Bob and Charlotte McMahon live in a single-story home in Klamath Falls. Potted plants line the walkway to the front door. Inside their living room, the McMahons have matching green and maroon recliners with knitted blankets lain over the seat back.
Their gray, nearly white hair and glasses hint at their age: 80.
Bob sports a white mustache, while green shamrock earrings hang from Charlotte’s ears. They match her and Bob’s Iron Shamrock t-shirts, representing their powerlifting team association.
They started lifting in 2002 after Bob was diagnosed with osteoporosis, which causes the bones to become fragile and more easily fractured. He read medical literature that suggested weight-bearing exercise can help slow the affects of the disease.
Charlotte was later also diagnosed with osteoporosis and has diabetes, but since the pair started lifting, their osteoporosis has leveled, and Charlotte, with changes to her diet as well as lifting, is no longer on insulin.
“You hear it: the older you get the weaker you get,” Bob said. “Well, it’s not true. I’m stronger right now than I was when I was 40. Muscle will only dissipate if you don’t use it.”
Bob and Charlotte train together at National Fitness and Racquet Club off Crosby Avenue. They compete with Iron Shamrock at powerlifting meets and are coached by team coach Josiah Price.
On a late September morning – about five weeks after their last competition, they alternate warm up bench presses, racking the weights together and spotting one another on lifts at National Fitness.
It’s Charlotte’s training day, so she keeps track of her weights and repetitions in a green binder.
They seem at ease in a place typically reserved for young, buff men: the weight room.
What began as an attempt at managing a bone disease, has transitioned into a competitive and dedicated lifestyle change for the McMahons.
“Bob and Charlotte, they go into every training session like they’re training for a meet,” Price said, unlike some of the most dedicated lifters he’s seen. “I wish some of my younger lifters had the training integrity of Bob and Charlotte.”
The McMahons met Price and Delbert Shay, another Iron Shamrock coach, at National Fitness where they also train. They became friends with the McMahons and started giving them lifting advice.
“One day, we saw Charlotte on the bench press,” he said, “and we were like, ‘Holy cow! That woman is strong for her age!’”
Charlotte and Bob were curious about powerlifting, so Price encouraged them to consider competing in a meet as a celebration of their 55th wedding anniversary.
In 2015 at 76-years-old, they competed with Iron Shamrock and both took first place in their age and weight classes at a meet in Newport.
While Bob competed in a full meet – bench press, dead lift and squat, Charlotte did bench press only, and set an Oregon State Championship record.
Because of the high costs of competing and the need to travel for meets, the McMahons don’t compete often, but when other Iron Shamrock members, including Price, were going to a meet in Boise in August, Bob and Charlotte decided to compete again.
Price said both Bob and Charlotte were stronger in Boise than they were at their first competition, when they were four years younger.
At 80, Bob earned a personal best with a 240-pound dead lift and a first-place medal in his age and weight class, while Charlotte, who also finished first in her age and weight class, set a national record in her class with a 77-pound bench press, beating the former national record by ten pounds.
They both met qualifying weights for next year’s national championship in July. Price said that they are trying to find sponsorships so that the McMahons can travel to compete at nationals in Florida.
Price expects Charlotte to advance and qualify for worlds.
“Charlotte will easily set a record,” he said. “Her national record is the current standing world record. And she had more in her in the meet in Boise.”
Bob and Charlotte are high-school sweethearts who moved to Klamath Falls in 1968 and just celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary.
Now retired, Bob was a manager of the Safeway produce department and Charlotte was a primary school teach at Klamath Christian Academy. They have three daughters, two who live in town and another in Grants Pass, and six grandchildren. They’re even expecting a great-grandchild in January.
“They think it’s great,” Charlotte said.
Two of their grandchildren actually went to Boise with them for their meet.
One of the added benefits of powerlifting training is the strength and mobility to keep up with their grandchildren.
“There are clinics opening up all over the country where they’re training seniors with powerlifting moves,” Price said. “Some of them go onto compete and some are just getting it for the health benefits: stronger bones, being able to lift up their grandkids and great-grandkids.
Four or five years ago, Charlotte fell off a deck, but stood right back up. Her doctor told her any other patient her age would’ve needed a hip replacement, according to Price.
“It’s just a great health regiment,” Bob said. “Let’s face it: people our age aren’t doing what we’re doing.”
But they could be.
“We didn’t start until we were 62,” Charlotte “If you stay consistent, it’s ok.”
“Get on a program and don’t quit,” Bob added.
Since lifting, Bob and Charlotte have managed to regulate their osteoporosis and increase their health and strength.
“We don’t treat them like they’re fragile,” Price said. “We don’t treat them like they’re grandparents. We treat them like team members and respect them like team members.”
And they are – nationally-qualifying team members.
While the McMahons wait for July, they will continue training as they look ahead to nationals.
“Powerlifting isn’t a sport for the young and the strong,” Price said. “It’s for anybody. You just have to know what a person’s limitations are and not exceed it.”