Charla Cooper Wrenn

Powerlifter Profile: Charla Cooper Wrenn

Week after week as we train together, it’s easy to get caught up in our own groups and forget that we are part of a larger effort. This week I hit the road (fine, internet highway) to visit with Charla J. Cooper Wrenn from Good Hope, IL. Charla works out at the historic Salvation Army Gym in Macomb, IL where many of us will be traveling to compete in March.
Me: “Charla, I cannot tell you how honored I am to visit with you. I have to say right away that I cannot wait to visit the Salvation Army in Macomb to see all of the memorabilia in this home to powerlifting. Girl, tell me straight out, what is it like to train in those historic halls week after week?”
Charla: “She-Ra, it is so good to be here. That is actually the question I get asked most.”
Me: “I believe it.”
Charla: “Let me tell you, Judy Gedney is my first role model. Judy was one of my original trainers and I am beyond blessed to train in the gym she started so many years ago. Her plaques, trophies, and ribbons are a huge inspiration when I walk into the gym. She started lifting just a bit younger than I was at a time when most of the female lifters were much younger and to continue lifting until her last Full Power Worlds in 2013 is something I aspire to.”
Me: “Charla, we could just stop the interview there. I think that says it all. How many of us can say that?”
Charla: “There are days I truly can’t believe I can say it. She was a wonderful trainer.”
Me: “No doubt, Charla, no doubt, but let’s back up to the beginning. Tell me what brought you to the Salvation Army Gym in the first place.”
Charla: “My second oldest son, John Wrenn, wanted to get stronger between his seasons of high school football. Being on the very small side, he wanted any advantage he could get. Since I was his driver at the time, I ended up sometimes staying at the gym that his friend got him started at—the Salvation Army Gym. I figured it couldn’t hurt to at least do some lifting, so I started with the machines that were within the first 6-8 feet of the gym. I didn’t want to call too much attention to myself!”
Me: “I mean it! The first few weeks my feet were stuck to the floor. I was scared to death. Go on, clearly you got past it.”
Charla: “Well, visions of lifting in high school for track and PE were brought to mind and I tried bench pressing and then squats. After my oldest son got started competing, he got John competing, which led to him (John) competing at the World level just a few months later. At the first local meet—his second—that I got to be at, I found that the other competitors were super nice people and it was so much fun to be around them that it didn’t seem like ‘competition’, so I started getting more serious. Then I went with him to his World Competition and there was just something about being around women who were encouraging and supportive that I wanted more of it.”
Me: “I know exactly what you are saying. I was just telling Mary Doctorman this week how I didn’t know women like this even existed. They are talented, welcoming, and they truly like being over forty!”
Charla: “It’s true. I started lifting in November, 2009 and training to compete in June, 2011 and I have met some amazing people.”
Me: “I know you have, so tell me, is that what keeps you lifting?”
Charla: “Well She-Ra, it’s a combination of things.”
Me: “Do tell.”
Charla: “I lift for my health. My regular doc is amazed at how much better my lungs are than when I started competing in 2011! My chiropractor has a love/hate relationship with my lifting; I used to see him at least 1-2 times a month, now it’s once every three months or so and it’s almost always muscle strain—not being ‘out.’ But it’s more than that, it’s strength, confidence, knowing I’m an inspiration to others.”
Me: “That’s a beautiful thing. Has this been an easy road for you? Have you faced challenges?”
Charla: “Have I faced challenges? Where to start? Learning to squat, and training around injuries… The squat has been difficult because of hip mobility, lack of core strength, and balance issues. Add to that various injuries including a broken finger (forced me to learn to squat so I could still be in the gym!), strained ligaments, pulled muscles, and plantar fasciitis. Oh, and then add in trust and anxiety issues.”
Me: “I’m sure many of our readers can relate to some of the things you’ve overcome. Tell us about some of your highlights in lifting.”
Charla: “July 2014, Quincy, IL, Full Power Nationals, I had to make a 25k squat…With all my friends watching because they knew I’d been working on it since early January(remember the broken finger?) When I made that first squat ever in a competition and the place erupted with people cheering for me. Knowing that I’d started with a squat 40 degrees ABOVE parallel and that I’d made my coaches and trainers so proud, too. Absolutely unparalleled.”
Me: “Sounds like powerlifting paradise. So then, is squat your favorite lift?”
Charla: “I like the deadlift. It’s quite satisfying to know that most any boy who even looks at one of my daughters can be pulled off the ground and thrown into a hole….”
Me: “I hear you talking. I’m all about the practical uses of powerlifting. Aside from burying boys alive, what are your next goals in lifting?”
Charla: “To compete in all three lifts at the Single Event Nationals with a goal of a 70k squat, 65 k bench press, and a 115k deadlift.”
Me: “We will all be looking forward to seeing that. With the obstacles you’ve overcome and the history you hold, I feel certain you will do it.”
Charla: “Thanks, She-Ra. It will be a big day for many of us.”
Me: “If you could pick someone to be there watching, someone who encourages and inspires you in your lifting, who would it be?”
Charla: “So many great people to choose from, but there are two women who continue to inspire me. Shelly Frazier because she has battled injuries, replacement parts, and other setbacks and continues to lift and lift well. She’s a huge encouragement to me as well as many others, including my son, John. And Pat Okker because she chose to get healthy, lose weight, lift lots of weight and continues to compete and encourage others like myself.”
Me: “Two of the greats! Actually, make that three with Judy Gedney. It’s almost time to say goodbye, but before we do, first tell me, what advice do you have for other lifters? And second, what in the world is going on in that picture?”
Charla: “Okay, other lifters, be kind to yourself. Listen to your coaches and trainers. Learn, learn, and learn some more. Try something new. Do the work it takes to make each lift better. And second, the picture, Roger Gedney was my main coach while I trained to go to World’s in England in 2015. While the photobomber is now the head trainer Tim Piper.”
Me: “They look about as harried as Coach Tom LaFontaine at BP smackdown. Charla, I can’t tell you what a pleasure it has been. We, all of us here from Optimus OWOWs, look forward to seeing you in Macomb.”
Charla: “Thanks, and we look forward to you coming to Macomb.”
Me: “Another great chat with another great lifter, Charla. Just one more thing before we say so long.”
Charla: “What’s that?”
Me: “Macomb 2017, FEAR THE PURPLE!”