MARYSVILLE — Lizabeth Masonholder used to be a power lifter, squatting as much as 661 pounds.
But now, after a freak accident moving some luggage, she lifts dainty items to make jewelry.
Masonholder, 43, trained and competed in American powerlifting since graduating high school in 1990 — breaking world records along the way until 2004.
In her prime she owned women’s records in the bench press, squat and deadlift. She squatted 661 pounds, bench pressed 412 pounds and 501 pounds in the deadlift.
She traveled around the world to places like France, England and Amsterdam to compete.
She met her husband, Mark, in 2005 when they both competed in the Scottish Highland Games.
They’ve been together for 10 years and been married for two.
Even has her career winded down, lifting was still Masonholder’s life. But it was taken away from her in 2009.
While working at Seatac airport where she huffed luggage from buses that went to cruise ships and back, she suffered a debilitating injury.
She stood to just stretch and heard a “resounding pop” in the middle of her chest. She knew the pop was serious when she began to feel numbness progressively get worse throughout certain parts of her body.
“My left side was almost all dead,” she said.
She had to go into surgery when it was revealed by doctors that she severed her spine. She was paralyzed from the neck down.
“It was scary,” Mark said. “They told her, you’re going into surgery now.’”
The doctors even hinted she may not be able to walk again.
Depression took over, which worsened as she eventually lost both of her parents.
“They did what they did, and they were really honest,” she said. “But I could focus on the good, or the bad, but it’s not what they would do. They’s tell me to ‘get up and get back to work.’”
But instead of being bogged down in her circumstances, Masonholder chose to fight and stay active.
She was in a wheelchair for some time, but progressively rehabbed herself through physical therapy to be able to walk and stand for short spurts.
To rehab her dexterity, Masonholder took up painting and other artwork but then eventually found her passion in making jewelry.
“I never wore jewelry, and I was never pretty,” she said. “It’s a thing in beauty I never knew I had.”
To get into jewelry, she went to the Red Door Beads in Smokey Point to take lessons. They gave her free classes as long as she brought the materials.
She was in luck as she was able to obtain most of those for free. A friend of her dad is a “rocker” and had rocks and minerals.
“But there’s this,” she said about jewelry making. “I really think it’s a blessing.”
Now, residing in a quiet home near Shoultes Elementary, she devotes most of her time tinkering with jewelry.
“It’s just a lot of technique,” she said. “I’m still kind of learning.”
Originally from Craig, Alaska, where you lived to “only party or get pregnant,” Masonholder said, she was the daughter of a fisherman and a working-class family.
“I had to leave,” she said.
Masonholder was always the strong one in her family, always being the “bottom of the pyramid.” Her dad was described as a “polar bear” of a man, at 6-foot-6 weighing 400 pounds.
Her strength was discovered when she was a teenager working for American Airlines as a cargo loader. She tossed a coworker a box and was asked “You ever lift weights?”
After high school, she said she was was working as a bartender, trying to afford diapers for her only child.
But she tossed her partying ways and her cigarettes to start buying protein for her interest in lifting.
Her zeal in lifting eventually brought her to Demming WA in 1991, to work for Bioplex Nutrition in Bellingham.
Masonholder now shares a house with her husband and his parents and their three dogs in Marysville.
She likes to make “healing stones,” which are medicinal stones believed to have healing powers, among the things she creates.
Her next hurdle is to sell her work somehow.
“I didn’t want to be labeled by my disability,” she said.
“I didn’t want to be broken, and people get stuck in their labels.”
She is a practitioner of homeopathic remedies as well, even using her own healing stones and oils to aid her physical therapy.
Her strides in recovery were miraculous, Mark said.
“She is an amazing person,” Mark said. “It’s a miracle how far she’s come.”
Masonholder has made improvements in her walking stamina, being able to go a mile around her neighborhood.
“I have to watch her and remind her she’s not superwoman,” Mark said.