Harper sets American powerlifting records at 75 years old

Robert Harper had a record-setting performance at the USA Powerlifting Nationals in October 2019.

Mercer Island resident Robert Harper started doing CrossFit when he was 66 years old, and less than 10 years later, he set three American powerlifting records at a national competition.

At the USA Powerlifting Nationals in October 2019, Harper set three American records for the 75-79 age bracket. Harper set the record in the squat (321 pounds), the deadlift 474 pounds) and the total combined weight of his squat, bench and deadlift (983 pounds).

Harper, now 75, decided to get into powerlifting after he realized his deadlift was actually a state record for his age group.

“After a few years, it looked like I had a pretty good deadlift so I looked it up and it would have been a state record,” Harper said. “So I thought, ‘Maybe I should get trained by someone who specializes in it.’”

Harper began training at Seattle Strength and Power, a powerlifting gym in Seattle. In 2018, Harper competed at the USA Powerlifting Nationals for the first time in the 70-74 age bracket. Harper returned to nationals this past year, where he had his record-setting performance. Competing at a meet in front of spectators and judges can be both physically and emotionally exhausting.

“At the nationals, there was, I think, four platforms and 1,300 people there,” Harper said. “The music is blaring and the weights are pounding.”

Harper said he decided to enter competitions because he knew he had the rare opportunity to set records.

“When you’re 75 years, you would never think you had a chance to set an American record in anything except maybe taking a nap,” Harper said. “So that made me want to compete.”

Harper said staying active can help extend your life expectancy and it allows him to continue to do the things he wants to.

“I still water ski and snow ski,” Harper said. “If you’re just over the hill, you can’t do that stuff. That was my focus for continuing on with it and living a more active lifestyle.”

Along with training in Seattle, Harper also trains at Mercer Island CrossFit Gym on the Island.

While Harper doesn’t know how he picked up weightlifting so quickly, he was an athlete in high school and college. He was a swimmer at Highline High School, where he won the 100-yard breaststroke at state in 1961. After high school, he swam collegiately at the University of Puget Sound.

After his record-breaking performance at nationals, Harper received an invitation to the International Powerlifting Federation World Championships held in Sun City, South Africa this April. As he looks forward to competing at the world championships, Harper said he is more focused on having a positive attitude rather than winning.

“It’s an interesting sport because you can only do what you can do,” Harper said. “I would certainly like to win, but if a guy shows up and his total weight is 50 pounds more than me, there’s not much I can do about that. To some extent, you’re competing against yourself. You want to do the best you can do.”