When Lalane Burhenn goes to the airport, she packs her pink squat shoes and her black deadlift shoes in her luggage, but carries her purple power-lifting belt through security.
In a world where a woman and her luggage can be so easily parted, she feels better if the belt stays with her.
“This is part of my life,” she explains, laughing as she describes the security guards' inevitable reaction: “You're a powerlifter? But you're so small!”
“I don't consider myself small,” says the 5-foot-tall personal trainer. “Look at these arms! And my quads – oh my gosh!”
Last month Burhenn performed a squat while shouldering a 285-pound barbell to break the age 40-44 world record in the 132-pound weight class at an international competition in Vermont.
The following weekend in Ohio, she went up a weight class to reclaim one state record – 305 in the squat – and raised her own state deadlifting record to 310 pounds.
Her next goal: Getting down to 123 pounds, where her current warm-up lifts would be enough to break a world record in that class as well.
“I know I can lift heavy,” she says. The challenge will be taking off 21 pounds from the 144 she's been carrying around since her most recent American Powerlifting Association event without sacrificing strength.
“It's a giant challenge,” she admits. “But I am excited.”
Growing up in the Philippines, where her family ran a coffee farm and her father served as a councilman, Burhenn expected a very different kind of life.
“My dad wanted me to be a lawyer,” she says, “to help the Filipino people.”
Watching her father donate his government income to those in need and give neighbors rice off their own table when times were lean, she learned the value and satisfaction of helping others. As a 12-year-old, she served as president of both her tribal youth group and a local Catholic organization.
But an idyllic childhood, where she could sit under a banana tree in the mountains and gaze out at the ocean, was interrupted by guerilla warfare. When her family fled their farm for a new life in Davao City, she says, “it felt like at that moment my life ended.”
Burhenn eventually sought a new life elsewhere, studying medical specialties at College America in Fort Collins, Colo., and then living in Ohio and Texas before finally landing in Fort Wayne.
She didn't set out to be a personal trainer. That came later, after her father's heart attack and a health scare of her own – an irregular heartbeat – abruptly shifted her focus to fitness.
But now, helping others reach their health and fitness goals feels like a perfect fit.
“I feel like a million bucks when I see someone smiling because of me,” she says. “Because of this, I feel rich inside.”
The discipline Burhenn demands of her clients was something she had to learn herself.
Though she weighed roughly the same before her fitness journey as she does now when she's competing in her heaviest weight class, she'd never worked out until about three years ago.
“I talk to myself,” she says. “I said, 'You are going to learn discipline.'”
After a week of eating only vegetables, then adding lean meats and unprocessed foods, she challenged herself to get up at 2:30 a.m. every day for a month of exercise-video workouts..
“I want you to own this,” she would tell herself as she set her alarm and laid out her workout clothes.
When she nailed that goal, she earned praise from her own worst critic: herself.
“At the end,” she said, “I know that no one did this but me.”
Burhenn experimented with running and CrossFit before realizing she preferred form and precision over workouts that she associated with “always being in a hurry.”
Lifting weights one day at the YMCA, a fellow member complimented her form and asked if she was a powerlifter. Intrigued, she began training for an American Powerlifting Association event. Much to her surprise, she won her division at her very first show.
“I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I can do that!”
These days Burhenn works without a coach, planning her training sessions with the same zeal and attention to detail that she uses with her clients. When she needs help with something she visits the YMCA in Warsaw, where several APA powerlifters work out.
“If it doesn't scare me,” she jokes, “it's not heavy enough.”
Her family, who has always known her as a “high heels and purses” kind of person, was initially stunned by her newfound midlife passion. But they were supportive – especially once they realized she intended to retain all her ladylike sensibilities.
Her two kids, now grown, are very proud.
“One of them posted on Facebook, 'My mom can lift your mom,'” Burhenn laughs. “They're just very happy with my addiction.”
LIFTING TO LOSE WEIGHT
On Friday afternoon at the Jorgensen YMCA, Burhenn got respectful nods from the much larger male lifters as she prowled the free-weights zone, effortlessly hoisting disks the size of large pizzas to load a bar for a new client.
“You pick up the bar like a man,” Burhenn told the teenage girl. “But you set it down like a lady.”
Though her client's primary goal was weight loss, Burhenn told her that rapid deadlifts to the point of exhaustion are a great way to combine cardio and strength training to burn fat.
Soon the girl was drenched in sweat, more exhausted than if she'd spent the same amount of time on a treadmill.
She also had a huge smile on her face.
“You don't worry about the other people, what they think,” Burhenn told her. “That is the worst prison of all.”
Tanya Isch Caylor, author of “Type 2 Diabetes Pioneer: The No-Drug Success Story that Keeps Getting Better Year After Year,” blogs about postfat living at www.90in9.wordpress.com. Contact her at email@example.com. This column is the personal view of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.