Long gone are the days of powerlifting being seen as an ‘boys’ club – a new type of power lifter has swept the international scene over the last 15 years.
While she may not have been the first ever female power lifter, Bernice Fuss of Red Deer has certainly made waves across the world during the last 15 years of her powerlifting career.
There are few 59-year-old women throughout the world who can say they can bench press raw 248.5 lbs, squat raw 352 lbs, single ply dead lift 418 lbs, and single ply squat 374 lbs. – even fewer yet who can boast multiple Olympia powerlifting medals.
Although some may say power lifters merely pick up heavy things and put them back down, for Fuss there is so much more to the sport.
While she has always considered herself an active woman, Fuss was never serious about fitness until she began body building in the late 80s. During her time as a body builder, she was continuously approached by a number of individuals encouraging her to give powerlifting a try.
“I just kept putting it off, never really thinking it was quite for me – then finally there was a meet in Red Deer and I figured I would humour the individuals who had invited me and go down and watch.”
The rest was history in the making. Fuss explained it wasn’t long after watching the first meet that she would fall in love with both power lifting as well as her future husband.
“While I was watching that first meet here in Red Deer I remember just being very impressed by this one woman’s size – her structure was unbelievable, and I said to my friend Randy I just wanted a little bit of what she had going on.”
She agreed to meet with Randy and begin training and this is where she would meet a man who had recently gone through a divorce.
“The man said to my friend that if Randy was going to start training me he was going to have to babysit me – this guy was adamant that under no circumstances would he be watching out for me.”
A year later she and the man who refused to ‘babysit’ her were married and by this time she was well on her way to being an international powerlifting sensation.
“Never in a million years would I have ever thought this is something I would be doing, but I have never regretted for a single moment joining the power lifting world,” said Fuss, who one year finished second out of 1,400 women at a national body building competition losing by only one point to first place. “I was done with body building – anything can influence your win and there is an immense amount of politics.
“You can’t control the judges’ personal decisions – where as power lifting is black and white, you either lifted the weight or you didn’t.”
Together her and her husband travelled for many years to a gym in Okotoks run by Bruce and Wendy Greig. She explained during her time at the Greigs’ gym she was the only female power lifter from Red Deer competing in power lifting at the time and one of few in Alberta as a whole.
“Southern Alberta had a larger following because of an incredible gym out of Okotoks,” explained Fuss. “There was an incredible degree of professionalism and camaraderie that I will likely never see again in my lifetime clinging to the walls of that gym.”
For years, Fuss and her husband travelled the world and trained together until tragedy struck in 2010 when her husband passed away unexpectedly following a competition in Prague.
“After my husband passed – I went down to the states to compete again and I really felt like that camaraderie wasn’t there anymore,” explained Fuss.
This led Fuss to create a league of her own – a league where no matter where you came from or what background you had, all persons would be equal when they stepped onto the lifting platform.
This led her to the creation of the Canadian Power lifting League (CPL) in 2014, an affiliate of the International Powerlifting League.
“I just got this feeling that I wanted to bring a solid, professional and accountable federation into Canada and provide a way for young lifters to go down south and open up even bigger doors,” she said.
Since the inception of her league, they have hosted the 2014 CPL National Championship as well as the CPL Western Canadian Bash 2015 both held in Prince George B.C., with this year’s 2015 CPL National Championship taking place over this past weekend in Red Deer at the Body Basics gym.
“After my husband passed away, many of the people we used to train with and knew from the power (lifting) world jumped right up and decided they wanted to help in any way especially with CPL, so it’s been a huge help to have support around.”
She jokingly added it’s been nice to have ‘the old boys’ club of powerlifting” help her out. “People tend to forget it was the old boys who built this sport,”
“We’re lucky now because we have the Internet and if we want to know something we can just google it, but these old school lifters learned simply by trial and error.”
Fuss has always been more than a power lifter – she is a mother, grandmother, friend, coach and mentor.
She continues to train out of Body Basics and encourages Central Albertans to try power lifting first hand.