Trainer Chris Farrell, left, and 71-year-old Harpswell resident Connie Roberts look up at the clock to see how much longer Roberts had to hold a banded air squat during a March 31 training session in Topsham. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

TOPSHAM — It was right around Christmas when Chris Farrell, a Topsham-based trainer, came to Connie Roberts with an idea. And Roberts quickly let him know what she thought of it.

“He said, ‘Connie, they’re having a weightlifting competition. You ought to go for that,'” the 71-year-old Harpswell resident said. “And I went ‘yeah, right.'”

But then her sons suggested it. And her nieces suggested it. And so did her nephews. And soon, “definitely not” began to turn into “why not?”

“Life’s too short,” she said.

The competition was the USA Powerlifting Maine State Championships on March 26 in Augusta, and just by setting foot in the gym, Roberts broke ground. She competed in squat, bench press and deadlift events, and ended up setting 12 age-related Maine records. The records hadn’t been set, because 70-year-old female power lifters don’t come along.

But Roberts, with her surgically repaired right shoulder and arthritic hip, tweaked the narrative.

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“I did not realize nobody had ever done this at my age,” she said, laughing. “Now I hold the record. Why not? I’ve done stupider stuff in my life.”

Roberts had a squat lift of 25 kiligrams (55 pounds), a bench press of 27.5 kiligrams (60 pounds) and a deadlift of 60 kiligrams (132 pounds). Farrell — a 1989 Winslow High graduate — said the competition was the latest example of an open-mindedness he’s seen since Roberts started working out with him over 10 years ago.

“She puts her heart and soul into it, for sure,” he said. “Every week, I ask her to do some crazy things and she’s more than willing to try it, at least. In the past … I’ve had her flipping tires, carrying sandbags. You name it, she’s tried it, and she’s more than willing to do it. When the chance to do a powerlifting meet came up, she was gung ho, more than excited to do it. She is a young 71 at heart.”

Roberts began coming to Farrell over a decade ago to lose weight and become healthier, and the two soon developed a rapport. Roberts started working out twice a week, with the sessions focusing on everything from weightlifting to conditioning to flexibility exercises to strongman drills.

Connie Roberts, 71, of Harpswell, poses with her medal for finishing runnerup in the USA Powerlifting Maine state championships on Thursday at trainer Chris Farrell’s home gym in Topsham. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The workouts have become a part of Roberts’s life. When she had shoulder surgery in July 2020, she was back in the gym about a week later.

“He is the person that drives me to come in here and do it,” she said. “It’s like coming in here and playing. That’s how I look at it. It’s hard to do, yes, it’s not easy. But we make it fun, and it makes you want to come back and do it again.”

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Once Roberts committed to the competition, however, the routines had to change. Roberts and Farrell began working together three times a week, and the work that had largely stayed away from lifting after her surgery now started to focus entirely on preparation for the events. Farrell initially had Roberts do the exercises without weight, in order to focus solely on technique and procedure. Five weeks before the championship, she started practicing with weight in order to build her strength.

Of the three lifts, squats got the most attention. Because of Roberts’s hip, which will require surgery soon, going far enough down on the motion is difficult, so Roberts focused on building up her flexibility, core strength and form.

“I had no clue about any of it,” Roberts said. “The hardest part for me was the squat. … My son said to me, ‘mom, you’re the only one I know who squats less than you can bench press.’ I said ‘Well, that’s the way it goes, kid.'”

Farrell had Roberts start squatting with a broomstick, just to get used to the motion.

“Sometimes that bothered Connie a little bit,” Farrell said. “But she stuck with it.”

When the day of the championships arrived, Roberts was nervous — especially when she found out she would be one of the first competitors going.

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“I don’t want to call it scary, but never doing anything like that before and not knowing what to expect,” she said, “and then I come to find out I was the first one up on the platform, it was like ‘Oh, no.'”

Trainer Chris Farrell, right, spots Connie Roberts, 71, of Harpswell, as she does a dumbbell press during a March 31 training session in Topsham. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Up first was the squat, and with her hip bothering her, Roberts didn’t lower herself enough for the first of her three attempts to count. The second one did, however, and when her second bench press lift and first and third deadlifts counted, Roberts was in the books for all three.

“I was trying to make sure I completed one of everything,” she said. “It was fun. I had a good time doing it. It was exciting, and something different.”

Farrell said Roberts’s determination throughout their time training together has stood out.

“What I’ve been impressed with in Connie … is her single-mindedness of being a strong woman,” he said. “She’s always worked for herself. She does it herself.”

With hip surgery looming, Roberts is not committed to future events. But she’s hopeful.

“You always should try things,” she said. “Why not? Life’s too short. You can put it on a bucket list or whatever you want to do, but if you’ve got something you think you could ever want to do, go do it.”


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