NEWPORT As a little girl, Gillian Mounsey Ward would muscle through rounds of sit-ups in her bedroom at night, blaring the soundtrack to Rocky on her cassette deck.
By the time she reached high school, she could perform 81 pull-ups in a row more than 20 times the requirement of a male Marine.
But her Supergirl moment came when she notched more than 500 push-ups without stopping, flattening her classmate Brad, the reigning male champ. After that feat, the local newspaper published a feature story under this headline: Is She Human?
Ive always been regarded as something of a freak, Ward explained. My high school boyfriend would get beaten up.
Ward cant pinpoint the moment she decided to make a life out of physical fitness, only that exercise made her feel like she was flying, and she never wanted to stop. In 25 years, she hasnt skipped more than a weeks workout. Once, with an injured ankle, she tried to perform a handstand on crutches.
But now shes got a chance to branch out into an extreme new world, a fresh payoff for the hours spent pitting muscle against cold metal.
Shes been invited to try out for the U.S. Olympic bobsled team, and if the tryouts go well, we might all be watching her zoom around the Black Sea in February, topping 100 mph.
Im a total chicken, she confessed. Im not afraid to try out. Im afraid to actually jump in the sled.
A native New Yorker who married a Marine, Ward has never actually stepped inside a bobsled.
If she makes the team, shell be the one running along behind, shoving the sled like its a car with a stalled battery the brute in the back, as she puts it.
That shes a stranger to sled sports hardly matters. As a potential Olympiad, the job requirements range from her time in short sprints, her distance in the broad jump, her squats, her clean-and-jerks and her shot putting.
And at 35, the owner of a Crystal Coast gym, Wards list of iron-woman exploits reads like the resume for Rosie the Riveters tougher sister.
She took third place in the 2008 CrossFit Games, having practiced only three months.
She nearly appeared on American Gladiator as a character named Chaos, losing out only because a producer considered her too short at 5-foot-5.
She broke the world bench-press record in her weight class, lifting 281.1 pounds. Even if she doesnt go to Russia for the Olympics, shes going to Hungary for the world weightlifting championship.
You only get one life, she shrugs. Why shouldnt I try a lot of things?
Ive met female bodybuilders before who look like theyve spent an hour attached to a bicycle pump. But theres nothing freakish about Wards appearance. No wildly inflated biceps. She looks exactly like what she is: an athlete who spends two hours a day lifting weights.
I think its because she craves balance. Shes focused so hard on winning tournaments that losing caused her to slip into depression. Between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., shes locked in so tightly that you could blow up the building and she wouldnt notice. But after that, shes in her office drinking a cup of coffee, listening to her bulldog Millie snore.
So shell try hard to be a bobsledder. But she doesnt carry false hopes. Shes got plenty of irons heavy ones in the fire.
The hardest thing about trying out, and competing if she makes it, will be the absence of her husband, Mac, who is deployed on his fourth tour in Afghanistan.
But when she straps on her helmet and starts down the icy track, I bet shell manage fine on her own, the trumpets from Rocky playing in her ear.
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