Marie Wagner is putting Orillia on the map in the powerlifting world with her record-shattering strength.
Wagner, 40, got into the sport of powerlifting during the COVID-19 pandemic. She was always an athlete growing up but mainly pushed her sports career aside to raise her two boys, who are now 17 and 15 years old.
“I always loved running, but as an adult, I started to develop knee problems,” she explained. “I was really frustrated with not being able to do what I could normally do.”
In her chiropractor’s office, Wagner saw a posting for weight-training programs for hockey players.
“I thought to myself, ‘I think I can do this,’” she said. “I decided to try it to challenge myself.”
Suffering from arthritis in her knees, and a torn meniscus, Wagner began using powerlifting as part of her rehab.
“I became borderline obsessed with it,” she said. “I absolutely just fell in love with it.”
After a year of powerlifting successfully on a non-competitive level, it was suggested to Wagner by her peers she test her talents against others. She was introduced to a coach for the Team Canada powerlifting squad and has been rapidly rising through the ranks since.
Despite her early success with no prior experience, Wagner says competing hasn’t come easy to her.
“Typically, prior to every meet, I cry the night before,” she admitted. “I feel scared and worried because I don’t know how it’s going to go despite training all of the time.”
She says powerlifting requires athletes to be 100 per cent "in the zone" during competitions.
“The physical is the easy part,” she said. “It’s the spotlights, the people yelling, the energy. It can all be very overwhelming.”
Wagner uses her background in social service work, her psychology degree, and her master’s degree in different fields to stay focused on her goals and not be overcome by the moment.
Last month, she competed in St. John’s, N.L., in the World Powerlifting Championships, the most prestigious event of the year for masters athletes worldwide. Wagner finished with a 182.5 kg/401.5-pound squat, earning her a silver medal. She benched 102.5 kg/225.5 pounds, good for a bronze medal, deadlifted 192.5kg/423.5 pounds for bronze, and finished with a bronze medal in the overall competition.
“I had lots of anxiety at that event,” she said. “I’m surprised it went as well as it did.”
For Wagner, competing at the World Powerlifting Championships was the most exciting and intense experience of her life.
“I didn’t anticipate it being quite to the level that it was,” she said. “Thankfully, my coach is very experienced and dialled things back for me.”
Standing on the podium with medals around her neck and the maple leaf on her chest was an “incredible” feeling.
“I was competing against women who have done this for decades,” she said. “It was very honouring and emotional for me.”
During the event, Wagner managed to break three national and two provincial records for squatting, deadlifting, and total score in the 84 kg category.
Earlier this month, she competed at the Ontario Provincial Championship in Hamilton despite suffering a minor neck injury during training. Without the help of the equipped gear, she managed to set the new provincial squat record of 185.5 kg/408 pounds and the deadlift record of 193 kg/424.6 pounds. She finished first overall and was named the best overall masters equipped lifter.
“I had pinched a nerve in my neck and my bicep was in quite a bit of pain when I was lifting,” she said. “I didn’t know if I could do it, but it was a really fun experience.”
Wagner says she was excited to have broken provincial records despite her injury, saying standing on the podium with a medal is always a humbling experience.
“The exciting part is you get rewarded at the end with your peers,” she said. “Everybody has made it there and is pushing as hard as they can. I would honestly rather stand on the same ground than on platforms.”
Next for Wagner is the Commonwealth Powerlifting Championships in Auckland, New Zealand, from Nov. 27 to Dec 3. She will compete in the open bench-only event and masters three-lift event.
“Medalling in both is the goal,” she said. “I want to maximize points for Team Canada as a whole.”
The Bradford West Gwillimbury native has made a career out of her passion for being in the gym. Wagner now works at the Orillia Recreation Centre as a personal trainer and fitness department desk attendant.
“Powerlifting is what has fuelled me to get into personal training,” she said. “Doing it at this age has really helped me understand the importance of lifting starting very early on and body health into aging.”
She says working with people of different ages and skill levels at the rec centre has been rewarding.
“I truly, really love my job,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like I’m coming to work. Sometimes I have to pinch myself.”
Helping people realize their potential and achieve their goals is what makes Wagner enjoy her job so much.
“I’m so grateful that people want to work with me and trust me with that process,” she said.
She thanks her family, coaches, and training partner, Jeramy Buckley, for their support with her career.
“Without them, none of this would be possible,” she said. “It’s definitely a team effort, for sure.”