Lebanon Woman, 65, Discovers Weight Lifting at the Right Time

Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Lebanon — Science tells us that gravity causes small objects to be captured by larger ones, caught to orbit. But that only scratches the surface of how Lebanon’s Jane Higgins has benefited from a chance encounter with Carl Wallin.

Higgins met Wallin three years ago on her first day as a Carter Community Building Association member. Wallin invited Higgins — a physically fit 62-year-old at the time — to join his weightlifting group. Little did Higgins know that hoisting heavy objects over her head would stoke her competitive fires as other sports in the past had.

Higgins, now 65, can call herself a national champion now. The one-time swimmer, runner and soccer player took home two titles from the USA Masters National Weightlifting Championship in Shreveport, La., on April 4, setting records for her age group in the process.

“It sounds bad, but I knew I could beat the records because … they were pretty low,” Higgins said during a break from a recent workout with Wallin’s group, the Thor’s Stone Athletic Club. “I knew I could win if I just went down and not screw up my first lift, which I didn’t.”

According to USA Weightlifting records, Higgins — who competed in the 53-kilogram (114-pound) weight class — beat marks in the women’s 65-69 age group that were set last November by a North Carolina competitor at two different sanctioned meets.

Higgins lifted 61 pounds (28 kilograms) in the snatch, which involves propelling the barbell from the floor to overhead in one motion. She broke the old mark by 15 pounds.

Higgins also beat the previous age-group standard in the clean and jerk, where the bar is paused at the clavicle before an overhead completion. Her lift of 75 pounds (34 kilograms) was 20 pounds better than the record. Her two-lift total of 136 pounds (62 kilograms) also set a new mark.

“She had asked me if I thought she should do it, and I said of course,” Wallin said. “It’s very easy when you get older to sit back and think, ‘I’m not as good as I’m supposed to be.’ It’s good to lay it on the line every once in a while, and she did.”

It’s safe to say Higgins didn’t have weight lifting in mind when she and her partner of some 20 years, Joe Hindle, decided upon the Upper Valley as a retirement spot in June 2011.

Higgins had some weight training experience from her high school years in Marietta, Ohio, where she was a competitive swimmer. Most of her physical fitness choices as an adult had been more tilted toward the aerobic, including running and playing for a women’s soccer team.

Hindle knew of Wallin from their days in collegiate track and field — Hindle at Boston College, Wallin at Northeastern — and was pleasantly surprised to learn of the former Dartmouth College coach’s presence in the area. It didn’t take much of a pitch from Wallin to draw both of them into the weight room.

“It was just happenstance,” said Hindle, 69, who also trains with the group. “We didn’t know what we were getting into. It’s a very structured workout, and he’s got a plan for you. It’s been good.”

As with all of the people who work with him, Wallin started Higgins at the beginning with exercises built more for correct form. The weight totals gradually followed.

“My first meets, I was way down in all the powerlifting stuff,” Higgins said. “You start slow, you get stronger and you move up. …

“You see big guys join, and they all start off at the bottom. You have to keep your ego in check and work your way up.”

Higgins’ tallies at nationals don’t even represent the best she can do, she said. Within days of returning from Louisiana, Wallin had her pushing personal bests in the squat, bench press and deadlift in preparation for a powerlifting meet in Newmarket, N.H., this weekend.

“She just keeps improving all the time,” Wallin said. “Not everybody is built for every single lift, but she does well in all of them.”

Higgins readily admits “there’s not a lot of ladies doing this at my age.” But it’s nice to know her name will soon go into USA Weightlifting’s record book, and there’s more for her to gain from the sport than simply ego gratification or notoriety.

The sport appeals to her competitive nature. Because of that, Higgins has begun to scout her next potential target: an international event this summer in Toronto, where she’s found weight lifting records that she believes are within her reach.

“What’s more important than committing to stay healthy and strong?” Higgins pointed out. “My mother was one of those ladies who fell, broke her hip and, within two years, she was dead. She was fragile; she was small; she was short, like me. I swore I’m not going to be like that. …

“I’ve always had low blood pressure and low cholesterol. My weight’s been the same for the past 15 years. I guess it just keeps you muscular, although I’m not bulky. It’s everything, but for me in particular, it’s staying strong.”

That’s where weight lifting gives Jane Higgins her lift.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.