Sunday, April 20, 2014
By Steve Craig firstname.lastname@example.org
BELFAST – Aimee Leclerc didn't walk into the Bay Area Fitness Center in November with the intention of becoming a world record power lifter.
Aimee Leclerc works on her strict curl – she holds the world record for her weight class in the event – at Bay Area Fitness in Belfast, where she was trained by power-lifter Ed Flanders.
Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer
Aimee Leclerc uses a weight machine that simulates a rowing motion during her workout. Using her slender legs, she can power through a set of eight repetitions of 230 pounds. “I don’t even look at the weight,” she said.
Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer
Of course, she never planned to be a competitive motocross rider, an Outward Bound instructor or a collegiate club rugby player, or to paddleboard solo from Key Largo to Key West, Fla.
It's just that once Leclerc tries something, she tends to go all the way.
"I think what inspires me the most is I have the potential, I have the strength, I'm healthy. Why not do these things?" said Leclerc, a mental health rehabilitation technician from Lincolnville who graduated from Kennebunk High School in 1991.
On June 1 in Derry, N.H., Leclerc, 40, set a world record in the strict curl -- in her first power-lifting competition. Competing in the 97-pound weight class, she lifted 60.6 pounds.
"It's so surreal," Leclerc said. "Who would think little old me would find something (I do) so well in at that age? It's kind of shocking."
Most people have tried a bicep curl at some point. The strict curl is a very specific, and more difficult, two-armed lift.
The lifter's back and shoulders must be flush against a wall or post, with feet flat on the ground -- usually slightly in front of their hips -- and knees locked.
The lift must start with the bar motionless and horizontal, and the arms fully extended. A lift is completed when the bar is raised near the chin and held motionless.
Leclerc set the world record at the 100% Raw Powerlifting Federation competition. Competitors cannot wrap their knees, elbows or fingers in any way, or even wear compression shorts or shirts. Only wrist wraps and a lifting belt are permitted.
The result is that the strict curl is as close to an arms-only lift as possible.
One person who isn't surprised by the power packed into Leclerc's 5-foot-2-inch frame is Ed Flanders, the owner of Bay Area Fitness and a record-holding masters division power lifter.
Flanders recognized something special in Leclerc before he began to train her.
"From a mile away, I could see Aimee had chiseled abs, good triceps and vascularity (veins), and I'm not used to seeing that in here," Flanders said. "It immediately became evident that she was extremely strong in certain lifts."
Flanders began putting Leclerc through demanding twice-a-week workouts that emphasize high weights working toward a fatigue level.
"Ed saw something in me and said, 'This is something you'd be a contender in,'" Leclerc said.
About a month before Leclerc competed, the pair began to prepare in earnest for a shot at the open world and national records.
The previous world record, 49.5 pounds, was set by Beth-el Algarin of Minnesota, competing in the 11-and-under division in February 2011.
The national record, set by Heather Feingold of Virginia in August 2012 in the 35-39 age group, was actually higher, at 52.9 pounds.
Flanders said some competitions aren't set up with all of the elements needed for world record certification, including three judges, videotaping and drug testing.
Leclerc, who said she weighed 95 pounds on the day of the competition, started with an "easy 50 pounds," then broke the national record with a lift of about 55 pounds (the weights are in kilograms).
After a round of drug-testing, she hoisted 60.6 pounds on her third and final lift.
Before the strict curl, she set national and world records in the free curl, a rare event that's not recognized by all power-lifting organizations.
A free curl is a free-form heave with leg and back movement allowed. Leclerc said she started with a "dainty" lift because she was the first competitor in the meet and had never seen the lift in competition.
After she got the idea, she ramped up her weight and finished with a lift of 82.7 pounds.
Don't call Leclerc "tiny." She doesn't like petite, either.
You might be able to get away with "small," because it is true. She said the most she ever weighed was 120 -- "and it wasn't muscle" -- when she was a freshman at the University of South Florida.
"I have the metabolism of a hummingbird," she said.
Leclerc said her workload lessens in the summer, giving her more time to pursue her outdoor passions.
In the summer, it's not uncommon for her to go from a workout to surfing or standup paddleboarding, then an evening hockey game in a women's league. She also owns and cares for 13 sled dogs.
What she lifts in one of her twice-a-week workouts with trainer Flanders definitely is not tiny, petite or small. Often, it is more than twice her body weight.
Seat-belted onto a weight machine that simulates a rowing motion, Leclerc's slender legs quiver with exertion as she powers through a set of eight repetitions of 230 pounds.
"I don't even look at the weight, or how much it is. I don't count," Leclerc said.
Instead, she trusts Flanders to know what she can handle.
Flanders, 66, has set multiple power-lifting records. The one-time holder of the school record in the mile run at Crosby High in Belfast, he is in his 48th year as a lifter and body builder. He now holds world records in the strict curl and squat for 65- to 69-year-olds in the 181-pound division.
In the gym with Leclerc, his demeanor is calm and very quiet.
At one point, the two demonstrate the proper technique for the strict curl. Leclerc bangs out eight repetitions of 50 pounds, making an observer suggest that she could lift more than her world record.
"She might be able to do 66 pounds," Flanders said. "Adding another 10 percent, that's really a lot of weight."
After graduating from college, Leclerc moved to Lake Tahoe and began working on the ski patrol and as a personal trainer. While living in California, she took up motocross and was "fairly competitive."
Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Leclerc felt the pull of home, she said. She returned to Maine in 2002.
She doesn't see herself attending any power-lifting competitions in the near future, but her world record has been a personal valedictory stamp on her effort and dedication.
Flanders posted her accomplishment on the Bay Area Fitness sign along Route 1.
Leclerc said that when she saw the sign, it took her a moment to realize that she was the one being celebrated.
"Then I had to pull over and I started bawling. I don't think I understood what I had done until that moment," she said.
So what's next for Leclerc? She may try a form of body building known as figure, in which definition and body symmetry matter more than bulk.
And what about those 13 sled dogs she feeds and trains? Has she ever thought about entering the Iditarod in Alaska?
"Heck no. That makes the stuff I do look easy," she said.
Steve Craig can be contacted at 791-6413 or at: