What kind of fitness regimen should a trainer put together for a tiny, middle-aged woman who is a former Ironman triathlon competitor and yoga instructor?
If you’re Adam Francilia, you go for something out of the realm of her experience.
Francilia said people too often pigeonhole themselves to one kind of training. Instead, he wanted her to train for the West Coast regional powerlifting championships in Richmond in February. It was October 2012.
“If you trust me, change course, and I can train you,” he told her.
Mira Slapinski, 53, has done six Ironman triathlons, but a training session bike accident in 2000 left her with a broken pelvis.
In the healing process, she started yoga, and eventually became a qualified instructor. She has recently trained Ironman competitors, and in doing some of the events started to rekindle her romance with that sport.
“It was like I had never left it,” she said.
Francilia’s suggestion to go in a completely different direction caught her off guard, but she decided to give it a go.
“I love his training, and he’s a great coach,” she said.
As her coach suspected, Slapinski threw herself into power lifting.
It was a whole new way of exercising for her. Deadlifts, squats and bench press are the competition events. Sessions would involved only one or two repetitions of straining against stubbornly heavy weights, followed by four minutes of rest, and then the next vein-popping, eye-bulging attempt.
“She put in hours and hours of gym time,” said Francilia.
Muscles grew, the number of plates going onto the bars increased, and so did her passion for the sport.
“I’m hooked on it now,” she said. “It’s physically challenging, but at the same time, a lot of it is mental.”
Ironman typically consists of a four-km swim, 180-km bike ride followed by a 42-km run.
“Ironman made me really strong,” she said.
She has also done a Vipassana, which is a 10-day meditation with no talking or even eye contact, three times.
“You get a lot of awareness, and you learn a lot about yourself,” she said.
So she was well prepared for the mental rigours demanded of power lifters.
During the regionals, she was doing the deadlift event, which is simply lifting a heavily loaded barbell off the ground, standing straight up, with the arms hanging straight.
Slapinski got the weight up to about thigh level, but struggled to stand up straight. She finally got called for a time count violation, but still strained against the weight, until her coach finally told her to let it go. Her intense effort was the buzz of the event.
She won the the masters division at the regionals.
Richmond was also hosting the national championships, five weeks after the regionals, and Slapinski’s efforts qualified her.
Her accomplishments are most impressive based on Slapinski’s rapid improvement.
She remembers reviewing the efforts of her rivals. A girl from Ontario she would compete against had squatted 175 pounds.
Slapinski was at 120.
“I said, ‘oh God, I could never do that,” she said, and Francilia admonished her with, “you just got started.”
A week before the meet, she squatted 173 lbs.
She won the Canadian championships too, two weeks ago.
She has been a power lifter for only five months.
Slapinski weighs 103 lbs, and was able to bench press 100 lbs, deadlift 225 and squat 145.
Now she has been invited to represent Canada at the World Powerlifting Masters Championships in Orlando at the end of September. She won’t be passing up that experience.
Francilia has trained hockey players, including Winnipeg Jets captain Andrew Ladd, and Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer, whom he flies out to Toronto to work with.
But he is still impressed by Slapinski, and the intensity with which she pushes herself, at an age where many people have consigned themselves to being unfit.
“She’s really motivational for a lot of women,” he said.
“She’s a firecracker. She’s 100 miles and hour.”
Powerlifting is traditionally the domain of barrel-chested men wearing thick leather belts around their waists, pushing stacks of plates that actually bend the barbell.
But in competition, the lifts are relative to the age and size of the competitor. That makes it possible for a sprightly yoga instructor to become a power lifting champion.
“I think it’s a great sport for women,” said Slapinski. “It’s great for bone density, and it’s great to have a passion. With proper training and rest, you can achieve goals that you wouldn’t even think possible.”