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Originally published September 28, 2010 at 10:00 PM | Page modified September 29, 2010 at 2:40 PM

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Steve Kelley

Weightlifter Pat Hackett has become an athlete and world champion

Mercer Island's Pat Hackett, who took up weightlifting after she turned 60, won a world championship last week.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Growing up in Atlanta before Title IX, sports for Pat Hackett were something the boys did.

Sure, she could be a cheerleader at her small, private high school, or she could play that archaic don't-you-dare-cross-half-court-or-dribble-too-much brand of women's basketball, but girls weren't encouraged to play sports.

They watched the boys. They cheered for the boys. The idea of playing, of breaking a sweat, wasn't something most girls considered.

"I never got to explore sports," she said. "I never thought about it. That was the way it was."

Those days seem almost prehistoric now. The Storm just showed a city what a talented team playing fiercely and together can accomplish.

Through the summer, the Storm was another example of the transformative power of the equal-opportunity law, Title IX, passed in 1972.

And Pat Hackett is another example of what women can achieve athletically if given the chance.

A year-and-a-half ago, after her 60th birthday, Hackett, who lives on Mercer Island with husband Mark Houtchens, found something she wasn't even sure she was missing.

A recreational skier and runner, Hackett found her game. She found a sport that elevated everything else in her life. She became a competitive weightlifter and fell hard for it.

"It fits my personality," Hackett said. "The physical part of this is fun, but the mental part of it is just fascinating. If, at any point in the lift you think, 'Boy, this is heavy,' then boom, it's down."

Last week, Hackett, a former model, stood on a very different kind of stage in Ciechanow, Poland and won the World Masters Weightlifting Championship in her age (60-64) and weight (63 kilogram, 138.6 pounds) class. She also was voted the competition's best lifter.

"It's been so fast and so fun," she said. "Now I'm possessed, obsessed. I don't know what you call it. I knew I had it bad the morning I went out to get the paper from the driveway and was practicing snatches in my bathrobe."


She asked her coach, Scott Hughes, "Is this normal to love something this much?"

His answer: Absolutely.

She had been working on general conditioning with a personal trainer in a downtown gym when she saw another woman, Trish Zuccotti, working on the clean and jerk.

"That looks cool," Hackett, a commercial artists rep, thought to herself. Some 18 months later she was a world champion.

Tall and slender, she is a perfect advertisement for the benefits of her sport. Hackett is 61, but looks about 40.

"I ran for 20 years, but probably, subconsciously, I was looking for something new," she said. "But I just saw this and thought it would be interesting. This sport coalesced everything I'd ever done in my life."

One day, during training, Hughes called Hackett an athlete. It momentarily stunned her.

"My, God, athletes to me had always been everybody else," she said. "I thought, 'I'm an athlete. How about that, at 61?' "

At the world championships, she successfully clean-and-jerked 47 kilos (103.61 pounds), then she missed at 50 kilos (110.23 pounds), a weight she had lifted successfully in the gym, but never in competition.

On her second attempt, she noticed the arena rapidly was filling. Serious-faced judges stood in the wings and out in the crowd. As she approached the bar, Hackett noticed the same kind of hush tennis star Kim Clijsters hears at match point.

She remembers Hughes "talking me down from the ledge."

She heard her cues from her coach. She remembered what he had told her before. "Your body knows what to do. Just do it."

And then Hackett remembers almost nothing.

"I made it and I remember hearing the crowd screaming, but it was completely an out-of-body experience," she said. "I don't remember much except screaming and running off the stage.

"It was like a movie. You're down and you're down. You got to come back. You have to make that last point. You've got to do it for the Gipper, or whatever. And I did it. And you expect music to start playing and the movie ends."

When people tell her that her story is inspirational, she thinks, "I used to say that to old people, too."

But, seriously, her story is inspirational.

"For me this is a life lesson," she said. "I'm 61, but that's just what I am. I don't feel any older than I am. But I guess the message is, 'Do what interests you, because that keeps you young and it keeps you interesting. I feel like I was lucky enough to find this sport and fall completely in love with it.

"I've never felt such a sense of personal accomplishment. I feel if I can do this in front of people on a world stage, I can do just about anything."

She was so happy, Hackett stood on the medal stand and laughed throughout the national anthem.

And when she bent over so a female official could place the gold medal around Hackett's neck, that official whispered in her ear, "That was too easy for you. You can do more."

That, says athlete Pat Hackett, is the plan.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or

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Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation. | 206-464-2176



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