Bodybuilder Turns Heads at 86

In this week's, Wisdom Watch, 86-year-old body builder Morjorie Newlin talks about the benefits of good nutrition, exercise, and the importance of building healthy habits throughout life.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Time now for our weekly Wisdom Watch conversation, where we talk with some of our most respected elders about some of today's important issues.

Today, she is buff. She is lean. She is so very hot. She can bench-press 90 pounds, dead lift 95 and squat 135. Oh, and she's 86 years old. Morjorie Newlin joins us now from her home in Philadelphia. Welcome, Morjorie. Thanks for speaking with us.

Ms. MORJORIE NEWLIN (Bodybuilder; Grandmother): Oh, it's nice to - talking to you. How are you?

MARTIN: I'm very well. You're a retired nurse. Now, were you always a fitness buff?

Ms. NEWLIN: Oh, I have always been active. I was even concerned with was fitness, but I did work out for quite awhile, although I didn't start with the weights until 1992.

MARTIN: 1992? So you would have been in your '70s?

Ms. NEWLIN: Yes. Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: What made you start lifting weights in your '70s?

Ms. NEWLIN: Well, I knew, you know, we were talking a lot about osteoporosis at the time, and I knew that I needed to add something to what I was doing so that I could keep my bones and muscles strong. And I was also fascinated watching the fellows pick up these dumbbells, and I figured that I could do it, too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. NEWLIN: But I also knew that I needed to be trained to do it properly. So I did find a gym where the man trained me for four years. And, of course, in three months, he put me in a show.

MARTIN: Oh, is that right?

Ms. NEWLIN: I didn't realize it was bodybuilding, though.

MARTIN: Really?

Ms. NEWLIN: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. NEWLIN: Until almost the time to go on stage.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Now you were in a bodybuilding competition.

Ms. NEWLIN: Oh, yes. I've seen…

MARTIN: Now, you know, they wear those skimpy outfits in those bodybuilding competitions. Did you wear a bikini?

Ms. NEWLIN: Yes, that was the outfit.

MARTIN: Okay.

Ms. NEWLIN: And that was the last thing he told me before the show. And I figured, well, I'd wear a bikini on a beach, but I can't see standing in the audience by myself now with a bikini on. But I figure, I don't want to back out because he's been so good to me and I'll do this. And when I got onstage, I'm saying to myself, I'm not doing this again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. NEWLIN: And after it was over, he told me he'd put in another show the next week.

MARTIN: My goodness.

Ms. NEWLIN: So from then on, every year, I competed, sometimes two and three times a year. And I also competed in France and Italy and (unintelligible).

MARTIN: What was your weight class? What weight class were you in?

Ms. NEWLIN: I was in the masters. And sometimes I was in the open, and it just depended.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Did you ever win?

Ms. NEWLIN: Oh, yes, yes. Sometimes I won the overall.

MARTIN: What do you think is your best body feature?

Ms. NEWLIN: Oh, gosh. I don't know, because I'm skinny, I think.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. NEWLIN: I think I am. I find it very difficult to keep my weight up, and yet people think I should stop bodybuilding or stop exercising because of that. But I think I still need to do it, but I don't know.

MARTIN: Take me back to the beginning. When you first showed up at the gym, and you were, what, 70-72 years old and you started, wanted to start weight training. How did they treat you?

Ms. NEWLIN: The fellows were very nice to me. They were all these big guys, and you had all of this weights, you know, and everything. So - but they were good to me.

MARTIN: It can be kind of intimidating walking into the gym for the first time, especially one of those really weight bodybuilder type gyms.

Ms. NEWLIN: That doesn't not - you know, so many women say that. They don't want to go in a gym because there are fellows in the gym. But that never bothered me. I was there for what I wanted to do.

MARTIN: I'm speaking with bodybuilding Marjorie Newlin. She is profiled in the July issue of Ebony magazine. Do guys think you're cute?

Ms. NEWLIN: Oh, yeah. I guess they did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. NEWLIN: (unintelligible) I'm sure, down little.

MARTIN: But, I mean, the fact that you can - I don't know if you can still press 90. I know when you're competing, you could bench press 90. Is that at all a challenge to guys? Are they worried like, oh man, maybe she can lift more than I do?

Ms. NEWLIN: Oh, yeah, especially when I squat. Because I can squat 135 pounds, and some of the guys, you know, don't do that. But then there are some that load all these weights on and that can do more than that.

MARTIN: Marjorie, we were talking about this in a conversation with a writer named Debra Dickerson who wrote an essay in salon.com where she talks about the incidence of obesity and some of the obesity-related diseases in the black community. And she said that, you know, part of it is is that she feels culturally, black people just have too much tolerance for overweight, for excessive weight, that they, you know, that they find that look more appealing, that there's some sort of cultural predisposition to that. And I just - I don't know. I wonder if you think that that's true.

Ms. NEWLIN: That might be so in some instances. I remember when I was coming up, and my parents were West Indians. And we live in cultures in the city - at clusters, I would say, in the city. And we visited around. We stayed in our own community. And I noticed that I would hear sometimes the adults talking, and if they said she's a fine girl, you know she was heavy. And that's - and my mother always told me how skinny I was all the time, and I was always that way. So I think that this is what is acceptable sometimes in some, you know, some communities.

MARTIN: So what's your advice for senior citizens who, or really anyone who has not been exercising and would like to get fit? What advice do you have?

Ms. NEWLIN: I say try to find a trainer - not necessarily a gym, because sometimes when you go into these gyms, you know, they just show you the equipment and they want to sell you a trainer. So they're not interested, really, in helping out. And especially if a person is older, I think there's a special way that they should be trained. So I think you need to really look around and find a trainer.

But then, there are other things that you can do. Walking is very good. And you don't have to try to walk fast. Walk slowly, but try to do more each day if you're going to walk everyday. And I say going up and down the steps, too, helps a lot. But some people can't do it. But whatever you can do, you do. You need to really be active.

MARTIN: And speaking of being active, are you going to break out the bikini this summer?

Ms. NEWLIN: Well, I already did a couple of weeks ago in a show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Well, you go, girl.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You go. Marjorie Newlin is a bodybuilder. She joined us from her home in Philadelphia. She's profiled in a July issue of Ebony magazine. Marjorie, thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. NEWLIN: Oh, you're welcome.

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