BLOOMINGTON, Ill. | On a day others were making promises to better their lives, Sandra Foli was on the brink of losing hers.
It was not the New Year's Day she had planned. Yet, it was an experience Foli says changed her life.
"If it wasn't for that entire series of events, I wouldn't be where I am today," Foli said. "In a way, what resulted from that entire situation is sort of a blessing."
Today, the 73-year-old from Secor, about 25 miles east of Peoria, is a power lifting enthusiast, breaking ground unimaginable 12 years ago.
Foli was in the intensive care unit at BroMenn Regional Medical Center in Normal on Jan. 1, 2001, after a misdiagnosis of mononucleosis put her body in a state of septic shock.
In laymen's terms, Foli's blood and bones had become full of infection, leaving her literally incapacitated.
"I couldn't move, I was so weak," Foli said. "When I finally made it to the hospital with my husband, I was told that had I waited even a few more days, I would've died."
Foli said after making a grueling recovery, menial daily tasks such as putting dishes in her kitchen cabinets were too much to bear.
"When I finally tried to get out of bed for the first time, my legs were like jelly. I actually had to learn to walk again," she said. "It was embarrassing; I had lost so much from my sickness, so much muscle. I knew that I needed to do something about it if I wanted to get better."
Foli ultimately found an answer in 23-year-old Chad Hobbs, a Saybrook native who was just starting a career as a personal trainer at Gold's Gym in Bloomington.
"Sandra was one of my first clients, and honestly, it started as just wanting to improve her quality of life," said Hobbs, now 28. "Initially, Sandra was just hoping for a 'kick-starter' with me. She was going to learn some things and then work out on her own."
Instead, trainer and trainee bonded, and when Hobbs left Gold's to open CrossFit Bloomington-Normal, Foli followed. Before long, Foli's interest in weight lifting progressed from self-improvement to self-enjoyment.
Foli adapted so well to Hobb's workout plan, regaining a vast amount of strength in the process, that transitioning into competitive lifting became a realistic option.
"As we went along, I got stronger and could do more. I just kept getting better, and I really liked lifting," Foli said. "After five and half years with Chad, we talked about branching out into some meets, and finally I went for it."
Guided by Hobbs, Foli perfected several lifting regimens, and used those skills June 8 at the 100% Raw Powerlifting Federation's American Challenge National Championships at Four Seasons Fitness Center in Bloomington.
Competing in the 70-74 age group, Foli set a record in the dead lift, an exercise that requires the lifter to bend his or her knees with a straightened back before lifting a weighted barbell by standing up. Foli lifted 172 pounds to set the record before shattering that mark by lifting 181 pounds.
"I may be the only one in the entire gym that wasn't surprised by what Sandra did," Hobbs said. "From day one, she's been so determined and has worked so hard that nothing she does surprises me anymore."
And as far as Foli is concerned, the performance is only the beginning.
"Chad and I are already talking about focusing on some new records," Foli said. "I mean, I've already come so far, why stop now?"