A competitive powerlifter since 2019, Andrea Austin describes herself as being a “dealer of hope,” especially for women over the age of 50.
“We are becoming a component of society making more noise, not in a negative way, but in a positive way about what we need now that we’ve raised our kids,” she explained.
“By the time women get to be my age, they’ve made money, their kids are grown and their husbands are either retired or still pursuing their careers,” she added. “Maybe they’re taking care of aging parents, or already lost parents, but being over 50 is a very unique place in life for women.”
This stage of life is compounded by inevitable hormone and body changes that arrive around age 40 to 45. For many women, the overwhelming emotion is not despair or even a wringing of the hands; it is a feeling of helplessness, said Andrea.
“Women often don’t see what the future looks like, and even if they have a glimpse, they don’t see anything much different from what they’re experiencing now,” she explained. “They don’t have to be done at 50 or even 60. In fact, I’ve met women who started powerlifting at 80.
“When I deal in hope, I’m helping women to understand if they want to do something, they can by simply deciding to learn more about it,” she added. “You can be trained and take your life in a new direction. There’s hope in that. We’re not done. We’re not old. We’re not finished. Life isn’t over, so let’s get busy living.”
From a faith perspective, women over 50 have the privilege to be a Naomi to the beautiful Ruth women in their lives. That’s a reference to two strong Biblical characters in the book of Ruth. Perhaps one woman is having a child, and her mother and mother-in-law are no longer in the picture. That’s a wonderful opportunity for a woman to act like Naomi to her Ruth, said Andrea.
“I’m involved in those relationships right now. I had my kids and they’re grown. Now that I’m on other side, I have an opportunity to say, ‘Look, certain things are probably going to happen.’” she explained. “Unless a woman goes through medical menopause, the hormonal and life changes will come to pass in every woman’s life.
“I was caught off guard when it happened to me. All of a sudden, I found myself in a pile of rubble physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally and professionally. I wasn’t just lost, I was a hot mess,” she added.
Andrea likes the term “hot mess.” Women look around and wonder who stole their hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. They wake up wondering how they got a mustache. They waiver from being hot all the time to feeling very cold. They’re moody, weepy and hyper-emotional with swelling bodies.
“You’re a wreck, but nobody warned you it was coming,” she confessed. “My poor husband and my sons. They never knew who I would be from one moment to the next. They rode out that storm with me, but none of us were prepared for what was taking place.”
Andrea sees women as being an army of advocates, not for “girl power,” but for other women who may feel they are powerless in those circumstances. That’s why she enjoys competitive weightlifting so much.
General of the “Not Old Army”
“Strength sports are very different. There’s a ferocity that comes with it – a warrior-type of attitude – where you have to be kind of fierce,” Andrea said. “I’m passionate about raising up an army of not-old women.
“Whether it’s being fierce in their pursuit of what sets their souls on fire, or fierce in their pursuit of a healthy lifestyle and fit body, or fierce in their pursuit of a passionate relationship with their significant other, we’re fighting for each other and not against ourselves,” she added.
Andrea refuses to buy cards and gifts that even suggest people are “over the hill.” Nor does she support old-thinking self-talk among people over 50.
“I recently had a woman get upset at me because I told her that at age at 37, she wasn’t old. Rather, she was just getting started,” Andrea explained. “She disagreed and confessed to having wrinkles. I advised her to drink more water, but that she was in no way ‘old.’ She unfriended me on Facebook.
“The not-old army really needs to rise up and show society that we’re not done. We’ve got stuff to do,” she said. “When we were younger, we all had guidance counselors. They were well-intentioned people with their hearts in the right place. But, they never asked the question, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’”
How to find your passion
Andrea helps women and some men to discover and pursue what they’re passionate about. She asks them a few questions, such as:
- What do you like to do?
- What brings you joy?
- Is there a sport, craft or hobby you like to do?
“We took vocation advice from people who never really asked us what we were passionate about,” said Andrea. “They were well-intentioned, but they didn’t have the tools we do now to help people identify their strengths, and establish a plan to capitalize on them.
“As a leader in the Not Old Army, I understand we’re all equipped with different gifts and different passions. However, women often put those pursuits on the back burner to cultivate a marriage and raise a family,” she added. “But we really need to pursue those passions, even to a small degree, throughout our lives.”
Andrea was recently speaking with a 22-year-old woman who confessed she has no time for herself to do the things she liked to do.
“I told her, ‘We need to fix that and carve some time out. Otherwise, at that pace, you’re going to be sick or worse by the time you get to 40,’” Andrea explained. “But, that’s what many women did. They gave and gave of themselves as younger women, then got to age 50 and had no energy left.”
Most guidance counselors were devoted to nudging people into the workforce. If a student was drawn to music or the theater, then counselors didn’t often push people in that direction, except to encourage them to become teachers at the high school or university level, Andrea explained.
