New Hope Gym Helps 71-year-old Set Weightlifting Records
One Minnesotan who lifts at a New Hope gym can take on anything. Now, she is setting world records.
Early Tuesday morning at Life Time Fitness, trainer DJ Zmachinski packs on the pounds. His trainee, Susan Zemke, responds.
Zemke spent the morning working on overhead squats and powerlifting. She’s a unique athlete, and at 71 years old, a resilient one.
“She is fierce, so she is very competitive and driven,” Zmachinski said.
Since 2018, Zemke has competed in the Highland Games. Those are outdoor competitions that require a lot of skill and strength. She first discovered the games at the Minnesota Renaissance Fair and began competing in 2018.
“I am very small for the sport. This is a big person sport,” Zemke said.
She is small– but mighty. This year, she scored seven age group records at the games in Switzerland.
“I want to be able to do whatever I want for as long as I want,” Zemke said. “I can’t do that if I’m not strong.”
Resilience in Action
Zemke is persistent in more ways than one. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2021.
Zemke said she was lucky: her cancer was caught early. She had surgery and underwent radiation treatment.
“I was allowed to start training again seven days after the surgery because it was not huge,” Zemke said.
Still, her muscles weakened from the radiation. Zmachinski said it was a tough setback, as Zemke has high standards for her lifting goals.
“Back then, it was tough to basically start from scratch,” Zmachinski said. “Since then, we’ve built back up to where we have beaten a lot of those numbers.”
Zemke hit personal records as she was going through her treatment.
“I never had the fatigue, and so I was able to,” Zemke said. “In fact, I had a really good paused squat in the middle of this at 190. So I was surprised.”
She said she credits that not only to her early diagnosis, but also her base of fitness.
“You know, I feel it was less of a thing to overcome, and more of a ‘Oh, there was a blip on the radar,'” Zemke said.
Today, she is cancer free. With those seven records under her belt, she is still pushing for more. She hopes other women her age seek fitness goals, too.
She recommends starting where you are and building up strength before you can’t anymore. Zmachinski agrees.
“Everybody tends to be like, ‘Oh, you are this age, you should be doing this,'” Zmachinski said. “Those are the kinds of things I like about her. She is all about defying those age norms.”