Wonder woman Self-described 'anomaly,' 70-year-old hobby-farming Teulon grandmother mowing down records as a world-class powerlifter

TEULON — Here, on a windswept hobby farm in the Interlake, Susan Haywood just turned 70 and is loving every minute of it.

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This article was published 05/07/2019 (1427 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

TEULON — Here, on a windswept hobby farm in the Interlake, Susan Haywood just turned 70 and is loving every minute of it.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Susan Haywood a record-breaking 70-year-old power lifter works out in her home gym near Teulon.

She’s a reigning national and provincial champion powerlifter and should be able to add “champion of the Commonwealth” to her resumé in the fall.

Now, more than a decade after retiring from the hairdressing business, Manitoba’s oldest teenager is feeding her chickens, tossing hay bales and, just for fun, lifting astonishing amounts of weight in her custom-outfitted basement gym.

Haywood, make no mistake, is freakishly good and part of a small, but growing community of dedicated athletes in the province.

And it’s on this patch of 160 acres she shares with her husband and coach Brock Haywood that she finds contentment and a place to work.

“I do like the solitude,” says Haywood, who has three children and two grandchildren. “I like the privacy. I guess I have a dual personality, because on stage I’m a different person….

Not love at first meet

You could say Hailey Kostynuik is an accidental powerlifter.

Almost six years ago, the former high school volleyball player and budding CrossFit athlete was encouraged by friends to challenge herself with some lifting at her gym.

She looked strong, after all.

You could say Hailey Kostynuik is an accidental powerlifter.

Almost six years ago, the former high school volleyball player and budding CrossFit athlete was encouraged by friends to challenge herself with some lifting at her gym.

She looked strong, after all.

“I wanted to test my lifts, see what I could get so I could participate in the classes, right?” the 27-year-old Winnipegger recalls. “And people were mind-blown with these numbers…

“I was strong in sports but I never knew if that was because I was a taller, bigger person.”

That test run led to her first powerlifting competition, albeit with some reluctance.

“Honestly, my first meet, I hated it,” she says. “I think I cried afterwards…. A couple of weeks later, I got a package of provincial records. I had like like 17 provincial records — I actually thought they were all the same paper. I said, ‘Why do they send you so many copies of the same record? That’s stupid.’ And somebody said, ‘Read the labels. They’re all different.’

“I thought, ‘Now you have to keep going.’”

Along the way, Kostynuik’s raw talent was recognized by Susan and Brock Haywood.

“She and Brock were the first people to tell me I was on a higher level and that I was doing well and I should look at going to regional level and national level,” Kostynuik says. “Manitoba powerlifting was much smaller when I started.

“It’s still not that big but it was so much smaller, so it was hard to know if you were any good. You might be the only person in your age and weight class.”

Now it’s fair to call Kostynuik a phenom in the sport.

Competing in the 84-plus kilogram category, she competed in the last four national championships, winning her division three times and finishing second in 2018, while also making three appearances at the worlds, where she had a silver medal-winning performance in 2016 before capturing bronze in 2017 and again in ’18.

Kostynuik’s strength is awe-inspiring. Her personal bests of 252.5 kilos (557 lbs.) in the squat, 125 kilos (276 lbs.) in the bench press and dead-lift of 227.5 kilos (502 lbs.) have put her within striking distance of world champion Bonika Brown, arguably the globe’s strongest woman.

Winnipegger Ryan Kolesar, meanwhile, is another emerging force on the powerlifting scene.

Trained as a bodybuilder from the age of 18, Kolesar shifted to powerlifting in 2014 and found his groove almost immediately.

Splitting his workouts between a neighbourhood gym and the basement of his North Kildonan home, the 28 year old competes in the 66 kilogram division and has been making a name for himself at the national level, finishing fourth in the country in 2015 and 2016 and earning bronze medals in 2018 and 2019.

A nagging back injury sidelined him from competition in 2018.

The 5-7, 145-pound Kolesar has little difficulty losing weight to prep for events.

“Normally, people would have to cut for it but I only have to cut one or two pounds, which is, basically, not eating supper the night before. It’s not very difficult for me to get there. So realistically, I should probably gain five or 10 pounds to fill into the 66 weight class. Then you can actually cut properly to get down.”

He’s dedicated to his five or six weekly training sessions but finds it unnecessary to agonize over his diet.

“I just eat anything I can,” says Kolesar. “For me, it’s not super-strict. I guess if there are people who are borderline, who can’t quite make their weight, then they would have a proper diet. I don’t know what that would be. I just eat.”

For someone with such a compact frame, Kolesar’s strength is formidable. His personal bests include a squad lift of 190 kilos (419 lbs.,), a bench press of 122 kilos (270 lbs.) and a dead-lift of 238 kilos (525 lbs.).