Andrea started singing when she was 3 years old and even studied music from when she turned 6 until she was 25. She sang in every choir or small vocal group she could join. She was clearly passionate about singing, yet nobody ever advocated for her to make singing a career.
“In my case, my dad wanted me to be an attorney. I had the aptitude for doing that, but my heart was never in it,” she explained. “So after 35 years of working with attorneys as a paralegal, I reached a point where I was just done with it.
“I could take up singing now, or perhaps that ship has sailed. However, I do know that all my life experiences have cultivated a different passion,” she added. “I have always enjoyed being physically active. I know I can make a living teaching people to be more active and training them to get stronger.
“One of my nutrition clients posted the other day that she’s down 19 pounds in 21 days by making simple changes. I feel this is the type of thing that deserves celebration,” said Andrea. “When I can take people from where they are now to a better place, wow, talk about being a hope dealer!”
Hope in powerlifting
Andrea’s son, Tanner, moved to Oregon after getting married. One day, he found himself in a strongman gym with Chris Duffin, one of the leaders in strength sports. Tanner started training to enter competitive powerlifting and even won a medal during his first meet.
“I was blown away because my kid had gone to Oregon as a skinny, lanky, 6-foot-tall, 21-year-old weighing 140 pounds. The next time I saw him he was buff, strong and energetic. I let out a gasp. I was truly amazed at his transformation,” she explained.
“I vaguely knew about powerlifting. But, after seeing my son and hearing his story, I was blown away by his transformation physically, emotionally and spiritually,” said Andrea. “What my son found in the gym was the whole package. He didn’t just become bigger and stronger; he had experienced some spiritual and emotional healing, too. He left me as a kind of a wounded bird, but returned as a thriving young man.”
Tanner encouraged Andrea to take up powerlifting as well. In 2019, she saw an advertisement for the Arizona Senior Olympics and committed to competing in the games the following year. Although she didn’t know a thing about the sport, Andrea knew she could learn whatever it took to become a competitive lifter.
“I started a Beachbody program called Body Beast that was focused on strength training. I also started teaching several fitness classes,” she explained. “Then I connected with a friend of mine who is a certified strength and conditioning coach who had been powerlifting for a few years and asked him to be my coach. I started working with him in September 2019 and entered my first meet in February 2020 at the Arizona Senior Olympics.”
With no experience in powerlifting competitions, Andrea lifted a total of 450 pounds to take home the silver medal in the women’s division for the 55-59 age bracket.
“The rest is history. I have competed in other meets in Arizona and California,” she said. “And it all started because someone told me I could do it. For most of our lives, those of us over 50 have heard negative things like ‘You should…,’ ‘You can’t…,’ ‘You’ll never…, and ‘Why would you….’ Then, when someone comes into your life and tells you differently, it can be life-changing.”
Andrea gives her husband, Brendan, a lot of credit for motivating her to pursue powerlifting. Although he is not a lifter himself, he does enjoy going to the gym. So, training became an activity they enjoy together.
“Knowing the messages people have heard most of their lives, and even told themselves, I changed my language when talking to others. I say, ‘You can…,’ ‘Why not…’, ‘Give it a try,’ and ‘Let’s see how it goes.’ But, I’m also quick to add, ‘How can I help?’ and ‘What can I do to support you or encourage you as you embark on this journey?’Andrea Austin
“Just because we have had a lot of birthdays, doesn’t mean we should stop dreaming. We often just need permission to give it a whirl,” Andrea added.
Body changes, good and bad
As women reach their late 40s, menopausal and hormonal changes can cause them to change their lifestyles. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
“Our divine design says we don’t need muscle anymore at that age. So the inherent muscle mass that keeps us upright and active while we’re raising kids starts to go away through a natural process of aging, called sarcopenia,” Andrea explained. “We progressively lose 1% to 2% of our body’s natural muscle mass each year.
“As a result, we don’t have the core stability we once enjoyed,” she added. “We have balance issues and many people wind up using walkers, not necessarily because they broke something, but they don’t want to break anything. They wind up bent over a grocery cart or leaning on a walker because they lack confidence in their stability.
“At a minimum, we need to focus on flexibility, stability and mobility so that we’re not falling down. We have to maintain our foundational strength,” said Andrea. “As we age, we still need to maintain muscle mass by strength training, and that looks different from someone who just wants to maintain stability and flexibility. Menopause took my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. But, I don’t have any bone disease, cardiovascular disease or blood pressure issues. For me, it’s a small trade.”
As Andrea learns more about how bodies work and what it takes to maintain them, she’s sharing that information with others. When a friend of hers moved out of the area, Andrea got certified to take over her P90X class. After attaining a few other credentials, Andrea became a certified group fitness instructor. In 2018, she became a partner and coach with the BODi health and fitness company.
“It has always been a concurrent journey for me in that as I learn and grow, I want to teach the same information to other women,” she explained. “Because it has been life changing for me to have a community of women, older and younger, to support and encourage me, then I want others to experience that as well.
