GJ woman wins at lifting worlds
Shirley Callaway had never been on a bigger stage.
The large iron weights were the same, the barbell was the same, but this wasn’t just another competition for the 60-year-old mother of two and grandmother of three.
This was the ultimate stage, the greatest competition of her life.
Stuffing white earbuds into her ears, she cranked up her iPod to try to escape the enormity of the situation.
This was the World Masters Games in Torino, Italy. She needed to focus. She needed to not think about the weight of the Worlds. She needed to just focus on the weights and the barbell and the enormous opportunity in front of her.
“When I watch other lifters I get distracted,” she said.
Nerves, stress, and anxiety weighed heavy on Calloway. She needed to concentrate on her task. The snatch and the clean and jerk are difficult exercises that require strength but also tremendous technique.
Callaway turned to “American Idol” winner Phillip Phillips to help her focus. The song was “Home.”
“It’s a catchy tune that gets me going,” she said.
The lyrics motivated her, but they also soothed and calmed her as she waited to take the stage. “Settle down, it will all be clear ...” Phillips crooned. The poetically perfect lyrics did the job, then Callaway did her job.
In the heat and humidity of Torino on Aug. 3, Callaway coated her hands with white chalk, gripped the barbell and seized the opportunity with all her might. Then she became a world champion and set record after record. No woman in the 58-kilogram (128-pound), 60-64 age group has ever lifted more at the World Masters Games.
She set a record with her first snatch lift — 34 kilograms (75 pounds). Then she broke that record with her next lift — 36 kilograms (79 pounds).
She moved to the clean and jerk and set a record with her first lift — 44 kilograms (97 pounds). Then she broke that record on her next lift — 46 kilograms (101 pounds).
Her combined total of 82 kilograms (180 pounds) set the final World Masters Games record for her division.
“It was a good experience,” she said.
Her humbleness is as strong as her body as she redefines the word understatement.
The event was a combination of the World Masters Games, which is held every four years, and the annual Masters Games, so Callaway was awarded two gold medals, along with a plaque for being selected the “Best Lifter” in her weight and age category, and certificates to acknowledge her World Masters Games records.
You could say it was a good experience.
Even today, she sounds a little dazed, even a bit giddy at times as she tries to absorb what she accomplished.
“I’m really still trying to process everything. It’s been a great journey without any question,” she said.
After she won her gold medals and set the records, darkness had fallen over Italy, but Callaway wanted to celebrate with an Italian flavor. She wanted gelato — Tiramisu and raspberry.
“I had two scoops,” she said with a laugh. “That was a real treat.”
But the biggest treat was when her journey brought her home.
Her family and friends were waiting at the airport with balloons and flowers. Her daughters wore T-shirts that said, “My Mom Can Lift More Than Your Mom!”
Her grandkids — even 8-month-old Vivian — wore T-shirts that said “My Grandma Can Lift More Than Your Grandma!”
Her 7-year-old grandson Andrew ran into her arms, followed by older brother Jake. Callaway fought back tears and soaked in the ultimate celebration after the ultimate accomplishment.
That’s when it hit Callaway.
“When I had that welcome, everyone was giving me all that support, that really pulled it all together for me,” she said.
Even in Italy after her coach and trainer Adam Ford told her she had the gold medal wrapped up, Callaway still found it hard to believe.
“I just looked at my coach, and I said, ‘Really?’ “
For those who have never been dedicated to lifting weights, it’s impossible to understand the amount of work and commitment it takes. The little aches and pains, the fatigue, the quest to find the energy to work out, the constant battle to get stronger and to improve your technique.
Then imagine taking up the unique and specialized sport of Olympic weightlifting at 55 years old, when those aches and pains, muscle soreness and all of the other factors of age are rebelling against you.
Five years ago, Callaway started lifting, and she’s never stopped. She’s won state, regional and national competitions over the past few years, and now she has won a world title and has World Masters Games records to go with those gold medals.
She thinks for a moment, trying to sum up the journey. She likes using the term journey because that’s what it has been for her.
“If you would have told me five years ago that I would go to worlds and come home with gold medals and world records, I would have never believed it,” she says.
For her family, there were equal parts pride and surprise.
“My brother called me and said, ‘Wow, I thought you were just doing this for fun,’ ” she said with a laugh.
Her daughters, Kristen and Heather, were blown away.
“(Kristen) said, ‘I can’t believe you did this. Do you know how significant this was?’ ” Callaway said.
Then she lets out a big laugh. She almost never even made the competition.
Callaway, her coach and a friend were staying in Milan in northern Italy, not too far from Torino. But due to some lost-in-translation directions, they headed north instead of west.
“We ended up in the wrong city, so there was a little bit of stress. We almost ended up in Switzerland,” she said with another laugh.
After that everything was as smooth as gelato.
Callaway said she’s received so many congratulations since returning and even before. She even received a special card from a woman she didn’t know after an article about her appeared in The Daily Sentinel in July.
“It said that I was an inspiration to her. That was really nice,” Callaway said.
For more than five months, since she qualified for Worlds, Callaway’s single focus in the gym has been to prepare for Italy. She increased her intensity and started hitting the gym four days a week.
“I knew I had qualified, so I said, ‘Let’s do it,’ ” Callaway said.
Her dedication, hard work and countless hours in the gym paid off — in gold.
It was a memorable journey to Italy and home for Callaway.
World Masters Games records, two gold medals, two scoops of gelato — too cool.