Kelly Rexroad-Williams still getting a lift at 32

Between substitute physical-education teaching, personal training, managing one gym part-time and operating another with her husband and parenting a 4-year-old, Kelly Rexroad-Williams squeezes in eight hours of weightlifting -- tops -- per week.

There are folks at your fitness center who devote more time to chalking their hands and hoisting loaded-down barbells.

There is nobody who, like her, rates among the nation's foremost competitive lifters.

Rexroad-Williams, 32, is among a muscled 15-member contingent representing the United States in the World Championships on the Turkish coastal city of Antalya. Next Friday, her weight classification, involving the sport's petites at a maximum of 48 kilograms (105 pounds), kicks off the meet that doubles as a qualifier for the 2012 Olympics.

A hectic daily routine hardly infringes on Rexroad-Williams' training. Even if she were a slacker outside the gym, the Newnan native and lifelong metro Atlantan is not sure she would alter the regimen.

The workouts "are intense, emphasizing quality over quantity" of lifts, Rexroad-Williams said at John Coffee's Gym in Marietta, where she works -- and works out.

"You know what you've got to do that day, and you get it done."

The resulting limited wear-and-tear has prolonged a career that has extended far beyond the typical lifter's. In the latest world rankings, which lists Rexford-Williams 31st among her featherweight peers, only two of 104 athletes are older.

Yet she is pushing up more pounds than ever. The Pan American Games in May paid off with a bronze medal in the snatch.

The longevity stems from avoiding injuries, made possible by a heightened sense of hearing: She listens to her body when it cries out for a day off or a less-demanding practice.

"One of the things I've realized as I've gotten older is that rest is important," she said.

Also, she has taken several sabbaticals when life's priorities intervened. Unless you are Cheryl Haworth, the three-time Olympian from Savannah, lifting is less of a profession than an intense hobby. So you set it aside for school, job, marriage and, in a rarity for her circle, giving birth.

High-level lifting, in fact, seemed behind her when she became pregnant. "I hadn't been getting anywhere" in the sport, she said, and had begun approaching it more casually, which suited her non-cutthroat nature.

Impending mommy-hood triggered introspection.

"Having kids makes you evaluate your own life. I decided I need to get back on this road," though with reshuffled priorities.

"Before, I put pressure on myself to do good. Now, it's more fun. Hey, this does not pay my bills."

Six weeks after welcoming little Rex into the world, she was back with renewed dedication. Not even a divorce two years later has forced her off that road.

A friendship that took root at Coffee's gym blossomed into romance and hot-wired her career. She and accomplished fellow lifter Caleb Williams were wed last winter. The two run Caleb's fitness facility in Buford, coach each other and have corrupted Rex, who has taken a shine to mini-lifting.

"It's a family affair," Mom says.

As Rexroad-Williams steadily adds a kilogram here and there to the bar, she maintains her own weight in order to stay in the lightest division.

"A constant struggle," she said, restricting herself to 1,700 calories per day with a diet heavy on PB&J sandwiches, plus pound-shedding sauna visits before weigh-ins at meets.

Eventually, the onetime high school cheerleader who stopped growing vertically when she reached 5 feet will dial down her lifting.

Give it up altogether? No way.

"I envision myself at 90 doing the snatch and clean-and-jerk," she said.