“For people our age, we were told we had to compete with other women. If you had a swimsuit, there was always someone else who was going to buy the same thing and look better in it. That’s how it was. But, as we learn better, we do better.
“What captivated me about being a fitness instructor was that it took absolutely nothing away from me to build up other women. It takes nothing from me to tell another woman her hair is beautiful or to give her love, encouragement, strength, instruction and guidance. It’s all part of being a hope dealer.”
Everyone’s goals are different. So even if a woman doesn’t want to achieve a personal record in powerlifting, perhaps she wants to write a book, start a ministry or do something she always wanted to do. By living well with passion and purpose, Andrea hopes it inspires others to live the same way.
Because women need other women who understand what they’re going through themselves, today Andrea is motivated to become a certified personal trainer. She’s starting her journey, not as a wide-eyed 20-year-old, but as a nearly 60-year-old with achy joints and back issues.
“I gave my coach permission to tell me when I should quit lifting. But, as long as he says it’s okay and the people around me tell me I’m doing a good job, then I want to keep being an athlete, coach and trainer,” she added.
Although powerlifting is one of the more affordable sports or hobbies with the greatest returns for the smallest financial investments, it still requires time. For Andrea, getting started meant paying a coach $100 to create an 8- to 12-week training program to specifically address her strengths and weaknesses. There is a cost to enter competitions, but people can also enter unsanctioned meets, which require marginal entry fees.
“There is going to be an investment required for anything that merits a return. The investment might be financial, emotional, physical and even spiritual.”Andrea Austin
“To become a fitness instructor will require money, time and training to get certified. But, that usually amounts to a few hundred dollars, not thousands,” said Andrea. “Still, there are podcasts and online platforms that provide information virtually for free.”
To recover some of the costs for training, Andrea hopes to become a sponsored competitor.
“When I’m repping their company, that means I will have achieved a skill in my sport as a master-level athlete,” she explained. “Not only would that cover some of the expenses, but I’d get gear and swag, too.”
Whether people invest $20 for a gym membership or $2,000 to be mentored by Tony Robbins for four days to grow personally and professionally, there will be a benefit.
“I guarantee any investment you make in yourself will pay dividends,” said Andrea. “Because we’ve been investing in so many other people – our kids, spouses, parents and employers – it’s time to invest a little in ourselves. Even then, those around us enjoy the benefit when you become better.
“The last 10 years of my life have been fabulous. It hasn’t been without sadness, heartache, trials and struggles because that’s part of the human condition,” she explained. “But, in the 10 years since Feb. 13, 2013, when I walked away from a 35-year legal career without knowing what to do, I discovered something that brings purpose to me and joy to others.
“I was overweight, out of shape and unhealthy. I was sad and depressed – a real mess,” she added. “But I’m not a mess anymore. My husband and I made our 50s fantastic, and we going to make our 60s spectacular.”
Seek help to move forward
It’s important for people to seek advice from others they trust, and then be vulnerable when talking to them.
“When you go to someone you believe has wisdom and ask for direction, amazing things can happen,” said Andrea. “If you don’t have anyone trustworthy enough for you to be vulnerable, then get yourself a paid friend, like a therapist, who can provide help in an area where you’re really struggling.
“I’m not talking about spending time on a couch talking about problems, but rather having a conversation with someone who can help you get from where you are to where you want to be,” she explained. “Most insurance companies pay for assistance programs like that. Or visit with your pastor to get some counsel and guidance. Perhaps somebody in your circle of influence could recommend somebody. The point is to find someone and have those important conversations.
“I’m not a guidance counselor, I am a coach and a guide who is on the same journey. My credentials are not in psychology or counseling. My degree is primarily in life,” she added. “Just get yourself a guide and don’t be afraid to ask for help. There is no shame in saying, ‘I don’t know how to do this. Can you give me some guidance?’
“Our generation was taught it was a sign of weakness to ask for help, but that’s just not the case,” she explained. “When we ask for help, that shows our courage. It shows strength in seeking people who have information you need. I don’t have answers for everything. But I have a little bit of wisdom about a lot of things, and a lot of wisdom about a couple of things, like fitness, nutrition and aging.
“There’s a wealth of information and some really lovely people out there who would be absolutely willing to share what they know to help you or someone else,” said Andrea. “I’m humbled to tears when someone comes to me asking for help.
“When people reach out to hope dealers, we give them a little gift. ‘Can you help me?’ are the four bravest words a human being can utter,” she added. “It’s an amazing first step toward lifting a heavy burden off your heart.”
People can connect with Andrea by looking for on Facebook and on Instagram. The Not Old Army health and fitness group is available on Facebook, just message Andrea for a link. The Not Old Army website and YouTube channel are coming soon.
After closing his business and enduring several painful years of uncertainty regarding what to do with his life, Greg founded Forward From 50 to help men and women over 50 to live more purposeful lives by pursuing things they are passionate about. A Wisconsin native, Greg currently lives in Arizona.