The first time you meet Lori Rogers, a petite lady in her 40s whose positive attitude is contagious, you would never guess that she broke the state record in a deadlift competition earlier this year — and took second place at the world championship weightlifting finals this month.
It would be even harder to guess that she accomplished her goals after battling lupus for 27 years.
The disease, which attacks the internal organs, has caused numerous physical challenges, and she has undergone multiple surgeries. The most serious surgery came in March 2010, when she had 8 feet of her large intestine removed.
That caused a host of other medical issues, including a painful shifting of her remaining organs and an infection that ravaged her body for months.
“I hurt everywhere on my insides,” Rogers said of that painful recovery time. “I could not get back on track. I was ready to cash it in and throw in the towel. I was so sick and so overwhelmed.”
Rogers was beginning to believe she would have to leave her job as an office manager and apply for disability. The only thing keeping her going was her need to be there for her daughters, now 17 and 20.
“One day, I realized, ‘I’m too young for this. I don’t want to be on disability. I want to be active and healthy and be there for my kids,’ ” Rogers said.
The shift in her mind-set came in large part because of her brother, Scott Bitton of Ogden, who is five years younger than Rogers. In their younger years, the siblings were active together in sports such as softball and baseball.
At the time Rogers was facing her uphill health battle, Bitton was training for the World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters competition in Salt Lake City. Rogers recalls that Bitton, always a tease, goaded her about her age and said she was too old to do the things he was doing.
“We’ve been extremely close our entire lives,” Rogers said of their relationship. The way she tells it, it was the teasing that motivated her.
She wouldn’t have accepted a straightforward invitation to work out: “I had every excuse in the book,” she said.
Instead, he turned it into a competition and egged her on until she joined him in January 2011, 10 months after her surgery.
Bitton remembers it differently. He had recently gotten more serious about bodybuilding and was in the process of turning his passion into a career after becoming a part-owner of the Body Evolution business with Jason Hansen.
His training was changing his life for the better, he said, and he was distressed over how hopeless Rogers had become.
“I’ve never had anything affect my body this positively ever. I knew she would feel better if she exercised, and I wanted to take her mind off her troubles for one hour every day,” he said.
Whether it was Bitton’s serious concern, as he remembers, or his penchant for teasing that Rogers described — it worked.
From the beginning, Rogers took the workouts seriously. After her surgery, she was supposed to be extremely careful about what she ate.
The workouts required a strict dietary routine, and that was what finally got her on track.
Prior to training, Rogers said, she did not eat much meat, but since she needed ample protein to build muscle at a rapid rate, she learned to like chicken and fish. She alternates between meat and oatmeal, taking in a meal every two hours throughout the day.
She sprinkles protein powder on the oatmeal. “It makes it taste like cake batter, so it feels like I’m cheating,” she said.
At first, she could lift about 90 pounds — not so bad considering that’s over 70 percent of her body weight. “It was extremely hard at first,” she said. “I’m not much of an exerciser, but I kind of got addicted, the more weight I was able to lift. It’s pure power behind this,” she said.
Bitton agreed that there is an addictive element to the workouts. “There is no greater reward than to express what you’ve been working toward by accomplishing a personal record,” he said.
Rogers wore weight belts to protect her incision from bursting open as she increased the pounds at her daily one-hour workouts. By the time the state competition came around in June 2011, Rogers not only took first place in her division by lifting 175 pounds, she also set a new state record.
“It was very overwhelming. I never, ever, ever thought this would happen. It’s an amazing experience,” she said.
Bitton was also surprised by his sister’s success. “I never pictured my sister as a deadlifter,” he said.
Dave Edgell of Ogden owns The Shop, a small gym in the same building as Body Evolution. He has been a professional bodybuilder and strength coach for more than two decades.
He has a degree in exercise physiology and nutrition, and said fitness is a passion he likes to share with others: “It changes peoples’ lives.”
Edgell has known Rogers since she was a teenager and said he has watched her follow the pattern that so many fall into — going from a fit, athletic teen to a less active adult. As time went by, she began to face weight problems in addition to her other health troubles, became dissatisfied and decided to do something about it.
“Most people think, ‘I can’t do that,’ ” Edgell said of professional weightlifting. But, the process comes one pound at a time, one day at a time and one challenge at a time, he explained.
“First, they have to change their mind, then they change their body and then they change their life,” he said.
Edgell has helped people overcome all kinds of disabilities, including losing more than 200 pounds. He believes that weight training is a huge confidence builder. “It’s not just liking what you see in the mirror, but also seeing yourself in the mirror and knowing — ‘I did that.’ ”
He began working with Rogers after she broke the state record and decided to train for the world competition. The first thing he noticed was her passion. “Lori had that spark to overcome her fears and she recognized that she could do something bigger. Passion is something you can’t train into a person,” he said.
By the time Rogers competed in Reno, Nev., on Nov. 5, she was able to lift 225 pounds, putting her in second place in her division. Her current goal is to work up to 250 pounds.
“Every time we step our lives up physically, it’s going to affect somebody else,” Edgell said. “It’s had a ripple effect already for Lori into her daughters’ lives. We don’t know the end of where our simple little choices will lead.”
Rogers’ daughters have been supportive along the way. Both of them join her for workouts and are planning to begin competing themselves.
Her oldest daughter, Sady Rogers, has also been diagnosed with lupus, but she says her mom’s ability to overcome the disease has inspired her.
“Even though I have lupus, she has proven to me that I can go out and get what I want in life,” Sady said.
Her mom is a tiny person, said Sady, not the kind of person one would picture doing well in a deadlift competition. Seeing her mom take first place at the state competition made her feel excited. “She has overcome a lot in life,” she said.
After Sady was diagnosed with lupus at the age of 16, she had some decisions to make. “I am tired all of the time, but what can I do? Not sit around and mope,” she said.
A freshman at Weber State University, Sady said the workouts have helped her lose 25 pounds and bulk up her muscles. She can already lift 285 pounds and is training for her first competition in March 2012.
As for Lori, she is grateful that this sport came into her life and helped her turn things around. Her battle with lupus has been hard.
“We don’t focus on the negative, though, only on the positive,” she said.