When Paulie Forquer turned 75 last year, she celebrated by downing her favorite drink -- hers just happens to be made with green barley and kelp -- take her daily dose of vitamins and then focus her mind on the task at hand until nothing else seems to matter.
The 5-foot-2 phenom will slip into a tight-fitting singlet, stare straight ahead for a moment like she's going to rip your throat out, tug on her heavy leather belt, take a couple of seriously deep breaths and, if all goes according to plan, lay claim to being the strongest little old lady on the planet.
Forquer is part of a growing movement of folks who set age-group world records, rejecting the notion that growing old means surrendering to aches and pains and weakness. These record-setters don't get rich or famous. But they earn plenty of bragging rights.
In Forquer's case, she aimed for world marks in two powerlifting movements, the bench press and the deadlift, a movement that calls for the athlete to simply reach down and pick the weight up to waist level.
Forquer works out three times a week at 24 Hour Fitness in Folsom, Calif., and has been pegged by gym regulars as a shoo-in when she attempts the records, which are for women 75-79 years old. She already holds world records in the 68-74-year-old category -- mostly, she says, because hardly anyone else has attempted them.
Forget what you know about old folks. To Forquer, age is but a number. When she pulls up in her BMW and enters the gym, heads turn as she glides past the machines and treadmills into the heavy-hoisting section of the building.
She's buff and tough. Oh, and she's a great-grandmother.
Encouraged a few years ago by gym member Bob Accosta, now 80 and a record-holder himself, Forquer joined something called The World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters. The group sanctions the records and counts 510 current or former world records among its 3,700 members, according to the organization's president, Gus Rethwisch.
The biggest deterrent to getting more folks involved, he says, is the longtime requirement for participants to wear a singlet, a skimpy and clingy piece of attire some might liken to an athletically inspired teddy.
The singlet, says Rethwisch, allows judges to determine whether the athletes are keeping their backsides down while performing the bench press. But it takes a lot of nerve for many to slip one on for the first time. Forquer says she wears a T-shirt under hers, "otherwise I probably wouldn't wear one."
Beginning slowly, Forquer, who weighs 128 pounds, tackles the deadlift, warming up with repetitions using only the 45-pound bar, and then adds weight with each set of four reps until she's lifting close to her own body weight. The world record for her age is 150.9 pounds. The bench press mark is 72.6 pounds.
"I am really proud of her, but I also worry," said Eve Danner-Kaiser, Forquer's daughter.
"It's an inspiration to see her be so physical, but I worry about her lifting that much weight."
Motivation for others
Forquer says she is usually sore for a time after her heavy workouts -- as are young lifters -- but she manages to recover quickly, aided by nine hours of sleep each night and a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables and a barley-and-kelp breakfast drink.
She says she goes after the world marks not for personal glory but to blaze trails and motivate others to get in shape.
"I feel I am gifted with strength and I need to share that with others," said Forquer, whose husband died nine years ago from lung cancer. "I want to be a role model. I brag about my age. I want people to know ... it only means what you want it to mean."