Not long after her return from Cyprus where she set world records, Mercedes Dickerson began imagining her next goal -- setting more records in the Ukraine next year and then in Italy two years from now.
In October, Dickerson set seven International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) Masters world records in Limassol, Cyprus, in categories of her weight (75+ kg) and age group (55) by snatching 55 kilograms (121 lbs.), surpassing the record of 51 kilograms, and clean and jerking 67 kilograms (147.4 lbs.), surpassing the record of 63 kilograms.
A native of North Carolina, Dickerson is a graduate of Chapel Hill. She has a master's degree in kinesiology -- the study of human movement -- from San Jose State. As an engineering associate, she has worked at LLNL for the past 28 years. Currently, she supports safety interlock systems for small laboratories of the National Ignition Facility.
A member of the USA weight lifting team for the past 14 years, Dickerson's love of the sport began in 1997 with a friend's suggestion. Since starting, she has advanced and takes the sport very seriously, traveling several times a week to Sunnyvale where she is professionally coached.
To prepare for the recent IWF, an Olympic style weight-lifting competition in Cyprus, Dickerson trained steadily for two years, incorporating rigorous training and a diet rich in proteins but restricted in sugar and dairy. "I find that with too much sugar, I feel stiff and weak," Dickerson mentions.
Why did she compete? "I wanted to exceed the world record while I could," she said. "It is my way of appreciating my abilities. As we age this is something that we don't take for granted."
For Dickerson, weight lifting has become something of a ministry; she believes it personifies qualities like consistency, focus, dedication, intention and attitude. And, it can be addictive. It is as much a mental activity as a physical one, she adds "It's what you think about you -- the only person you have to worry about is you."
And, weight lifting has helped her cope with life's struggles -- both in her personal life and her career.
In fact, she finds that weight lifting "brings your wellness to the surface and uncovers your weaknesses." It ushers in a calming effect that she recommends especially to subdue anger and bring about calmness. "It will help you slow down, and even relax you after a fatiguing workout."
Of course, there are physical benefits as well. Weight lifting strengthens muscles, and increases bone density.
Though winning is not foreign to Dickerson (at age 42 in 1998 she brought home the gold from the World Masters Games held in Portland) competing is only part of her passion for the sport.
"A lot of weight lifting is about technique," she said. To incorporate that philosophy, she has melded her LLNL project experience with the science of kinesiology, and has designed plastic composite weight plates from recycled materials for training purposes. The plates -- called Hitechplates -- come in 2.5 kilogram (red), 5 kilogram (white) and 10 kilogram (green).
Dickerson describes the full-sized plates as useful for training because they are durable, yet available in small weight increments.
Promoting the wonders of weight-lifting is as important to Dickerson as training for competitions. She meets with young people, as well as seniors to exhibit techniques and discuss the rewards of staying fit.
According to Dickerson this international sport has been a predominately male sport but is now fast-growing with women worldwide.
"Weight lifting can mirror life. In time it can help you unravel riddles and solve problems in your life."