For 45-year-old Cathy Belben, age is just a number.
She quotes her father as saying, "I'm always the same age inside" as her inspiration.
When she travels to Orlando, Fla., to compete in the USA Powerlifting National Women's Championships on Saturday and Sunday, May 18 and 19, she plans on adopting that saying as a philosophy.
"I made a vow to myself that I would always be as fit as I could possibly be," Belben said. "I started lifting weights to train for triathlons and looked into lifting. I was curious what other people were lifting. I'm 45 and stronger than I have ever been in my life, and I can't imagine not doing this right now."
Belben will compete in the squat, deadlift and bench lifts in the championships.
The competition is divided up by age, gender and weight categories. Each competitor attempts each lift three times and is ranked according to total.
She said her interest in powerlifting began because of the weather. She was forced to train inside, and lifting was an easy choice to stay fit while indoors. After being curious what others were lifting, she began looking at records for women lifters and stumbled on the USAPL Facebook page. She was then contacted by Team Phoinix, a powerlifting team based in Mukilteo to come and train with them.
Belben trains with the team alongside housemate Ali McWeeny, who relocated to Bellingham after graduating from Central Washington University.
McWeeny also will travel to the national championships as a guest lifter because she physically can't lift enough to qualify for the under-40 category after she lost her left leg in a boating accident. McWeeny has begun retraining and now runs a foundation to raise money by lifting for those that have lost limbs.
"Ali is really trying to make a difference in people's lives," Belben said. "A lot of people will look away and try to pretend that there isn't anything wrong, but she is so patient and will explain how her prosthetic leg works. She will always say that the accident is not the worst thing that has happened to her and to have that attitude is amazing."
Belben talked about the difference that attitude has had on her life as well.
She teaches high school English and will talk with her students about being grateful for what they have and how things could be worse, using McWeeny as an example.
She also said she tries to make a point to talk with her students about pursuing their passions and that making sure they don't have to give up what they love.
"There is so much emphasis on getting a job that I try to tell them that they can be passionate about something and age is not a barrier," Belben said. "I think if I can get my kids interested in something, I accomplished my job."
Belben said she doesn't plan on winning this weekend's competition, but that for her it is more of accomplishing a goal. She competed last year, as well, and wants to outdo her own personal bests.
She said she likes having goals and competing is an easy way to set a goal and measure success.
She said for her, this weekend is all about just about being there.
"It makes me feel good that even though I have hit middle-age, I'm not just going to sit back and watch others perform," Belben said. "I am the one out there trying and doing it. I set a goal that I would be a power lifter and I've done that."
Reach Kyle Elliott at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.