Laurie Nelson’s Gold Medal Lift Raises the Bar

At the Masters National Championship in Savanah, GA, in 2016, Nelson’s first U.S. competition with 34 kg Snatch and 42 kg Clean and Jerk. Photo courtesy of Laurie Nelson

At age 71, Topangan Laurie Nelson competed in weightlifting in the 2017 World Masters Games in New Zealand and returned a gold-medal winner.

When Laurie Nelson lifts a barbell, she drops the weight of the world. Her concentration is absolute, fitness beyond compare and determination without peer. And now at age 71, she is the world’s best in her age class at the Snatch and Clean and Jerk.

Born in Pasadena, Calif., Nelson has always been a high achiever, earning a B.S. in Physical Education at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1969 and an M.S. in Physical Education from UCLA in 1973.

Nelson went on to earn a Ph.D. in Athletic Administration from the University of Southern California and later, taught classes in the sports medicine major at Pepperdine.

“I have been very active all my life,” she said. “When I was younger, there were no organized sports for women because it was before Title IX, but I enjoyed all kinds of sports, running, biking and skiing, but I never had a competitive career when I was younger.”

Nelson is an Associate Professor of Sports Medicine in the Natural Science Division at Pepperdine University in Malibu and for the past 15 years has been a Pre-Health advisor to medical students.   

“It is a wonderful thing to do,” she said. “I am so glad to work with the students at Pepperdine, they are so amazing and smart, the medical school applicants are unbelievable, they are so fun to work with.”

A long-time Topangan, Nelson is married to Eric Nelson, owner of Topanga Properties and they have lived in the hills above Old Canyon for 35 years.

The Nelsons have two children; their son, Cassidy, lives in Southern California and their daughter, Jess Martin, who is married and living in San Francisco, grew up riding horses at Mill Creek.



After a lifetime of fitness, Nelson kicked it up a notch and in 2010 began training with Mike Anderson at CrossFit Malibu (

“After two years doing CrossFit, I was able to qualify and go to the CrossFit Games in 2012 in the masters 60-plus female category,” Nelson said. “I was 66 at the time and came in 10th.  In the years following that competition they did not create a category for 65-plus females and so was not able to qualify again (although I did come close) for their games.”

It was full circle for Nelson and Anderson—she was his Freshman Advisor in 1988 at Pepperdine and he later ran the Physical Education department until 2001.

“Laurie is very special,” Anderson said. “She showed up at CrossFit 5-6 times a week for seven years; she is constant and consistent. Sure, she had done volleyball, yoga and hiking, but never competitive weightlifting; here she learned the basics and did her first pull-up ever at age 66.”

“I’m very proud of her hard work; she continues to train in her early 70s, she is getting stronger and stronger,” Anderson continued. “The opportunity is there for anyone to do that; she went above and beyond what she thought possible and took full advantage of her athletic capacity in her later life.”



Still wanting to improve her game at the Snatch and Clean and Jerk, the two Olympic lifts they practice in CrossFit, in 2015, Nelson found a world-class gym in Woodland Hills that would train her professionally.  

Bob Takano of Takano Athletics (, an award-winning weightlifting coach, encouraged Nelson to train with him.

After a year of working with Takano, in two hour sessions, three to four days a week, in 2016 Nelson set U.S.A. records in both Snatch and Clean and Jerk at the Nationals in Savannah, Georgia.

“My lift of 34 kg (75 lbs.) for the Snatch was 5 kg over the U.S. record and the Clean and Jerk of 42 kg (92.5 lbs.) was 6 kg over the U.S. record,” she said. “So I won my event and also received the “Best Lifter” award for my age category of 70-plus females.”  

What Nelson did at her age, both Anderson and Takano consider extraordinary for an athlete over the age of 55, especially when it comes to competitive sports.

“Weightlifting success comes to those with talent and a passion for the sport,” Takano said. “It is not a suitable activity for all individuals regardless of age. Your readers should be informed that competing in a sport is a different activity from “staying in shape.”  



Governed by the International Masters Games Association, the World Masters Games, held every four years with nearly 25,000 participants, is open to sports people of all abilities and most ages—with the minimum age criterion ranging between 25 and 35 years depending on the sport.

This year, Nelson took her Savannah wins and on April 22 lifted competitively in Auckland, NZ in the Snatch and Clean and Jerk.

Her Snatch of 29 kg (64 lbs.) beat the World Record by 1 kg; her Clean and Jerk of 42 kg (92.5 lbs.) beat the World Record by 2 kg—for a total score of 71 kg (156.50 lbs.) that bested the World Record by 3 kg.

“Olympic weightlifting requires a very specific form,” Nelson said. “If you master the technique, the weight sort of flies up. It’s very specific; there are lots of rules. The bell rings, they announce your name and you have one minute to get on the platform and lift; at 30 seconds they ring a huge cowbell and at the end you have to hold it over your head until a light goes off.”

Nelson said she was fortunate to have well-known weightlifter Bob Chandler coach her in New Zealand to keep her on task for the competition.

“I also had my niece Abigail Smith, who lives in Auckland and several of her friends there to cheer me on.”

Now that she is a gold medal winner, Takano referred to Nelson as the “exception to the rule, the one who has the guts to seek glory in her sport of choice.”

“Laurie was visionary enough to realize that she could make gains in this sport if she could learn the mastery of the barbell and persevere sufficiently,” Takano said. “She was also willing to take the step forward to compete, which not everyone is willing to do at her age.”


Annemarie Donkin

Annemarie Donkin is a journalist who wrote for The Signal in Valencia, CA and was the Managing Editor for the Topanga Messenger from 2013 to 2016. She is thrilled to write for the Messenger Mountain News to continue the tradition of excellent community newspapers. When she’s not writing, she loves to travel throughout California, read, watch movies and keep bees.

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