Heavy lifting wins them world medals

Last modified: Thursday, May 09, 2013
If you were standing in line with them at the grocery store, you wouldn’t guess they had a rack full of championship powerlifting medals at home. She’s only 5 feet, 2 inches tall, and he’s just two inches taller.

Lizz D’Entremont Smullen of Hancock and Jeff Hadad of Peterborough look like a 40-something soccer mom and dad. But pound for pound, they are ranked among the strongest people in the world.

On April 18 in Prague, Smullen pressed 176.37 pounds in her first of three lifts; followed by 181.88 pounds. She missed the third lift, conceding the gold to her Russian competitor who lifted 187.39 pounds. The silver went to Germany.

Smullen was quick to dismiss her accomplishment in light of Hadad’s performance, which she called “stellar.” His pre-competition meal of pasta, chocolate and salty chips worked well. After pressing his first lift easily, he made a 55-pound jump successfully. To that he added 11 pounds for a total of 418 pounds, his best lift ever in competition or training.

The two are members of Performance Health and Fitness in Peterborough. Two or three times a week, they work out beside teenagers and retirees, as well as men and women battling middle age spread. Some folks are trying to lose weight, others are rehabbing after an injury or perhaps too many years behind a desk.

While too many of us choose to unwind on the couch with beer or perhaps a pint of ice cream, Smullen and Hadad unwind at the gym. And a few times each year, they enjoy the added pressure of competition.

“Lizz and Jeff are great role models for all of us. They are dedicated to fitness, and to having fun with it. The energy they bring to the gym is contagious,” said Erin Lyons, gym manager.

“It’s one of the things we’re really proud of — we have world-class lifters, Lizz and Jeff, and we have members who had never lifted a dumbbell before joining us. Lizz and Jeff, and the rest of our serious lifters, couldn’t be friendlier or more encouraging to others,” owner Hunter Burgess said.

Hadad and Smullen weren’t always powerlifters, and say they started out like anyone else who joins a gym. Both athletes credit others for their involvement and success in the sport of competitive lifting. Hadad joined Performance Health and Fitness in 2000, having dragged himself to the gym after tipping the bathroom scale to 159 pounds. At five-feet, four inches, Hadad said, “I was fat.”

The Delta airlines pilot hadn’t worked out since his high school days when he lifted “for protection” against giants on the football field at Somerset High School in Massachusetts. At only 128 pounds, he was motivated to be as strong as possible.

When he joined the gym, another member, Dale Wisner, noticed Jeff working out by himself and invited the newcomer to lift with him and his friends. Hadad’s been lifting with his buddies ever since.

Smullen said after she started working out regularly, she felt her body changing and liked how she felt. “I love how my body looks as a result of powerlifting. I have muscles and I love that. I’ve never had a problem with bulking up a result of my lifting. If anything, I went down a dress size and have maintained that size for the past 10 years.”

And there are practical benefits too, real time-savers. Smullen halls enormous loads of cordwood up a flight of stairs, doing one trip instead of three or four. Same for groceries.

The former Ledger-Transcript reporter, and now technical writer, gives high praise to her trainer, Tom Weeks — the guru of weightlifters at the gym for the past three decades. Smullen was competing at local meets in Keene and Swanzey for a few years before she started training with Weeks. Having a professional trainer accelerated Smullen’s progress.

At her very first bench nationals, the rookie brought home the Gold medal. Since then, Smullen’s won Gold in the women’s masters division at nationals four times, and two Silver and two Bronze medals at Worlds. But Smullen won’t be satisfied until she brings home a gold medal from the World Championships.

Likewise, Hadad conceded he was open to retiring or taking a year’s break. But gold is calling him. “I want to hear the National Anthem. You don’t get that with silver or bronze.”

Though he doesn’t train regularly with Weeks, getting championship-ready for Hadad means signing on with Smullen and Weeks for 10 weeks of training before the big lift. The three work together to fine-tune form, technique, and mental and physical readiness.

Hadad says it was Smullen who motivated him to compete at the highest level. After the gym’s strong woman had gone to her first nationals and qualified for Worlds, Jeff realized he’d like to shoot for that too. So for the past 10 years, the two have traveled the globe lifting against the world’s strongest men and women, and usually placing.

This year was the second time Smullen and Hadad traveled to the Czech Republic to compete in the World Bench Press Championships. Once again they were the only New Englanders on the national team. Just as they do for all their meets, the two Monadnock residents took care of each other. When one is readying for their lift, the other is making sure they have nothing to think about but the lift. Need water? Here it is. Food? Here it is. Pep talks or silence, they are fine-tuned to each other’s needs. The symbiotic relationship makes successes and failures alike — shared triumphs and disappointments.

Hadad and Smullen are headed to Nationals in Atlanta in August.