66-year-old weightlifter overcomes challenges to do what he loves

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COLUMBIA - Bench pressing more than 350 pounds is an impressive feat for anyone, but especially for a senior citizen. Russ Tandy has been lifting weights since he was a young man. But now, at 66 years old, he's still setting new personal records.

"Age to me is just a number," Tandy said. "When I look in the mirror, it shocks me sometimes. I don't think of myself that way! I think like I'm in my 40's."

Tandy said he enjoys the challenge of lifting weights because it requires constant dedication.

"If you're gonna be good at this, this is 52 weeks a year," Tandy said. "If you wanna look good this Summer, you don't start lifting in April. If you want to feel strong, you don't wait until 3 weeks from now to start."

Tandy said he has learned the importance of surrounding himself with people who challenge him to keep pushing. He admitted there were a few times in his life where he was satisfied with his strength. But any time he tried to take it easy, one of his buddies would get in his ear.

"Somebody would push me a little bit. They'd say, 'you can do more than that," Tandy said.

As he has gotten older, Tandy has learned his true competition is with his old self.

"Weightlifting is one of those things where, once you get reasonably good at it, and once you understand what you're doing, you keep reaching a little deeper, and a little deeper," Tandy said. "That's where I am today."

Tandy told KOMU 8 News lots of people look at his success in the weight room and assume he's "lucky" to still be in such good health. But in reality, his success in the weight room came with several medical obstacles.

In the past 11 years, Tandy has had 3 major surgeries.

In 2005, Tandy learned that he had a serious condition in his colon. To contain the illness, surgeons had to surgically remove several inches of Tandy's colon.

Tandy said his recovery took several weeks. About six weeks after his operation, he cautiously took to the treadmill.

"I started walking on the treadmill at no incline, at about a half a mile an hour pace," Tandy said. "It wasn't much, but after that, I felt like I conquered the world," Tandy said.

In 2007, Tandy got more bad news. He had developed prostate cancer. 

Tandy said this operation was much more serious than the last.

"I kept thinking 'there goes everything,'" Tandy said.

Tandy knew after this surgery, he would have a long way to go. But once again, he started small, and worked up gradually.

"I couldn't touch anything for six weeks," Tandy said. "I was as weak as a kitten, but I knew I'd get back into it. Six weeks later, I'm back on that flat treadmill, going a half a mile an hour. And I build it up from there."

His operation was a complete success, and now Tandy has been cancer-free for about 9 years. But even though he is no longer battling cancer, he still faces other challenges.

About two years ago, Tandy had shoulder surgery to fix a bone spur that had cut through 80 percent of his rotator cuff. Tandy said at first he thought it was just a sore muscle. It wasn't until he visited a doctor that he learned it would require an operation.

Though he had already overcome a colon condition and prostate cancer, Tandy feared this shoulder injury would really be the end of his weightlifting career.

"That was the one I thought might put me down," Tandy said. "But within a year I was benching 375 again."

Tandy said when it comes to the body's limitations, the key is mind over matter.

"Get up and go," Tandy said. "Attitude is everything. Attitude, to your health, is everything. Attitude, toward your life, is everything."

Tandy said he often sees people his age give up on their bodies too soon.

"I've seen some of my friends, they'll have any one of the things that I've had... and be done," Tandy said. "They'll say, 'I can't do anything now.' When I see that, I'd challenge them on that."

Tandy said he first learned the power of a positive attitude from his father.

"I was raised by a World War II combat veteran," Tandy said. "Pleasant guy, but you never heard him complain. Even when I knew that he hurt, or he didn't feel good, he never complained."

Tandy said his years as a nurse showed him first-hand the power of the mind. He said there were several instances in his career when he witnessed an odds-defying recovery, mainly due to a patient's will to live. Tandy said he is still inspired by the strength of his patients, though he has since retired.

"I've met people that have resolve beyond anything that I could imagine," Tandy said. "I've taken a lot of that from patients and families. Man, they're tough."

Tandy admits that growing old isn't easy. He said he knows one day he might have to rack the weights, for good. But he said when he can no longer lift weights, he will find a new way to keep his mind and body active.

"If that stops you from doing one thing, do something else, don't stop," Tandy said.

Tandy added people should not focus on what they can't do, instead they should focus on what they can do.

"No matter what your age is, if you have something limiting in your life, that is only one limitation," Tandy said. "Move on, and do something else."

Tandy said sometimes people decide to "stop living" long before their life actually ends. He said death is inevitable, but keeping the mind and body active is the best way to get the most out of our time on this planet. 

"When the time comes, and it's our time to go, that's ok," Tandy said. "But I'm not gonna sit and wait for it."