RACINE, Wis. - A desire to improve her health kick-started an adventure that's taking a Wisconsin woman across the world to showcase her strength.
"I can't put it together with the me. I've known for 60 years, but I guess I'm the new me," Gretchen Herrmann said.
Herrmann, 62, is lifting her way into the record books.
Her competitive spirit has brought a lot of success. After a chance meeting at Starbucks, Herrmann and trainer Ernie Zuberbuehler began a fitness journey in Mount Pleasant.
"Early on, he told me, 'You know, you're the second strongest woman in the studio,' and I thought, 'Second? That's not gonna be enough,'" Herrmann said.
And her strength wasn't coming from years in the gym, either.
"I mean, I came in and I had never been in a weight room I don't think ever," Herrmann said. "Saw all the machines and it looked a little bit frightening, I mean, at that time, I didn't know what I was doing."
Lifting weights and the bench press were not part of Herrmann's background. Instead, she loved the arts.
"Music major in college, and I taught high school music. When I stopped teaching, I worked at a bank and we had a choir there," Herrmann said.
Herrmann quickly learned, with the help of Zuberbuehler, she had another strength.
"One day in training, it was like, 'OK. Let's see how strong you are,' and the weight kept going up, and going up, and going up, and we put the big dogs on there and she did no problem," Zuberbuehler said.
And the rest was history. Herrmann began competing and setting a number of bench press records at local, state and national competitions.
"What has been accomplished in just over 14 months - state record, national record, national championship, two state championships - bring on the worlds," Zuberbuehler said.
"I found out pretty quick...I'm competitive. I might not be competitive on a day-to-day basis, but I don't like to not do better when I come in here. I just can't comprehend -- if I lift 200 [pounds] last time, I should be able to do that again. It's a tough lesson to learn," Herrmann said.
Herrmann's work is far from over. She's hoping to set a world record in bench press during a May competition in Tokyo.
"It makes me laugh. It makes me laugh because really, 10 years ago, I was just working at a bank and sat on my butt. It was the furthest thing. It wasn't even in my brain," Herrmann said.
It's not a matter of if, but when Herrmann sets a world record. Zuberbuehler looks back on how far she's come with pride.
"Just going after a goal," Zuberbuehler said. "Seeing her smash records in an exercise -- that's awesome, but seeing how excited she is about it is way more awesome."
The Powerlifting World Championship in Japan is scheduled for May 18-25.