Joan Holladay stands with her trainer Max Bohling.

DUNWOODY, Ga. — At 58 years old, Joan Holladay had never competed in a sporting event until she set a state record in a powerlifting competition, deadlifting 225 pounds.

Holladay has been a Dunwoody resident for 35 years and currently lives in the Kingsley subdivision. 

In January 2014, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thanks to early detection, she is now five years cancer-free. Holladay saw her diagnosis as a wake-up call and set a mission to get fit and lose 100 pounds. 

“This is not my future hope and dream,” she said. “I don’t want to be a grannie sitting in a rocking chair saying ‘Come give grannie a kiss.’ I want to be one of the ones chasing the kids around the driveway.”

After about six months and 30 pounds, her progress plateaued. Holladay decided to branch out from her home treadmill and began seeing a personal trainer.

She connected with Max Bohling, a personal trainer who grew up in Dunwoody. Holladay credits Bohling from taking her from a “couch potato” to a competitive powerlifter. 

“The whole reason I started doing it was because my weight loss was going so incredibly slow I wanted something to distract myself from constantly thinking about the one-tenth of a pound,” Holladay said. 

Since December 2016, Holladay has worked with Bohling, growing from 30 minutes twice a week to 45 minutes four times a week. She works with Bohling at The Training Box in Alpharetta and Roswell BarBell in Roswell.

“Max had a client, a young man, who was competing,” she said. “Max posted a video of the guy doing his competition, and I saw that and said ‘Max, do you think I could do that?’ He said, like any good person who is really into something ‘Oh, of course you can. I could coach you. You’d be great!’ and I thought, ‘Oh what have I done.’”

Bohling began heavy lifting in February of 2018 and competed in her first meet in January this year. There she set the first state record for women in her age group by lifting 225 pounds in the deadlift at the U.S. Powerlifting Association meet. 

“I didn’t want to embarrass myself,” Holladay said. “That was my main thing. I don’t want to get up in front of people and they think here’s this old lady coming up and thinking she can do this.”

Encouraged by her success, in August Holladay participated in the larger Five Bar Showdown, setting a new record with the U.S.A. Powerlifting Federation that was part of the USAPL Federation at 243 pounds. 

Holladay said she has never felt better. She has lost 75 pounds from her initial weight and experiences less lower back pain. 

“I can work for six, seven hours out in the yard and not have problems, where before I’d be aching and forget it,” she said. “Max has a motto. You work hard in the gym so you don’t have to outside.”

She also said she is nowhere near done yet and has set a goal to set the state records for the other powerlifts — bench press and squat lift — and to participate in the national meet. 

“I have grown children, and I feel so guilty for not raising them in a more nutrition-friendly, smart way that I’m hoping it’s not too late, that they can see the changes that I’ve made and that now their dad has made and they’ll take them into their own lives,” Holladay said. 

Holladay also wants to inspire more women and seniors to try the sport of powerlifting.

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