On a sunny December day last year, Writer/Director, Sally McLean had the great privilege to be able to spend time over a few coffees with previous Australian Champions, Bev Francis and Marg Woodlock-McLean, both interviewees for “A Life Unexpected” and representatives from the sport of Shot Put.
Representing two generations of Stampfl athletes, this impromptu chat was a chance to bring two of Franz’s fascinating athletes together who had both competed on the national stage in the same sport. Bev was on a flying visit from her home in New York and generously found time in her schedule to drop into a South Yarra cafe and spend some time comparing notes with Marg.
“It was a delight to sit with these two extraordinary women and hear their stories about their time with Franz and their lives afterwards,” said McLean. “It made me even more excited about getting them in front of a camera so their experiences can be shared with a world audience.”
Bev Francis is possibly best known on the world stage as the woman who irrevocably changed the sport of female body building. As the star of the 1985 documentary “Pumping Iron II: The Women” (a follow up from the 1977 documentary “Pumping Iron” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger), Bev essentially broke “the glass ceiling” of women’s body building by proving that women could build their bodies to be just as spectacularly muscular as men.
Bev was also known as one of the three “Strongest Women in the World” – a term coined by Stampfl while she was training with him. He was the one to encourage her to take up weight-lifting while she was pursuing the sports of javelin, discus and shot put, which lead to her changing to the sport of Power Lifting. The result of this change of direction? Bev would go on to break more than 40 powerlifting records and win six powerlifting World Championships, as well as become the first woman to officially bench press over 300 pounds.
From Power Lifting, Bev moved into body building – going on to compete in several Ms Olympia competitions and winning the 1987 Pro World Championship.
Marg related to Bev’s experience with weight lifting, telling how Franz had insisted on all his athletes, but especially the throwers, undertake a full weight lifting regime as part of their training. As she was coaching with him in 1955, this was unheard of for women and she initially protested at this addition to her training schedule.
“She told us that she said to him she didn’t want to get all muscle bound, but Franz told her if she trained the way he told her to, she’d be “trim, taut, terrific”, which is what happened. And if you look at photos of her competing in 1956, she is showing strong muscle tone – a result of only 3 months of weight work – which looks great, in my opinion!” said McLean.
“And, as she is my mother, I can attest that all these years later, if I can’t get a jar open, I just have to hand it to her and she gets it open in a couple of seconds – she, like Bev, has incredible natural strength – which is rather amazing, considering I’m at least a foot taller than both of them!!”
Marg would go onto be a 1956 Olympian in Shot Put and National Champion. In later life, she would go on to compete against some of her original 1956 Olympic rivals in the World Masters Games and win a Gold Medal in Shot Put.
“She quipped that Franz always told her she’d be the best in the world – and it only took her 40 odd years to do it!”, laughs McLean.
Marg, like Bev, trained at Melbourne University in Physical Education, going on to teach in Australia and the UK, before becoming more heavily involved in Fundraising and the Arts. Both Marg and Bev would go on to establish their own businesses – Bev running the Bev Francis Powerhouse Gym in New York and Marg running a large-scale event management business before her retirement a few years ago.
Seeing these two entertaining and accomplished women together and hearing their stories, was a great taste of what would be captured on film for the documentary and a wonderful way to spend a December afternoon.
“I am so delighted with the calibre and generosity of all our interviewees, and cannot wait to start interviewing them all on camera,” said McLean. “With people like Bev and Marg involved, this documentary is going to be something truly special.”