Fitness

I'm 68 and can lift 74kg: TeMiria Ruth Turnbull, World Masters Champion

Not a bad effort for someone who took up the sport as a hobby only two years earlier.

By: Fleur Guthrie

It wasn't nerves that almost stopped 68-year-old weightlifter TeMiria Ruth Turnbull, who goes by the name Ruth, from competing at the World Masters Games in Auckland last year. It was the Lycra bodysuit she had to wear.

"Oh, that really scared me!" she laughs. "That was the worst.When I found out what it looked like, I rang my son Andrew and told him, "I'm not going to the Masters. I have to wear a figure-hugging suit that is bordering on a mankini!"

Okay, slight exaggeration, she admits, with her only child telling her, "Don't be silly, it's not Milan Fashion Week you're going to. You'll be disappointed if you don't compete."

The World Masters champion with her personal trainer Dan.

So Ruth donned the black suit and discovered "it was actually quite good because it tucked everything in!" And after lifting a combined weight of 74kg, in the snatch/clean and jerk, she took away the gold medal for her age and weight category.

Several months later, she picked up three more golds by lifting a combined 78kg and broke a Masters World Cup record while at the Oceania Masters Weightlifting Championships in Australia. Not bad for someone who only two years earlier had taken up the sport as a hobby.

"Who would have thought that you could get past retirement age, then suddenly find yourself representing your country in a sport?" she muses.

"It's quite surreal. I was widowed at 49, so this is very different from the life I pictured myself having 20 years ago.

"Being single with no children at home, you pick up other things to fill the gaps," adds Ruth, who also belongs to Toastmasters (an organisation that builds confidence through public speaking), knits clothes and blankets for neonatal units and volunteers for Hospice NZ.

"A lot of people see me training and come up to say, 'Oh gosh, I could never do that.' But people can! Nothing is beyond them. I'm not anything special to be doing weightlifting. I'm doing it for fun and it doesn't matter if you don't win...

"Although I quite like winning," she whispers.

Ruth adds, "The only thing I find a bit confronting is being weighed on competition days. It's to make sure you meet the requirements of the weight group you are entered in, but it takes place in your underwear in front of strangers."

It wasn't until Ruth had semi-retired from her job as a contact centre manager that she joined the gym at her local leisure centre. While there, she began working with personal trainer Dan Uprichard for an hour, three times a week.

Part of her training included powerlifting – a repetitious set of deadlifting, bench pressing and squatting, which she soon discovered she was rather good at. When Dan heard the World Masters was coming to New Zealand, he suggested Ruth register for the qualifying event.

"Except powerlifting wasn't one of the options," she recalls. "But there was Olympic weightlifting, so Dan suggested I do that instead.

"I owe him a lot. Weightlifting has been so good for my posture, strength and general health. You get reasonably toned, but sadly nothing stops the sag from ageing."

Growing up in Featherston, Ruth had no real interest in sport and suffered from low self-esteem as a "taller, bigger girl who wore size 26 clothes".

"Now, interestingly with my sport, physique doesn't come into it," she explains. "Weightlifting is all about technique. It's about the speed you lift the bar, the way you move your hips forward to balance it and getting under the weight."

Ruth's next competition is the New Zealand Weightlifting Masters in Wellington in December, followed by the 2019 World Weightlifting Masters in Montreal. Her goal is to lift a combined weight of 80kg
over the two disciplines.

"It will be my last year in the current age group before I move on to the 70-74 years group. As you get older, the requirement changes."

In London with a friend (Ruth is on the left), when she was 27 and was a "taller, bigger girl".

For the most part, Ruth had kept her sporting achievements rather quiet. However, after her gold medal wins, Andrew (31) proudly posted photos of his mother on social media, and her friends and workmates were "very, very shocked".

"No-one expected that of me at all. My son may wish he hadn't told everyone, though, as he's been getting a bit of stick. He recently got assaulted by a man who was trying to rob him and his mate, who said, 'Just as well your mum wasn't there, bro'!'"