Record-breaking power and glory

SHE is one of the strongest women in the world with muscles of steel, a string of powerlifting world records under her belt and thinks nothing of lifting 33 stones of dead weight.

So the last place you might expect to find 41-year-old Mary Anderson is down at McDonald's, surrounded by the kind of food most powerlifters would run a mile from.

Or, for that matter, serving up tea and a quickstep every week at the local old folks' tea dance.

In fact, Mary is a string of contradictions. For while her chosen sport oozes macho displays of muscle power and two spare rooms in her Tranent home have been turned into private gyms, her garden is stuffed with ornamental animal figures and her car is decorated with pink fluffy toys.

It's a bizarre combination for possibly the most successful woman powerlifter Scotland has ever produced, who has broken no fewer than ten world records – bringing her personal total to 11 – in the past few weeks alone.

"I know – it's all a bit mad," she laughs. "People are pretty surprised to find out that I work at McDonald's – it's not where you'd expect to find someone whose life revolves around healthy eating and self discipline. But I really enjoy it.

"And people are surprised too when they see I've got pink furry dice and pink boxing gloves hanging in my car.

"But why shouldn't I like those things?" she shrugs.

"Why shouldn't I be girly?"

It might be something to do with the fact that Mary is a powerhouse of muscle. Her training regime demands a "junk food" free diet – chocolate is a rare treat – with meals piled with chicken and fish washed down with protein-rich drinks and her spare time is spent pumping iron with the lads at the gym where she trains.

And then there's the issue of the sheer amount she can lift – last month she headed to Bradford for the British Single Lifts Championships and stunned the organisers and fellow competitors when she smashed five world records, including a dead weight life of 210kgs, the equivalent of 33 stones.

She followed it up two weeks later with a trip to the British Powerlifting Championships in Coventry – scooping even more world records.

It conjures up an image of rippling muscles and fearsome power, yet Mary opens the door of her neatly decorated home in Muirside Drive, Tranent, to reveal a slim 12 stone frame that most women can only dream of, a figure-hugging white tracksuit and a huge grin.

She's getting organised for one of the key events on her busy weekly calendar, she explains.

By 2pm the champion power lifter will be in smart blouse and sleek trousers, spinning old-fashioned songs for pensioners at Port Seton Community Centre tea dance.

An odd sideline perhaps for a woman currently focusing on pulverising her opponents and breaking eight world records at the up and coming European championships in Estonia.

"I love it," she grins. "The folk are lovely. I come in, put on the music, introduce the dance – maybe it's a rumba – and they have a wee spin around the floor then they have a wee cup of tea while I shout out their bingo numbers.

"I've been known to join them on the floor, but I'm a pretty rubbish dancer," she adds.

"It's lovely to see them enjoying it so much, and they're now all huge powerlifting fans who are really proud of me. One of them carries around my picture and tells everyone she meets that I'm a power lifter.

"I've got to keep them in check sometimes, though, because they can get a bit rowdy!"

In fact, she could easily lift a few of them over her shoulder should any "trouble" break out – for as Mary admits, even she sometimes forgets her own strength.

"I can be at work and someone will need help lifting something, I pick it up and it's, 'Whoa!' and the thing is up in the air.

"Or I'll be holding something fragile and it'll break because I've let my grip get too tight."

It's a stark warning for anyone who might have been thinking of heading down to McDonald's at Meadowbank, where Mary, who is single, works the morning shift as manager before heading off to work out at her gym in Restalrig to be put through her paces with training aide John Wynn.

It's his support, she believes, which has given her the sudden edge to go from successful power lifter to one of the best in her sport in just four years.

"It's amazing the difference in the past few months," says Mary, who competes with the British Drug Free Powerlifting Association. "It's largely down to the fact that John's at the competitions with me, helping me to focus on what I'm doing and even helping me get into my outfit."

And when she brings out the grey leotard she wears for "equipped" lifts, it becomes clear what she means.

The fabric is stiff as a board, there's no "give" and trying to get it on solo, laughs Mary, is impossible. "You need someone to help you pull it on – you can't get your arms in otherwise.

"So there have been times I've been at a competition, I'm struggling to get dressed and I look around and there's all these blokes or a few women that I'm competing against.

"You don't want to ask the guys in case their girlfriends don't like it, and you don't want to ask someone you're going to be competing against because just getting this thing on involves a lot of effort – who would want to be doing that before they're due to perform?"

Today she's a leading light among the handful of women powerlifters, yet athletics was her first love.

She excelled in sports at Ross High School in Tranent, going on to appear on the track in the 400m for Great Britain and appearing for Scotland in the heptathlon, shot put and javelin.

Injury forced her to quit in 1989 but it wasn't until four years ago that she discovered her knack for power lifting.

"I was at a gym when someone suggested I give it a go. I hated it at first, but then something clicked.

"I'm the kind of person who really likes a challenge – I hate to lose anything. So once I realised it was the weights I was competing against, it all fell into place."

Her outstanding recent performances have secured her a place in the world championships in Italy. Her only regret is that more girls – and boys – don't seem to have an interest in power lifting, or any sports.

For despite having her as a shining example to what they might achieve, Mary's attempts to encourage them have come to nothing.

"I used to go around schools talking to them about getting involved in sport," she sighs. "Four of five in a class of 22 would listen, the rest didn't want to be there.

"I did a kids' boxercise class for a while – the kids just lay on the floor kidding on they were sleeping. The behaviour of some of them is just terrible. They sometimes knock on your door and run away, other folk get annoyed but I think, oh well, at least they're running.

"But it's a terrible shame."

So Tranent may have to wait for the next generation of power lifter champions to emerge, but at least Mary is planning to be around for a while yet – and still breaking records.

"I love it," she laughs, "it's my world. I want to break as many records as I possibly can. I'll keep going until I stop improving.

"And, hopefully, that won't be for a very long time."

HOBBY IS HEAVY GOING, BUT IT'S WORTH IT

POWERLIFTING movements are much shorter than those in weightlifting, where athletes raise weights from the floor to above their heads.

There are three disciplines: squat, benchpress and deadlift. Competitors can perform in two categories, equipped – where they wear supportive clothes and arm and hand wraps – and unequipped. Wearing special clothing can improve the weight a lifter can achieve.

Mary Anderson has achieved a string of world records in the past few weeks – breaking a total of ten current records in the process. In early April she scooped the records for: 150kgs unequipped squat, 195kgs equipped squat, 112.5kg equipped bench, 190kgs unequipped dead lift and 210kg unequipped dead lift.

Two weeks later she achieved a record 95kg equipped bench, 195kg equipped dead lift, which were added together to give her another world record.