YOU might think if you haven’t committed to a professional sports career by your mid-teens then you’ve left it too late.
But Marina Cornwall, pictured, disagrees. She wants people to know that you can take up a new sport and follow your dream at any age.
The world lightweight natural bodybuilding champion didn’t even start lifting weights until she was in her late 30s.
And at 60, she has recently changed sports somewhat, moving into power lifting and already breaking records.
But then that’s not the only assumption that Marina turns on its head. It would be easy to think that bodybuilders and weight lifters have to be huge, but she is, in her own words, ‘tiny’.
At just five foot tall, with a slim build, if you saw her fully dressed and had to guess her sport, you’d probably go for distance running.
But you don’t need bulk to be strong – Marina weighs 44kg (6st 13lb) and can dead lift from the ground 130kg, just 2kg less than three times her body weight!
And with her moving into power lifting, expect that figure to increase.
Marina, who lives in Southampton, had always enjoyed sport, but she hadn’t thought of pursuing it as a career. Instead she had a range of jobs, as a PA, in the police and as a beautician.
But all that changed when she discovered body building.
It started when she became hooked on the TV show, Gladiators, in which members of the public battled it out against fitness professionals, and decided she wanted to become a contestant.
She was so committed to taking part that she went to Gosport, 20 miles from her home, every day to train at a gym with the specialist equipment she needed.
She made it through the fitness round, but the programme makers didn’t feel she was aggressive enough to take part in the show.
But by this time, she was hooked.
“The guy who owned the gym I was training at, Don Styler, was a bodybuilder and suggested I took that up,” says Marina.
Bodybuilding is sculpting the body in order to take part in competitions judged by a panel.
“I said; ‘what me? But I’m tiny,’ but he said he thought I’d do really well. He runs a small show so I decided to take part. There were three of us and of course I came third!”
But Marina had caught the bug and was soon competing in European competitions and bringing home prizes.
“It was a surprise to people when I started bodybuilding, especially my family. My mother is Maltese and she’s even smaller than me. She wasn’t keen on me lifting weights and doing what I do. A lot of people think it isn’t very feminine, but my friends have always been very supportive.”
Men, however, have had mixed reactions.
“One chap said he wanted to get fit before he asked me out on a date and men are always fearful that I’m stronger than them,” she says.
“I’ve been to parties where guys want to arm wrestle me and thought ‘why would you want to be beaten by a woman in front of your mates?’.”
Shortly after taking up bodybuilding, Marina became a personal trainer, a career that she has now been in for 20 years.
“Before, I’d do a job for a couple of years then get bored, because I knew it inside out. But with this, you’re working with different people and it’s a new challenge every day,” she enthuses.
Health and fitness are important to Marina and she has never been tempted to take drugs or use other banned substances to improve her chances in competitions.
“When I win a prize I’m proud that I’ve done that naturally, without cheating. I know I’ve worked really hard and earned that medal or trophy. I can’t imagine why people would want to put their health at risk by taking enhancers.
“I’ve known people who have taken steroids and seen how it changes them,” she adds.
And Marina proves that you can be at the top of your game naturally. Having recently diversified into power lifting – competitions based on how much you can lift in your weight category – and has been sweeping the board again.
“I was exhibiting with my sponsors, CNP, who make supplements, and we were right next door to a strong man competition,” she explains. “I knew I was strong for my size and thought ‘I want to have a go at lifting’.”
Within a month of starting training, Marina entered her first competition and has gone on to break 14 British records and become a European champion in two years – despite at 44kg being 3kg below the cap of her weight category.
She competes in both age categories and open competitions, beating women in their 20s.
“I don’t really think about my age,” she says. “I think too much emphasis is put on it.”
Those in the know often say you can’t compete as a bodybuilder and as a power lifter, but Marina has found that the two sit well together.
She’s planning on entering her last bodybuilding competition later this year, so that she can focus on power lifting.
“I’ve surprised myself with my capabilities – I didn’t know how strong I am,” she says.
“I also like the fact that it’s fairly scored – you either lift the weight or you don’t, whereas with bodybuilding, it’s down to opinion. I like the training for power lifting too. My coach thinks I’m going to win everything this year, which is exciting.”
Despite her success, Marina won’t get rich as a power lifter. Last year she spent around £6,500 getting to competitions and says you don’t come close to making that back in prize money.
But she is in the sport because she still loves it just as much as when she first picked up a dumbbell – and she thinks that other people should follow her lead, whatever their age.
“People can easily start power lifting competitively in their 40s,” she says.
“We have power lifters in their 70s, which is brilliant. As long as you’re not injuring yourself, there’s no reason why people shouldn’t do it.
“My message would be not to be fearful of taking up any sport or activity at any age.
Give it your best and you may surprise yourself, as I did.”
For more information about Marina’s body building, power lifting and personal training, visit marina-cornwall.com