Sue Albert sits in the front of Results Fitness in Newhall, near the smoothie bar, after an evidently exhausting workout.
As an employee fires up a blender, she purses her lips and explains how the smoothies she drinks taste like hay.
Albert doesn’t get normal smoothies. Because she’s not a normal gym-goer. At 71 years of age, she’s an international powerlifting athlete.
One month ago, Albert took home four gold medals from the International Powerlifting Federation’s World Open, Sub-Junior, Junior & Master Classic Powerlifting Championships in Minsk, Belarus.
Seven years ago, she couldn’t do a single squat with just her body weight.
“People don’t realize … where she started when she walked in the door,” said Albert’s powerlifting coach, Craig Rasmussan. “So it’s quite a big journey.”
Albert, a Saugus resident, began training at Results Fitness in Newhall as she prepared for retirement with the goal of becoming more active. As she progressed towards her objective, she began participating in events like mud runs with her friends.
The problem was, Albert was too competitive. She wanted to win at something, but she knew she could never run for prolonged amounts of time due to two knee replacements, in addition to dealing with the Southern California heat.
The search began for other exercise options.
“One of my friends … she did (a powerlifting) contest and she had a good time,” Albert said. “And I thought, well look at this. This is indoors. This is cool. This is fun.
“I think the first thing I did was the deadlift and the bench, the push/pull. And I had a good time. We could win.”
Rasmussan incorporated deadlifts into Albert’s training sessions gradually, then added the bench press, two-thirds of what a powerlifting competition consists of.
He was hesitant to add squats, especially because of Albert’s knees.
“But I wanted to do it all,” Albert said.
So after consulting her physical therapist and a lengthy risk/reward conversation with Rasmussan, squats were added to Albert’s regimen.
Now, she has a max deadlift of 225 pounds, a squat of 127 pounds and a bench press of 94 pounds.
A competitive drive has always been a part of Albert’s nature. A native of Killeen Texas, she grew up playing sports like basketball and softball.
“But,” Albert said, “I was going to school and playing that in the 50s and 60s. Women didn’t get to do much, particularly if you came from the south.
“Basketball, we weren’t even allowed to play full-court basketball. You could play half a court. That was all the ladies were allowed to do.”
When she moved to California at age 16, her passion for sports didn’t cease. She attended UCLA and was a part of the first women’s gymnastics team at the school.
The rest of her family was active, too, and continues to be. She has a 73-year-old sister who does ice dancing, a 63-year-old sister who ran her first marathon in her 50s, a brother who is an outdoorsman and former rugby player and another brother who was a pilot in the military.
“My whole family is competitive,” Albert said. “Even my dog.”
When Albert got word that she would be competing in Belarus on June 14, she had to focus up more than ever before.
Originally, Albert came in second in a national competition (to a 79-year-old) and missed out on a bid to lift at the international level. But, as luck would have it, the first-place finisher dropped out, which allowed Albert to go by default.
“When this happened, I said, ‘I’ve got to be good,’” said Albert. “I’ve got to make every one count. There are times you get tired and you’re not as good as you want to be, but you’ve got to make it work. That’s where my mind was.”
So off to Belarus she went, accompanied by her husband and Rasmussan. She returned with four medals at the masters level: one for heaviest squat, one for heaviest deadlift, one for heaviest bench press and one for all-around champion.
Winning is great, but there’s something else that drives Albert and powerlifters around the world.
“Yeah, it’s nice to get the medals and all that good stuff, but on certain levels, though, it’s about competing against yourself and trying to better what you did last time,” Rasmussan said.
“The pursuit of trying to do better than (you) did last time … setting personal records is what’s addictive.”
Albert plans to keep competing at the state level for the foreseeable future, but hopes to go to nationals next year and then worlds.
For now, she’ll continue training and living in her happy place.
“It’s a very peaceful sport,” Albert said. “Everything is on the bar and the lift. You’re in a meet and you’re doing that lift, you’re aware of nothing but that bar and that judge telling you to put it down.
“That’s it. That’s all you care about. And all the stuff can be swirling and all the sudden you have this moment of pure unadulterated peace with you and the bar. And that’s cool.”