MORINVILLE - Marion Peterson is a champion powerlifter with a heavy heart.
The 61-year-old Morinville woman won the Canadian title in her age and weight divisions in July but the triumph is tinged with anxiety as the trainer who pushed her to the podium battles cancer.
"He tells me to not get in a funk and that I have to hold it together, but it's hard," said Peterson, describing conversations she's had with Scott Wallace - the gym owner who introduced her to powerlifting.
Wallace, who has Stage 4 bone and liver cancer, underwent alternative treatment at a hospital in Tijuana, Mexico for three weeks in August.
“The doctors told me I should be dead, but I won’t give up,” he said.
Peterson says the 49-year-old man, who is a multi-win powerlifter himself, has been a crucial source of inspiration.
"He changed my life and he believed in me. He's my mentor," said Peterson, who only began powerlifting last year at Wallace's urging.
She said Wallace saw her working out at his Morinville gym and told her she could have success as a competitive powerlifter.
"I was doing some lifting that impressed Scott and he asked if I wanted to compete."
Peterson said yes and her remarkable journey began.
"Scott pushed me. He told me it would be hard. But it's mind over matter. We just kept climbing and climbing," said Peterson, who found time away from the cleaning business she operates to train three days a week. (On the other four days, Peterson goes for 45-minute power walk.)
In March, she was ready for the provincial championships in Whitecourt.
At the event, Wallace made a bold move that helped Peterson realize her dream.
“It was my first time on stage and I started crying because I was scared to death."
"He comes over and he's in my face. He says 'Get your head out of your ass. Get up there and get what you came for.'''
Peterson said Wallace's pep talk worked as she made Canadian records in deadlift (120 kg) and combined total (246 kg) on her way to victory.
Four months later, she found even greater success — breaking national records again in deadlift (122 kg), squat (95 kg) and combined (260 kg) to win the Canadian title in Cambridge, Ontario.
"I was pretty nervous, but once I got there I was calmer," said Peterson.
Despite winning the Canadian title, she has no plans to compete in the World championships.
"I would want to go there to win. I'm quite competitive. I need to work on my bench routine and I want a heavier deadlift and squat number"
Originally from New Brunswick, Peterson said she became focused on a healthy, active lifestyle after her mother died due to a smoking-related illness when she was 19.
"I quit smoking. I started walking and took an aerobics course so I could teach (aerobics)," said Peterson, who introduced long-distance running to her fitness routine when she moved to Alberta about 20 years ago.
When asked what it feels like to be the top powerlifter in her age and weight divisions, Peterson said, "Honestly, I am still in shock. I can't believe I'm the best in Canada at anything."
There are no special supplements in her diet, although she drinks a protein shake daily and consumes plenty of red meat.
As she trains for the provincial and national championships in 2024, Peterson says she will always be motivated by the trainer who introduced her to the sport.
"He's my mentor, my teacher and my coach. He inspires me because he's going through a lot more than me."