“I don’t know what makes it so much fun,” he says. “It’s more about how much you can push your body.”

— Mike Sawatzky

“There’s the excitement in lifting and there’s the accolades and you get the trophies. As you can see, I love my medals and my stuff… but you need a quiet time as well so I come back here when it’s all over and relax.”

On stage, she is transformed. Intense and driven to put up big numbers.

“A lot of people do this in the gym and never compete,” says Haywood. “It takes a different type of mentality to get up there on the platform because you are judged. There’s three judges up there and a jury table. It’s a little bit stressful but you’ve gotta be a showman. You’ve gotta like that, and I do.”

Since giving up on her bodybuilding career in 1994, Haywood has owned her weight class in powerlifting.

SASHA SEFTER / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Powerlifter Hailey Kostynuik deadlifts 380lbs in Winnipeg's Undefeated CrossFit gym.

To her, the sport seemed like a natural progression, much like her foray into the world of traditional Scottish and Celtic sports where, in 1996, she became the first woman to compete in the caber toss, hammer throw and weight for height events at the Selkirk Highland Games.

“Some people ask me why I do it…. It’s self-satisfaction, I don’t do it to stay young because people say it keeps you young,” she says. “I don’t like that expression, because I’m old. I’m 70. It’s a privilege to get old. I do it for quality of life, not to be younger. I can’t be younger. I’m already old but I can lift things. I can run up the stairs. I can hike, I can do all these things. I can cycle. There’s lots of people that can’t do that at my age.”

Haywood’s infectious, happy-go-lucky attitude goes beyond her personal interest in competition.

She is the first Masters-4 category (70-plus) female lifter in the country and recently became the first Canadian woman to earn her international referee’s certification and went on to serve as a judge at the world championships in Sweden last fall, the junior worlds in Regina last summer and is booked to judge at the Commonwealth Championships in St. John’s, N.L., in the fall. Of course, she also plans to compete in St. John’s.

SASHA SEFTER / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Ryan Kolesar trained as a bodybuilder before shifting to powerlifting in 2014.

“It is amazing,” says Brock, 57. “I know sometimes she undersells herself about what she’s been doing but there have been women at powerlifting (events) for many years and one of the things that’s unique about Susan is when we met, she started powerlifting as a Masters-1 (40 to 50 year olds).

“She was already in her late 40s and she was breaking records. That’s why we convinced her to try it…. Now, every 10 years, the age categories change…. She’s set records at every stage, establishing the standards for all the other ladies to shoot for.”

Haywood’s dedication to the sport is a natural outgrowth of the people she’s met along the way.

“I think it’s a sport for all ages,” says Haywood. “You don’t have to be 20, you don’t have to be 95 pounds. You can be any age, any weight, any body type. And you can do it but you have to have consistency in the training…. And I like the people. The people in the powerlifting sports world are very friendly. It’s really a good group.”

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Haywood proudly shows off a couple of her Nationals medals.

The thrill of competition still drives Haywood but that can be a tricky thing. Female rivals at the masters level are a small, but growing, group.

“Because I don’t have a lot of people to compete against, because there aren’t many people my age doing this, I compete against the record books,” she says. “That’s what motivates me.”

The response from fellow competitors has been gratifying.

“Usually, they’re quite impressed,” she says. “I guess I am an anomaly and I guess people like that.”

In the last year, Haywood has dead-lifted 100 kilograms (220 pounds), bench pressed 72.5 kilos (160 lbs.) and squatted 70 kilos (154 lbs.; she is capable of 100 kilos but has not trained in this event rigorously since breaking her foot twice in 2018), maintaining a similar level of strength for the past 10-plus years. She has made some allowances for the ravages of time but remains No. 1 ranked in the world in each event.

While she trained five times a week when she got her start, Haywood has now dropped her regimen to three sessions. While she is making some accommodations for age, she doesn’t feel limited.

Nor should anyone else thinking about giving the sport a try.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Some of the many medals and awards that can be found in Haywood's home gym.

“It doesn’t really matter what age you are,” she says. “If you’re a strong person, I think it appeals to you. If you’re not a very dainty person, some sports you just can’t do. This is a sport you can do whatever age or weight you are…

“I think the camaraderie, too, is so great. You get there and everybody is helping each other, which doesn’t happen in some sports…. That’s what happened in bodybuilding. They were very self-absorbed. Here, you can see in the back they’re cheering on their opponent… The advice I would give is find a trainer, find a gym and just start.”


Twitter: @sawa14

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS A photo of Haywood during her brief foray into bodybuilding in the mid-90's.
MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS "I think it’s a sport for all ages," says Haywood. "You don’t have to be 20, you don’t have to be 95 pounds. You can be any age, any weight, any body type."
Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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