Abbey Moon, of Columbia City, is not your average powerlifter.
At 76 years old, the Seattleite is a late-blooming competitive powerlifter. Moon is also a survivor of domestic violence who has found a way to turn her trauma into an unexpected passion — a passion she followed all the way to Halmstad, Sweden, for the International Powerlifting Federation’s World Sub-Junior, Junior, Master & Open Classic Powerlifting Championships in September.
She’ll return proudly to Washington with three silver medals in the Masters 4 class: for the bench press, squat and dead lift. Now, Moon is hoping her successes encourage other seniors, particularly older women, to hit the gym.
Nearly a decade before earning these medals, Moon found that, in the wake of trauma, lifting made her feel capable and strong — and brought a newfound sense of confidence. “I wasn’t a victim anymore,” she said. “No one was going to hurt me again.”
After she divorced her abuser, Moon felt the need to protect herself, saying, “I constantly walked around with this fear.” She had tried therapy and various classes, but nothing helped shake the deep-seated anxiety.
So she decided to get strong.
Moon began with CrossFit, which was initially a challenge because she wasn’t conditioned to physical exercise. Before long she tried powerlifting, and found that lifting increasing amounts of weight made her feel confident and tough. She also found community in the sport.
During her first competition, a 2015 USA Powerlifting tournament, Moon said she didn’t perform well. But her gym was still proud of her, and she kept competing. After meeting Kimberly Walford of the U.S. Virgin Islands Powerlifting Federation — “the strongest woman in the world,” Moon says — Moon asked if she could join the team. She was welcomed to the squad and has since represented the U.S. Virgin Islands three times, most recently at the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) tournament in Sweden.
And while taking second place in Halmstad wasn’t what Moon was hoping for, she said she’s “extremely proud” of what she was able to achieve as the oldest female lifter in the competition. She also said there’s still work to be done.
“I now have a world total, medals and a baseline to improve on. My eyes are on the Virgin Islands Nationals for now,” she said, looking forward to 2022 competitions on her way home from the IPF competition, “but I’m determined to be invited back to worlds next year in Newfoundland and dominate.”
Leading up to September’s championships, Moon’s training schedule was rigorous. She powerlifted three nights weekly at downtown Seattle’s Strength and Power gym with coach Todd Christensen, completed accessory workouts three times weekly at Beacon Hill’s Urban Playground and joined four Zoom workout classes a week as well.
“My life at the moment is the gym,” Moon said before the tournament. “That’s my job.” And on those days she’s not feeling motivated? “I go! All you have to do is show up. At least you’ve been there.”
Leading up to the IPF championships, Moon decided to share her story because she understands what it’s like to be a victim. “Domestic violence is very overlooked in society,” she said. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the United States have experienced physical violence by their partner.
She knows many walk around silently carrying a fear she once felt stifled by, too. “It’s been so liberating for me, the fact that I can take care of myself,” she said.
No matter their reason for getting in shape, Moon wants more women her age to feel like they can do exercises — and powerlifting is not the only option, she insists. “It’s not too late,” she said. “I am not the strongest woman in the world. If I can do it, anyone can do it.”
Despite her affirmations, Moon hasn’t persuaded any of her friends to join her powerlifting endeavors — yet. “Most think it’s a little crazy; they don’t quite get it,” she said. “But they accept it because they know it’s my passion.”
Outside of her social and CrossFit communities, Moon’s efforts have garnered national attention and support; she felt “surprised and proud” to recently be named a Senior Planet Sponsored Athlete. Thomas Kamber, founder and executive director of Senior Planet and Older Adults Technology Services from AARP, says Moon was “a perfect example” of the type of athlete Senior Planet hopes to uplift.
Senior Planet sponsors five athletes annually, sharing their stories and giving the athletes a platform to host at least one workshop. Moon said she’s been blown away by the digital classes, which range from morning stretches to tai chi and ballroom dancing. She’ll host her own Zoom class Oct. 20 at SeniorPlanet.org; Moon’s session is designed to demonstrate basic powerlifting movements and to motivate participants.
Down the road, Moon hopes to lead in-person powerlifting classes for those in her age bracket. She knows firsthand it’s much less intimidating to work out with people who look like you. So give powerlifting or Zumba or aerobics a try, she implores, and don’t be afraid to ask for a hand.
“Powerlifting — or any exercise — is doable. Show up, and be willing to ask people for help,” Moon said, adding that she’s been amazed by how many people want to offer support. “We as older women can do this,” she adds. “I am not unique.”
Moon’s goals and attitude aligned with Senior Planet’s. Put simply, said Kamber, “We want a world where there are plenty of older folks around you at the gym.”
He notes that Moon is fueling an important conversation, and that aging is a gendered experience. Women in this country, and particularly older women, have endured countless challenges, from domestic violence to the everyday traumas of growing up in a gender-biased and sexist society. Kamber admires Moon’s strength for broaching these topics. “Stories like Abbey’s are the benchmark for all of us.”
Upon returning to the West Coast, Moon will settle back into her Seattle routine: When not at the gym, she enjoys quilting, kayaking and her Saturday arts-and-crafts group, a pandemic-era development. But she’s keeping her eyes on 2022 tournaments in Canada and the Virgin Islands, improving her personal records and getting stronger every day.
And she’s hoping to see more women her age at the gym for years to come.
“When I’m 85, I don’t want to have to be in assisted living. As long as I’m active and keep lifting, that will not happen,” she said.
“As a group, older women are so much stronger than we realize.”