It was barely 5:30 in the morning. Great-grandmom Linda Arvey was already breathing heavy, working hard in her garage.

"Head up, head up!"

Her husband stood close, urging her to complete one last grunting repetition on the squat rack in the gym of their northern York County home.

She slowly stood up straight, safely slipping the 225 pounds of barbell and weights off her back.

She popped out her mouthpiece. She loosened her weight belt and wrist straps with the forearms of someone who throws cinder block for a living.

She looks like she could crush cans with her hands.

She sounds like a content, make-you-a-hot-tea-when-you-don't-feel-well grandmother, because she's that, too.

"You guys being here, my adrenaline has kicked in a little bit," she said, laughing to a couple of workout guests. If anything, one of the most decorated 70-something powerlifting women in the world is quick with a laugh.

Arvey, who affectionately goes by the nickname "Kilo-Gram," wants to be a motivator and an inspiration. She's always loved a new challenge. And if lifting heavy weights can increase her heart rate and lower her blood pressure and make her feel energized, even better.

This is, after all, the woman who grew up on a dairy farm and worked as an operating room nurse.

The one who recovered from debilitating fibromyalgia.

Arvey can't ever seem to stay still now, soon to be 73. Her days are packed with early morning workouts, part-time bookkeeping jobs, leading Bible studies and roasting her own coffee beans.

She's written a children's book. She's learning to tap dance. She tends to her 13 grandchildren and six great-grandkids when time and distance allow.

Her husband jokes about rarely seeing her, except, of course, during those early-morning workouts, which prep her for a handful of competitions each year.

The couple traded running and riding bikes and cross-fit classes for powerlifting five years ago, after husband Al suffered a heart attack.

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“That’s the fun part, to see what your body can do and push it to its limits and not let age be a determinant," Linda Arvey said. "Like, 'Oh, I can’t do this because I’m this old ...'

“When we started this we didn’t know what we were going to do, but it’s been a real encouragement for other people."

As in watching this 5-foot-4, 180-pound, gray-haired great-grandmother deadlifting and bench pressing more weight than all the other women at a meet − more than some of the men.

To Al's counting, she currently holds more than 100 national records (in various weightlifting federations, weight classes, age groups, etc.) and 41 world records. She's ranked No. 1 in the world in her age group in the "full-power" trio of deadlifting (370 pounds)/squats (302) and bench press (165).

No other competitor in her class is within even 180 pounds of her total, according to

Certainly, part of her standing may reflect the limited pool of competitive senior citizen female powerlifters.

But, mostly, this is about Arvey's life-long willpower and determination. Once again, she's become really good at what she's doing, and quickly.

"She’s just a phenom," her husband said. "She was born to lift, I guess."

"Linda's a huge motivation," said Wilkes-Barre powerlifting champ Gary Teeter, who's gotten to know her as a fellow competitor and a powerlifting judge. "She sets the bar, that's what she does."

Of course, this didn't come completely out of nowhere. She's always loved physical undertakings, never afraid to launch new endeavors.

There was the childhood farm she lived on near Mechanicsburg. She talks of happily walking barn beams and slinging bags of grain and doing pullups on a makeshift bar − after milking the cows and mucking stalls.

Years later, in between nursing jobs, she ran a sub shop, then sold candy and coffee at a farmer's market, then helped Al operate a T-shirt and mug stand at the York Fair.

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She even overcame a long, debilitating bout of fibromyalgia, almost miraculously so, she says. The pain used to wipe her out for days after the most basic chores such as vacuuming. She credits her faith and God for healing her without warning.

It all led her to weightlifting. Her powerlifting son in North Carolina helped with her form when she was dabbling with weights five years ago. She began four-day-a-week workouts to see how good she could be. She was hooked after just one competition.

"It's the crowd, the people. They chant your name," she said with another laugh. "'C'mon, Gram! Go, Linda! Kilo-Gram!'

"People love the deadlift. Once you start picking up the deadlift bar the crowd goes crazy. It's the crowd energy and the adrenaline."

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She's lifted in competitions around the country. She recently blew away the field at a York Barbell event and is preparing for the world games this fall in Virginia Beach.

Older women chat her up for advice. Hulking male lifters want their photo taken with her.

She doesn't have to worry about style or looks.

“They’re going to know your age, your weight, how bad you look in a singlet," she said of powerlifting. "There’s no pretense …"

Which is how she likes it.

She is, after all, the grandmother who lifts in her garage with this sign on the door: "Shut up and squat."

The one who grunts and grimaces and sweats while doing one-legged leg press repetitions.

The one who celebrated her husband's 77th birthday with "game night" in the backyard − an axe-throwing competition with their grandsons and their wives.

She finds most satisfaction in learning how she may motivate others to push their own limits. From her 16-year-old granddaughter who's recently embraced powerlifting to the long-accomplished, 58-year-old Teeter to fellow grandmothers. One recently told Arvey that she hired a trainer after they met and talked.

"A lot of people make excuses in life but few people take them away," said youngest son Mason Salisbury, also a powerlifter. "If she thinks you can do better she’ll tell you straight-out.

"She's never stopped trying, she never quit. She never took the easy way out. ... She gets up every day and just gets after it. It rubs off on you when you see someone getting after it like that."

Take the man who runs her place of worship, Connect the World Ministries in Camp Hill. Steve Espamer refers to the Arveys as decades-long friends and says that Linda owns "a heart the size of Pennsylvania" for quietly helping so many in need with her time, finances and prayer.

And now, of all things, with powerlifting. He laughed on the phone in disbelief.

"She’s like a grandma, you know. My grandma never did that. Did yours?"

Frank Bodani covers sports and human interest stories for the York Daily Record and USA Today Network. Contact him at  [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @YDRPennState.

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