Art of Aging: Senior weightlifter

Meet a senior who has muscled the principles of exercise to a higher level.

At the Coast Guard training center in Cape May, New Jersey, you'll find John Sheets, Sr. of Logan Township, a retired military man working out right alongside the young cadets.

"They kid me, 'I'm the old guy' and they say, 'well, I want to be like you when I grow up," said Sheets.

The 79-year-old competes in the US Power Lifting Association and he is a champion weightlifter.

"I won three meets last year and I set three state records, so, I guess I did pretty good," (laughs) Sheets.

Sheets' love of lifting came after a near death experience 15 years ago.

He said, "I had open heart surgery and when I came out of the hospital, my son-in-law encouraged me to get into the gym and start working out."

When he first started, it wasn't easy.

"I couldn't even bench press the bar which is 45 pounds. But he kept on me, kept at it and pretty soon I was adding weight to the bar," said Sheets.

And soon he was competing to see how he stacked up against others his age. He turns 80 in May and has an invitation that same month to compete in the National Championships in Orlando, Florida.

While the medals are motivating, Sheets says he found other immediate rewards in pumping iron.

"It made me walk a little taller. I felt more confident in myself. I enjoy the camaraderie in the gym," he says.

And lifting competitively enables Sheets to entertain his other love for travel. Since retiring in 1991, he and his bride of 60 years have visited every state and more than 30 countries.

"We always have a trip I guess planned somewhere, right now we have a trip planned to twenty eight day cruise to Tahiti," said Sheets.

Which leads us to the ultimate message that Sheets hopes his story sends.

"If you have a serious operation like this, you don't have to roll over and play dead, get up and go out and do it," he said.

Sheets continued, "When you retire, you can't just retire and do nothing, have a plan because you've got a lot of life, a lot of things that you can do."

For more stories on seniors, visit our Art of Aging section.

Report a correction or typo
Copyright © 2022 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.