Erie Times-News

ERIE, Pa. (AP) _ LeRoy Burton felt a lot older than 67 when he walked into Joe Orengia’s gym 13 years ago.

Burton was overweight and fighting prostate cancer. The Millcreek Township man spent his days watching television and eating.

“I didn’t even want to get out of bed in the morning,” Burton said. “I had no energy.”

Now Burton is an 80-year-old record-setting weightlifter who is 40 pounds lighter, cancer free and much stronger than he was when he first walked into the gym.

Twice a week he works out at Joe’s Gym and trains other weightlifters, some of whom are older than he is.

“Ready to have some fun?” Burton asked Walt Chapman as the 96-year-old prepared to do a few stiff-legged dead lifts last week.

Burton watched as Chapman lifted the barbell eight times, exhaling after each repetition. He gave Chapman a little more encouragement, then wandered over to another weightlifter and chatted with her.

Orengia said he hired Burton in part because he relates well to the older people who often work out weekday mornings and early afternoons.

“Even at 69, some of these people think I’m a young guy,” Orengia said with a hearty laugh. “They see LeRoy at 80 dead lift 300 pounds — it inspires them.”

Burton needed inspiration before he began working out at Joe’s Gym.

A friend tried to convince him to get in shape by lifting, but Burton took one look at what Orengia’s clients go through at his Millcreek Township gym, and he wanted no part of it.

“I came out shaking my head, saying `I’m not working out, I’m ready to retire,”’ Burton said.

But Burton knew he had to do something to improve his health, so he hesitantly went back to Joe’s Gym.

Orengia didn’t require much of Burton’s time, just two hours a week, but he wanted Burton to follow his exact instructions. Not only did Burton have to lift with the proper technique, he was to eliminate unhealthy foods and even some of the medications he was taking.

“I believe the medications we take are making us sick,” Orengia said. “I put him on a healthy diet and had him take vitamin supplements.”

Burton started out in the beginner’s room, an area of the gym where most new weightlifters start.

Despite his age, Burton was a beginner.

“I had never lifted weights in my life, except years ago as a farm boy doing haying jobs,” Burton said.

Burton was sore, really sore, after his first workout. But he went back later in the week.

The soreness disappeared after a month, and Burton began to lift more and more weight. He also was shedding fat and realizing he had more energy.

“My wife first noticed that my clothes weren’t fitting very good,” Burton said.

Though he suffered a mild heart attack about a year after he started lifting, Burton was back in the gym as soon as doctors cleared him for exercise.

To stay healthy, Burton has eliminated alcohol from his diet and includes plenty of protein in his meals.

Breakfast usually consists of dry wheat toast, the only bread he usually eats, and a protein drink. Lunch is a ham and cheese omelet, and dinner often includes chicken or fish.

“I eat very little sugar,” Burton said. “I used to eat pies and cakes, but I don’t do that much anymore. They taste good, but they take away from what I want to accomplish.”

Burton has accomplished a lot in the world of powerlifting. He entered his first 100% Raw Powerlifting Federation competition about two years after he showed up at Joe’s Gym.

He set a federation record for his age and weight class at the event by deadlifting 450 pounds. The record stood for seven years, Orengia said.

Burton has since set other age and weight class powerlifting records, including two of them at a 2014 competition in Virginia.

“I don’t go to any many competitions as I used to, maybe one or two a year,” Burton said. “But I will keep lifting for as long as I can.”