Women’s Hall of Fame – 2004
Pioneer of Women’s Powerlifting, Mabel Rader
By Michelle James, USAPL Women’s Hall of Fame Committee Member
“I thought it was the dumbest thing I ever saw in my life!” replied Mabel when asked what she thought the first time she was around lifting. “I couldn’t get him to quit, so if you can’t change’em, join’em. I didn’t just stand by, I got involved. It was our life!” She explains it was her husband, Peary that was infatuated by increasing size and strength and wanted to let everyone know how he turned a 90# weakling body into muscle, which included milk and squats that added about 100# in 2 years. And Mabel figured she might as well get involved herself to help along her husbands hobby and actually very much began to enjoy it, too. Infact, she became one of the first women to push the sport of physique, weightlifting, and powerlifting with a special concern for the women in the sport. Peary and Mabel were the first and only couple to be inducted into the hall of fame in all three sports of physique, weightlifting, and powerlifting. She was also the first woman referee in all three sports. And when you combine that with being the first women to be named to a weight-oriented Hall of Fame, being a promoter of women lifting, being a seller of their own name brand weight equipment, and being a co-founder and associate editor of Iron Man magazine & Lifting News, you got what heck of a woman!
Mable was born, Mabel Lovera Kirchner June 17, 1917 in a sod house in western Nebraska. She was the youngest of 9 children. She met Peary in school at Alliance, Nebraska and then married in 1936. They made their home in Alliance, Nebraska and had two sons, Jack and Gene. She presently has 3 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren. Jack lives in California and Gene resides in Alliance with his wife. Peary has since passed away in 1991, but Mabel still lives in Alliance in the same house her & Peary bought and actually printed some of the copies of Iron Man. And at the young age of 86, she feels very blessed that she still has her mind and health at her age, still driving a car, getting groceries by herself, being still active in the community, and attending church every Sunday.
1936 is also the year that Iron Man Magazine came into publication being one of the first of its kind in the United States besides Bob Hoffman’s, Strength & Health first published just a few months before. The first copy was printed on a ditto press with only 50 copies made with the cover being a drawing of John Grimek. It was 24 pages long and measured 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 in size. It was actually called ï¿½Your Physiqueï¿½, but later changed their name due to another already having that name. He sent the copies to his friends and they subscribed at the price of 15 cents per copy. After the first issue, vendors such as Jackson Barbell approached the Raders to advertise . It was a mine in the waiting. It was printed in several different locations in Alliance, including their home in the basement. It wrote of basically anything to do with training with weights, including physique, weightlifting, and powerlifting. Infact, Pearyï¿½s special interest in powerlifting helped make it go mainstream with magazines being sent all over the world as it got more popular. It 1986, they decided to retire after 50 years of printing the magazine and sold it to John Balik in California. And though it does not include much powerlifting anymore, it is still the longest published magazine of its nature in the world.
Mabel was very adamant on keeping the sport drug-free and involve woman. She explains she was very ostracized around many of the men involved in the sport, but that didnï¿½t stop her. If her husband could do it, so could she!. She recalls having to do drug test and how she thought it was going a little over board having to watch them in the bathroom, but she understood not everybody had a conscious. I just don’t see how they’d even feel good about winning by taking drugs like that. How is one going to be able to say who is the strongest when some are doing drug enhancement and others are natural?ï¿½ She remembers when she became an official for powerlifting that a women’s committee was formed and rules were than outlined, but she not quite sure how she stumbled upon being the first woman official. She credits many others besides herself that helped get the ball rolling in womanï¿½s powerlifting, including Beverly Francis of Australia, Jan Todd, Joe Zarrella, Pat Maloane and many others that she has forgotten the names of. There were not as many regulations on costume as there is now, but rules non-the-less. And she was present officiating at the first ADFPF Woman’s Nationals, along with the first womenï¿½s nationals of the other organizations. And just like today, being a referee was a volunteer job. She explains a t-shirt and hot dogs weren’t even a regular thank you then, just a good ole thank you and knowing you were helping the sport was thanks enough. Like many she poured much money into the sport along with weightlifting and physique. She also says “controversy” was always in the judging vocabulary including the infamous squat depth. But she insists she was a fair and strict judge.
I first met Mabel about 6 years ago and it was really quite ironic. I was teaching an aerobics class for the elderly that she attended. I was also just getting into powerlifting. My husband was already involved and I decided too as well reluctantly at first. If it werenï¿½t for her son, Gene, I would have never known she was involved in the sport herself. Here I was, explaining to her what powerlifting was and she was a pioneer of the sport. After she found out I was competing in my first meet, she felt the need to come to the YMCA and show me how to bench correctly. She even insisted on giving me a lift off and gave my husband some coaching tips. Ever since then we have been friends and I still see her almost once a week at church. It was very hard to get her to sit down and talk with me about her involvement (very modest), but after much persistence, I was able to interview her and thumb through newspaper clippings, old Iron Man magazines, and one of the first Powerlifting USA magazines. She has kept alot of interesting stuff. She is an extraordinary lady and she is definitely one of my idols when it comes to powerlifting and woman being involved in a man dominated world. Her persistence, organizational skills, and involvement has made woman have a leg to stand on in weight oriented sports. No longer are the days women have to be weighed in by men because there were no woman officials. No longer are the days that women have to compete along side of men. Women now have there own star in the powerlifting scene with over 130 women competing in the 2003 USAPL Womenï¿½s Nationals. There are plenty of women officials including myself. And it is in part due to the flaming red head from Alliance, Nebraska, Mabel Rader. Who by the way still gets and reads her monthly issue of Powerlifting USA and has attended meets I’ve put on. And that is why she will be inducted along with many pioneers of womanï¿½s powerlifting into the USAPL Womanï¿½s Hall of Fame.
The USAPL Woman’s Hall of Fame will be new for 2004. We will be inducting several pioneers the first year at the 2004 USAPL Womenï¿½s Nationals held in Omaha, Nebraska on January 31st-February 1st. It will be a regular ceremony every year after at the Womanï¿½s Nationals with another induction every year. They will be presented with a special award and be recognized at the Nationals. It will be decided from nomination and voted on by the Hall of Fame committee. It was an idea brought up by Jim Ford in recognition of how far womenï¿½s powerlifting has come with the thanks of many people both men and women.
Below is a note written from Mabel:
“I feel very honored to be one of those chosen to the Women’s Powerlifting Hall of Fame. Although I have been retired from the sport for many years I still remember the many hours we spent weighing the contestants, watching them for possible drug usage, refereeing, score keeping, and generally helping to see that the contests ran smoothly. Lots of excitement seeing new records made and different women making them. It is good to see the sport growing so fast. Thank you again for the honor.” Keep up the good work!! ~ Mabel Rader