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Don't stereotype Mormon mom weightlifter

If there is one thing Wendie Edwards doesn't want to be, it's stereotyped.Sure the BYU graduate, a former head cheerleader who grew up to marry her high school sweetheart and have nine children, might look easy to classify. But try to force her into that mold, and the champion arm wrestler, power lifter and Olympic lifter is likely to make you cry for your own mama. (Just ask some of those football players she used to humiliate in lunch-time arm wrestling tournaments at her high school in Edmonds, Wash.)Edwards' story is about as far from ordinary as a little girl can get, starting with the fact she grew up performing acrobatics on trampolines with her family. Once she started having her own children, the shows continued, only now they include three generations."We performed at the Stadium of Fire in 2003," she said. "After that, my kids said, 'We want a normal life. We're retiring.' "That decision put Edwards on a new path, one that would lead her to a whole new sport, a handful of gold medals and the opportunity to shatter any stereotypes about Mormon mothers.Without the benefit of training for performances, the 43-year-old nurse and author quickly realized she was losing the battle with her body."I had been active all my life," said Edwards, whose children range in age from 6 to 23. "I didn't have any goals. I got over 200 pounds at one point and I thought, 'This is so sad!' I have the knowledge; I have the strength; I can change this."She'd been dragging herself to aerobics classes, but found working out a bit boring."Instead of just working out to lose weight, I wanted to work out to accomplish a goal," she said. The goal she chose was, well, like Edwards, a little unorthodox. Enter the Utah Summer Games and compete in arm wrestling, power lifting and Olympic weightlifting.It even surprised her husband."He said, 'You're too busy!' " she said, laughing during an early-morning workout last week. "He asked me to wait a year. So I did. It was like an engagement."The minute Edwards could sign up for the Utah Summer Games, she did. "I entered as many things as I thought I was good at," she said. "We have always known I was strong."Finding an outlet for that strength — other than bench-pressing her children until about age 12 — had been elusive until this last year."I had no idea what (Olympic weightlifting) was," she said. "It's so technical, so different, and that's when I got in touch with Dave (Chui)."Chui, an Olympic lifter himself, agreed to meet with Edwards and give her a few pointers as she attempted to train for sports she knew very little about. She told him what she planned to do at the Summer Games. He explained that power lifting and Olympic lifting were two very different sports. "It's kind of like the similarities between swimming and diving," Chui said of power lifting and Olympic lifting.Still, she wanted to try both. So Edwards worked with Chui on the Olympic lifting and hired another coach to help her with power lifting. "He coached me for a month," Edwards said.She won the arm wrestling competition in five seconds — only one other competitor — and then the staff of the Utah Summer Games rallied around her to make it possible for her to compete in both power lifting and Olympic lifting. The result was two more gold medals.Her success at the Utah Summer Games qualified her to compete in the State Games of America this past weekend in Colorado Springs, Colo., at the Olympic Training Center. Instead of settling for a goal accomplished, Edwards made a whole new list of goals, including pushing herself as far as she can in Olympic weightlifting."I'm better at power lifting right now," she said, "but my potential in Olympic weightlifting really intrigues me. I want to see how far I can go."So she trained for both events, despite knowing she could only compete in the State Games in one discipline. She arrived and realized the change in altitude had caused her to gain a pound, so she had to lose the pound before competing or move up a weight class."I just thought, 'You've got to be kidding!' " she said. "Dave told me I had to spit in a cup on the way over to the other venue."She weighed in at both events, which were about 30 minutes apart, but decided to compete in power lifting. Unfortunately, by the time she made weight, they were calling her name to lift her squat."Here I am standing there in the locker room naked and it's my turn," she said, laughing. "It was like one of those bad dreams. I threw on my singlet, but I had to go with none of my equipment — no gloves, no wraps, no shoes."She attempted the squat barefoot and stumbled backward. She finished getting ready and waited for her second attempt at squatting. She lifted it, but was flagged for not squatting deep enough. One more try, or she was finished with the overall power lifting competition."I went all the way down, all the way up, put the weight on the rack and did a little victory dance," she said. "Then the three red flags flew up. They said the lift was legal, but I didn't wait for them to say I could put the weights down. I was so sad."Unable to continue in power lifting, and having missed her opportunity to weight lift, she chose to compete in the bench press. "I had to be really, really conservative," she said.Her best bench is 160 pounds, but she won her gold medal with 132 pounds."It was so absolutely crazy," she said. "For now, I'm going to continue and see where I can go with this. I'm excited to do more competitions. I learned a lot ... It was a good experience. I felt rich when I came home."Chui said people inquire about weightlifting but very few are as disciplined and dedicated as Edwards."Wendie has been very diligent," he said. "She somehow manages to get a lot of things done."Multi-tasking just might be Edwards' true talent.Not only is she a clinical coordinator for St. Mark's ICU, she is the author of a series of books that explore the time leading up to the second coming of Jesus Christ. "Millenial Glory IX: Babylon" will be released through Deseret Book in October. (For info, go to www.millenialglory.com.)Her husband is adjusting to her new passion, even if it raises a few eyebrows around the neighborhood."It doesn't intimidate him," she said of her husband, Ted, who also works for IHC. "He knows how driven I am. He's totally supportive ... This is not a normal thing. Everyone thinks I'm crazy. But that's OK. It's a good crazy."In fact, the questions it raises just give her another opportunity."One of the main reasons I'm doing this is that I don't like the stereotypes of religion, of women over 40, of women with nine children. If you're over 40 with nine kids, you're fat, you're frumpy."One of the things Edwards loves most about her religion is that she sees it as an opportunity to find out who she really is."I think it gives us so much freedom," Edwards said. "After I got home, I felt better, I felt stronger, I felt more functioning, more happy. This allows me just to take my life into my own hands."And if it's a little hectic, a little unorthodox, so be it."Whatever comes my way, I'll take it," she said.


E-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com