Injury weighs on world-class weightlifter
By Denise Crosby firstname.lastname@example.org August 23, 2013 4:28PM
Updated: September 27, 2013 6:11AM
Corinne Grotenhuis is one strong woman.
Which is pretty obvious when taking even a cursory look at a resumé that includes 10 championships in Masters World Weightlifting.
But it’s even more obvious if you watch Grotenhuis do a “light” workout, as I did last week at XSport Fitness in St. Charles. As she pulls a cool 100 pounds over her head, I just shake mine.
Heck yes, I’m impressed with what this 48-year-old woman can lift. But when we exchange handshakes at the end of the interview, what struck me most is not the fact she was inducted into the Masters World Weightlifting Hall of Fame recently in Torino, Italy. It’s her inner resolve I find most impressive.
It’s an almost intangible grit that turns great athletes into the elite, for sure. But a bad knee — so bad, she’s in pain all the time — is forcing Grotenhuis into retirement. And she is fighting the inevitable with that same steely resolve that made her a world champion.
Friends and family, she says, are begging her to quit. Her doctor even refuses to put in the recommendation for knee replacement surgery because he believes the only reason she wants it is to keep competing.
And you know what — “he’s right,” she says matter-of-factly. Weightlifting has been such a major part of her life for so long, Grotenhuis can’t imagine her world without it. Even husband Ben, a physical therapist she met during a rehab stint 17 years ago, “knows weightlifting comes first” in her life.
“Secretly, he wants me to give it up,” she tells me. “But he doesn’t understand what kind of person I would be without it.”
And what kind is that, I ask.
“Very unhappy” she replies, her wide smile belying the fierceness in her eyes.
Grotenhuis started weightlifting when she was 15 years old. Since then, according to that impressive resumé, she set records at the American, World and Pan Am games. Her quest to become an Olympic contender was sidelined back in 2000 because of the same bum knee she’s still battling. But this nagging injury has not kept her from competing on the national and world stage. She’s taken part in 22 senior nationals — her weight class is 58 kilometers, or about 128 pounds — more than anyone else in the history of Olympic weightlifting, she tells me.
Then in March, Grotenhuis reinjured the knee again and can now lift only about half of what she could in her prime. Even then, she traveled to Torino, not just to be inducted into the Hall of Fame but to defend her title in this masters competition (for those 35 and older).
Grotenhuis awoke the morning of the competition with a severe case of vertigo.
“I was throwing up; I could barely hold my head up … . It was embarrassing,” she said of her fourth-place finish.
And that’s hard to swallow for someone who is used to being on the winner’s platform.
Grotenhuis, who is one of only two females still competing since weightlifting became an American sport back in the early ’80s, realizes she’s on borrowed time. And she’s positioned herself to continue as a huge part of the sport after her competition days are over. Grotenhuis is currently the women’s chairman for masters weightlifting, as well as the chairman for Pan Am women’s weightlifting, the first female to hold this title.
She’s also a Category 2 referee and will take the test in December for Category 1, which will make her eligible to referee at the Olympics.
“Corinne has been a fixture in the sport for 40 years,” says Rich Schutz, two-time Olympic weightlifter and American record holder who lives in St. Charles. “The sport can’t survive without people like her.”
It’s not like it’s all she has, either. Grotenhuis is a longtime social worker, now working at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield; and is founder and award-winning coach for the nationally-ranked Elgin Blue Wave swimming club. But all that, she insists unapologetically, is simply not enough.
“I go home and cry,” she says of the pain that’s slowly pulling her from the sport she loves. “I can’t let go. I need to compete.”