EAST ALTON — When you walk in the door of a 78-year-old grandmother’s home, you expect to see someone who bakes cookies and shows you pictures of her grandchildren. When you meet Shirley Webb, you are also introduced to a woman who deadlifts 245 pounds and wins weightlifting championships.
The extraordinary story of the East Alton grandmother of two continues to grow more remarkable as time goes on. After winning titles in two weightlifting competitions over the past year, Shirley Webb recently won a special trip prize for her accomplishments and is training for another competitive meet in June.
Webb says she never participated in sports during her life other than softball until she took up weightlifting two years ago at the urging of her granddaughter. She talks about how the training has improved her health over that time.
“I feel so good now. Before I started training, I could barely walk up a flight of stairs,” she says.
Her progress is a startling demonstration of how a person can improve their physical health at any stage of their life.
Deadlifting consists of lifting a loaded barbell from the floor to knee level. Participants thrust their hips forward until they are in a standing position to complete the lift before holding it and lowering the weight back to the floor. Webb trains two days per week with John Wright, her personal trainer at Club Fitness in Wood River. She attributes much of her success to the help he has provided.
She also trains an additional day every week on her own. Her routine ranges from cardio workouts on the treadmill to squats, bench presses and deadlifting. She often alternates, working on one or two specific lifts each session.
She won the deadlifting competition at the Missouri State Powerlifting competition last June by hefting 215 pounds. She participated in a regional competition last November in Belleville and is now up to deadlifting 245 pounds.
She tracks her workouts by keeping logs of her activity and has made progress in all aspects of her fitness.
“When I started doing pushups, they were hard,” she explains.
She progressed over time to a more challenging style of pushup and says when she recently went back to some of the original exercises, she was surprised at how easy they were for her.
Since the Belleville event, she has continued to train. She was recently featured on the St. Louis KSDK Channel 5 television station with a segment about her accomplishments. In addition, she recently won a trip to Cancún from the gym in which she trains.
Webb lives in East Alton with her husband, Dick. They have been married since 1957. They have two children and two grandchildren. The granddaughter who urged her to begin exercising still works out at the same gym as Webb.
“My family really looks up to me,” she says.
She says she personally enjoys the pride the family takes in her accomplishments.
In the meantime, Webb continues to train for this year’s Missouri competition in June. She says she is working toward getting up to 275 pounds in the deadlift, a remarkable feat at any age.
“My goal is to establish an American record for my age group,” she says.