Saturday mornings find Margaret “Maggie” Pickerel at brunch in Frederick with her family — a group that includes her 19-year-old grandson, granddaughters and her daughter and son in law. But it’s not the weekly tradition that sets Pickerel apart. It’s the fact that at age 70, Pickerel works up her appetite with an hour long workout, including deadlifting 175 pounds right along with her grandson.
“If you had looked at me three years ago and said: ‘You are going to deadlift,’ I would have looked at you like you had three heads and said, ‘Me?,’” Pickerel laughed. “It’s the best thing I have ever done.”
Energetic, warm and officially 5 feet and 1-3/4 inches tall, Pickerel said she noticed a decline in her fitness when she stopped tap dancing back in 2007 — a tradition she kept with her granddaughters for 20 years. An Urbana resident until this past July when she moved to Frederick, Pickerel said her upper body strength began to wane and her weight hit 217 pounds.
“I was having trouble lifting anything — putting stuff in the refrigerator and putting things on the top shelf. I had no upper body strength,” Pickerel said. Her fitness journey began two years ago when she joined a gym with her granddaughter. There she met longtime Urbana resident Michael Gaines, currently owner and life-fitness coach at X-Project near the Great Frederick Fair Grounds.
“I said, ‘Who in here works with old people?’ He looked back at me and said, ‘You are looking at him,’ and I said, ‘You are hired.’”
The process was slow going at first, Pickerel said, because it took several weeks just to loosen her ligaments. Then, the process was stunted until February of the following year by a surgery she had to have. When she re-enlisted Gaines’ help starting in February, they hit the ground running — he had a fitness plan ready for her.
When Gaines told her that he didn’t use machines, they would be using weights, Pickerel said she thought, “Oh my gosh what have I done?” They used weights, exercise balls and added in walking and running. By September, she had a new goal in mind — the Disney Princess Half Marathon in February 2013.
“He stayed by my side the whole time,” Pickerel said, adding that Gaines offered not to just help her train but traveled to Florida and ran the race with her.
Her workout routines started at just one day per week, one hour each time. Now you’ll find her at X-Project five or six days a week. Gaines provides a specific plan for each workout session. For example, one week the workout might include 21 deadlift repetitions and 21 pushups, then move to 15 and 15 and nine and nine, Pickerel explained. Sometimes they go outside and run and walk to mix it up.
“I feel 20 years younger. I have lost 60 pounds. I bench press 40 pounds which is a lot considering I couldn’t even lift a milk jug,” Pickerel said. Her goals are clear: She wants to lose 20 more pounds (hitting 139 on the scale), work up to 60 pounds on the bench press and she plans to enter a deadlift competition for her age group in 2014.
Pickerel’s passion for fitness has rubbed off on her family, she said, which includes the group she brunches with every week as well as her daughter, granddaughter’s father and half brother and a best friend of the family.
Their involvement tickles Pickerel. She reminisces that her grandson went home after one workout and told his mother, “MawMaw just kicked my ass in dead weight lifting.” Pickerel chuckles, saying she even had her grandson tell her she looked “hott” one evening. “I went from a size 18-20 clothes to now where I can wear a size 8-10.”
“The program that he has got me on right now has been the key to my health,” she said. “I believe in this type of program.”
When she’s not working out, Pickerel works three days a week as a contractor at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, where she worked full time until her retirement a year and a half ago. She spends time with her children and grandchildren and picks them up from school several days a week.
“I am thankful every day for the fact that [Gaines] was the one that signed me up at the gym, because there is probably no one else in the world who would look at me at 68 years old and say she is going to be able to weight lift,” she said. “Who would have ever thought I would working out with my 19-year-old grandson? … I feel better than I did when I was in my 40s and 50s.”