are those of a slight case of arthritis in two of her fingers and an occasional bout with sciatica, which she says is relieved when she does some work with the weights.

When asked what she would recommend to other senior citizens who might like to begin a program of strenuous activity, she stressed that they should get a complete physical and a doctor's opinion first. In advising nursing personnel who work with the aged regarding methods to include exercise in the daily routines of their patients, she cautions that the patients or residents should begin with small "stretching" exercises. Work toward flexibility, she advises. This can be done without the aid of machinery. Just sit on the floor (or in a wheelchair, if necessary) and begin reaching.

The younger people with whom Helen and her husband come in contact consider the two of them to be an inspiration. The younger members of the gym where Helen works out tell her that seeing her prompted them to urge their parents to begin jogging or swimming on a regular basis. They hold Helen as an example.

Helen's personal goals are to try to "keep mind and body functioning at a younger level than 78 years." She strives to better her last personal records at every lifting meet she attends. She wants to stay active in sports and says she gets a standing ovation every time she appears at a power lifting meet.

We, too, would like to applaud this seemingly tireless woman for making it known that senior citizens never need to stop seeking higher levels of achievement and that they become teachers, by example, along the way.

10.3928/0098-9134-19830801-18

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