Masters weightlifter antithesis of stereotypical Olympian image

craig.hill@thenewstribune.comSeptember 9, 2012 

In the few moments before Joe Quinn lifts a big weight in competition, he feels the adrenaline coursing through his body.

“It almost makes you thirsty,” he says.

These moments are part of the reason Quinn lifts. The moment where he tests himself and, quite often, pushes himself beyond his old limits.

The Fircrest resident says he reaches a point of self-hypnosis as he sizes up the bar, loaded with heavy weight plates.

“I love the thrill of facing a challenge of trying to do something you’re not even sure you can do,” Quinn said. “If you say you can’t make it, you won’t. But if you convince yourself you can, you just might.”

Quinn leaves Monday morning for Lviv, Ukraine, where he will compete in the World Masters Weightlifting Championship. Quinn is a 66-year-old self-employed attorney and he plans on doing big things when he lifts Sept. 17 in the 65-69 age and 77-kilogram weight class.

His goal is to win a medal, even if he can’t upset the favorite, Russian Alexander Kurnev. And Quinn expects to set a national record, maybe two, in the process.

The U.S. record, for his age and weight, in the snatch is 75 kilos (a shade over 165 pounds). He’s lifted 74 kilos before.

Where he expects to soon see his name in the record book is in the clean and jerk. The U.S. record for his classification is 95 kilos (almost 210 pounds). He’s lifted 97 kilos in training.

Quinn isn’t what you might expect when you think of Olympic-style weightlifting. He’s not one of the behemoths the TV cameras focus on during the Olympics.

Quinn is 5-foot-7 and weighed 175 pounds when I interviewed him recently. By the time he weighs in at the world championships he plans to be 169 pounds.

He’d like to see the perception of weightlifters as hulking, almost unnatural creatures change so the sport can grow in popularity in the U.S.

“The perception is so far from reality,” Quinn said. “Most of us don’t look like that. More and more women are lifting and competing and a lot of them are beautiful. They don’t fit the stereotype.”

Quinn grew up in New York and started lifting when he was 13 after his older brother finished a stint serving with the Marines.

“I worshipped my brother and wanted to do whatever he was doing,” Quinn said.

They taught themselves by reading Strength and Health magazine, an approach Quinn wouldn’t recommend using today.

“There are some good coaches out there,” he said. “I’d definitely recommend hiring one.”

Quinn did well and eventually could clean and jerk twice his weight. In 1968, he competed at the teenage national championships and he finished third in the Philadelphia Open. He set his sights on the Olympics.

He competed against some of the best in the world, including David Berger, one of the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches murdered by terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Quinn surrendered his Olympic dreams in the early 1970s and took up running. “And I lost all that muscle,” he said. Once 172 pounds, Quinn weighed 145 in his 30s. He skied, golfed and hiked and didn’t lift again until he decided to see if he could still lift when he turned 46. He trained for about four months and entered a meet in 1992.

“I just wanted to prove that I could do it,” Quinn said. “Then I quit again.”

It wasn’t until he was 62 that he became intrigued by masters weightlifting that would allow him to compete against people his own age.

It was just what he needed.

Quinn has always been fit, but he’s one of those people who needs to challenge himself to get there.

“Competition is an excuse to stay in shape,” Quinn said. “Staying fit is too elusive and too amorphous of a goal for me.”

He played competitive chess in high school to chase a better rating. He ran the 12-kilometer Sound to Narrows more than dozen times trying break the 45-minute barrier. He played golf five days a week until he reached his goal of a single-digit handicap.

Quinn returned to lifting training with renowned coach John Thrush at Sumner’s Thrush Sports Performance Center. He also trains with Jeff Serven at Tacoma’s Trident Sports.

He couldn’t lift nearly what he did as a kid, when he held the New York YMCA clean and jerk record at 305 pounds. But he didn’t let that bother him.

He just kept pushing himself to get better.

In 2011, he won gold medals at the American Masters Championships and the National Masters Championships. This year at the National Masters Championship he won silver at 85 kilograms, a higher weight class than he’ll compete in this month.

No matter how much weight he lifts at the world championships and no matter how many records he breaks, he’ll come home with goals to lift even more.

“That’s one of things that is so great about this,” Quinn said. “I can keep improving at 66 years old.”

Craig Hill’s fitness column runs Sundays. Submit questions and comments viacraighill@thenewstribune.com and twitter.com/AdventureGuys. Also get more fitness coverage at blog.thenewstribune.com/adventure and thenewstribune.com/fitness.

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