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53-year-old power lifter, Mary Esther postmaster sets bench press world record

Savannah Evanoff
Northwest Florida Daily News

FORT WALTON BEACH – Power lifter William “Butch” Lyle and his coach Daniel Schlemmer spent 12 hours in a rental car driving to Columbus, Ohio, for one of the heaviest moments in Lyle’s life.

Lyle, 53, competed in the Master’s Division of the United States Powerlifting Association’s National Championship on Sept.4 through Sept. 7, a four-day event with 200 participating lifters each day. The postmaster of the Mary Esther Post Office had been training for it since qualifying at the Drug Tested Northwest Florida Open meet last Oct. 12 in Milton, where he set a state record with a 331-pound bench press. To qualify, he had to squat, bench press and dead lift for a combined total of 1,000 pounds.

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“You’re lifting pretty much maximum weight, so there’s always that chance that I don’t get the world record and this drive was for nothing — even though I had lifted that weight several times before in the gym,” Lyle said. “Being at the meet with the excitement and adrenaline, it fuels you, but it makes you nervous as well.”

Lyle was given three attempts to squat, dead lift and bench press, and broke the bench press world record by 30 pounds with a 341-pound effort. At the meet, he broke four Florida records in addition to the two he already held.  

Lyle wasn't even sure if the meet would happen. It was originally scheduled for June, but was postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak. The lifters didn't have to wear a mask, but spectators did.

William "Butch" Lyle, 53, set the world record for bench press in the Master’s Division of the United States Powerlifting Association’s National Championship Sept. 4-7 in Columbus, Ohio.
Competitive power lifter and bench press world record holder William "Butch" Lyle trains at Black Sheep Strength and Athletic Performance in Fort Walton Beach.

Power lifting isn't just Lyle's thing; it's a family thing. His wife, Melanie, is also a competitive power lifter who holds a national record for bench press. Melanie and their son, Samuel, 20, are among 15 members of their gym, Black Sheep Strength and Athletic Performance, who will compete at a meet Nov. 14 in Crestview in hopes of qualifying for a 2021 national meet to be held in Orange Beach, Alabama.

Competitive power lifters William “Butch” Lyle and his wife, Melanie,  are seen at Black Sheep Strength and Athletic Performance in Fort Walton Beach.

“We’re big into working out,” Lyle said. “It was expected that one day I would get it; we just didn’t know when it would be.”

Lyle has always been a small person, he said. But at 5-foot-5-inches tall, his size is perfect for power-lifting.

He didn't compete in other sports growing up, but he has lifted weights since he was 15.

“The thing about lifting weights in general is you start off, you’re competing against yourself,” Lyle said. “You start to notice you’re getting a little bit stronger. Your lifts start to go up. Your body composition starts to change. That fuels you to continue on. Almost 40 years later, it’s almost habit for me at this point. It’s something I love doing. It drives me to go to the gym and see what I can do now.”

Competitive power lifter William "Butch" Lyle, 53, spots his son Samuel, 20, on the bench press.

Lyle has only lifted competitively since 2014. The former part-time Tennessee police officer once set a bench press record in a division dedicated to military, first responders and law enforcement through a different power lifting federation.

After moving to Fort Walton Beach, he started training at Black Sheep Strength and Athletic Performance in 2018. Most people would just drive right past the building, not knowing it was a gym, and that inside it some members are lifting objects several times their body weight.

Daniel Schlemmer (right), the owner of Black Sheep Strength and Athletic Performance, poses with his training partner and friend William "Butch" Lyle after Lyle set a world record for bench press in the Master’s Division of the United States Powerlifting Association’s National Championship.

Daniel Schlemmer, the owner, said he and his wife's facility has several top-ranked lifters who hold state and national records; Lyle is its first to hold a world record. He is an inspiration, Schlemmer said.

“When you hit that age, you start thinking you’re not going to progress as much or as quickly or even at all,” Schlemmer said. “Then he started getting confidence. We started talking in 2019 and were looking at numbers that were listed for USPA records and I was like, ‘Hey, you’re pretty competitive with this. Let’s try to go for it.’ ”

And Schlemmer doesn’t just train Lyle; he trains with him.

Amid running the gym, Schlemmer let his own fitness regimen decline. Lyle became his accountability partner.

“He’s been pivotal in getting me back into it myself and improving my health,” Schlemmer said. “I do coach him, but I consider him a good friend at the same time. I’m crazy proud of him. It’s very inspirational to see someone do that at his age. The way he looks, he doesn’t look like he’s 53 years old – definitely the way he trains doesn’t either. He’s definitely an inspiration to look forward and not have any excuses at my age.”

William "Butch" Lyle qualified for a national power lifting competition at the Drug Tested Northwest Florida Open meet Oct. 12, 2019, in Milton.

Lyle is thankful competitions are separated into age and weight divisions so he doesn’t have to give up his passion to powerlift competitively.

In Ohio, he competed in the Master’s Division for ages 50 to 54 in the 198-pound weight class, which includes anyone who weighs between 182 and 198 pounds. Lyle weighed 188 pounds, his lowest in 50 years.

“It makes it easier for you as you get older to lift competitively with people who are at your same level of strength,” Lyle said. “You’re not having to lift against people who are 20 for example. We had people at this meet in Columbus that are 70 years old still lifting.”

When asked if he would still be lifting at 70, Lyle's response was swift.

“God willing,” he said. “At this point now, I’m lifting as much weight as I ever have.”

Competitive power lifter William "Butch" Lyle has trained at Black Sheep Strength and Athletic Performance in Fort Walton Beach since 2018.
Bench press world record holder William "Butch" Lyle has trained at Black Sheep Strength and Athletic Performance in Fort Walton Beach since 2018.