Sy Perlis, 91, prepares to bench press in Phoenix, Ariz., on June 8, 2013. He set the new world record for his age group at 187.2 lbs.
Surprise, Ariz. (AZ Central) -- It was time for Surprise resident Sy Perlis to break another world record.
The 91-year-old weightlifting champ stepped up to the firetruck-red
bench at the front of the room. With a light push, Perlis rolled onto
his back, reached for the metal bar above his head and hoisted the
187.2-pound weight over his chest.
Perlis broke a World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters record
in the 90-and-over age division on Saturday at the National Push-Pull
Bench Press and Dead Lift Championships, which were held at the Embassy
Suites Hotel in north Phoenix. The final lift broke an association
record of 135 pounds that had been in place since 2005.
At an age when some avoid exercise, Perlis has become an athlete, said association president and event organizer Gus Rethwisch.
"We've had a lot of lifters in their middle 80s, late 80s and
occasionally we get one 90 and over, but they've never inspired people
(like Perlis has)," Rethwisch said.
Perlis began weightlifting when he was 60 but entered his first
championship competition five years ago at the suggestion of his
Now, he is a seasoned champion.
When he competed in the division for 85- to 89-year-olds, Perlis won
the state title in 2009 and world title in 2010 and 2011 in the
181-pound weight category.
"It gave me the opportunity to do something to test myself for one
thing, and I didn't have to run around to do it, as you would in some
other sports," Perlis said of his hobby.
"I got a lot of satisfaction out of it, and it made me feel good, and it was good for me."
It is a common misconception that exercise is unsafe for older
people, said Chhanda Dutta, chief of the Clinical Gerontology Branch of
the National Institute on Aging.
Research shows that exercise reduces the likelihood a person will develop a chronic disease.
For those who already have such diseases, it can improve symptoms, she added.
"The risk of leading a sedentary lifestyle is much greater than
anything related to exercise," Dutta said. "I think it's important for
people to realize that age alone doesn't determine the intensity of your
People like Perlis are good examples of how staying fit helps seniors live longer, Dutta said.
"While these people are unusual and exceptional, they illustrate the
fact that there can still be people, even in their 90s, who age very
successfully," she said.
Seniors are being studied as part of ongoing research about how
genetics and physiology help people such as Perlis live long, healthy
lives, Dutta said.
While Perlis and experts agree weightlifting is beneficial, it hasn't been easy for Perlis to train for such a demanding sport.
He has had some injuries but says they are not related to his weightlifting hobby.
His trainer, Reid Solar, says Perlis' involvement with weightlifting
might be a factor, but it's difficult to pinpoint the cause of health
issues for older athletes.
Perlis had surgery to fix a hernia and get a pacemaker. He might have
also fractured his wrist, but when he visited the doctor five weeks
after receiving the injury, he was diagnosed with acute arthritis.
Because of the pacemaker surgery, Solar did not allow him to compete in 2012.
"His health comes first," Solar said. "I do that with my younger guys, too. Age doesn't matter in that case."
Perlis said his doctor is aware he participates in the sport and has told him, "If you can do it, do it."
Perlis trains five days a week. His routine includes cardiovascular
exercise and weightlifting, in addition to the bench-pressing sessions
Solar offers every Saturday for Sun City Grand residents.
Perlis' wife, Joan, 69, said he encourages her to stay active.
"I always say if it weren't for my husband, I'd be at home watching
TV and eating bonbons," she said. "He's my motivator. He makes me work
He is one of three active lifters in the 90-and-older age category in
the association and the only one to compete Saturday, Rethwisch said.
At the championship, Perlis was a crowd favorite. They cheered and shouted words of encouragement when he was ready to lift.
"You got this, Sy! Come on, Sy!" they shouted.
The air was chalky from the magnesium carbonate powder that lifters used to tighten their grip, and the room reeked of sweat.
For each lift, Solar positioned Perlis' fingers, adjusted his
shoulders and gave him a pat on the chest. Each time Perlis exhaled, let
the bar down to his chest and without hesitation lifted it back up.
Usually, competitors are allowed only a total of three lifts, four if they are trying to break a world record.
On Saturday, Rethwisch allowed Perlis to do five.
It's not often that a 91-year-old participates in his championship event.
"He was on a roll and ... I consulted with people ... and they said, 'Why not?' " Rethwisch said.
Perlis' record lifts this past weekend qualify him for the world championship in Reno in November.
After the competition, many other competitors came backstage to congratulate Perlis. Some asked to take a photo with him.
"I'll be happy if I'm still walking when I'm 91," said Tanner Cook, 20, of east Mesa.
After he asked Perlis his age, Donald Judd, 75, of St. David, shook his head.
"You put me to shame," Judd said. "I'll be lucky if I get 121 (pounds) today."
Gene Lawrence, 73, of Scottsdale, called Perlis his "new hero," adding, "I thought I was old."
"You're a kid," he said.