A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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This nana is a powerlifting, life-saving, super grandma

Photo: Adam Rivera
Jai Jai Goldstein does a squat at an USPA powerlifting meet last year at The Center in Affton.

Jaime “Jai Jai” Lavine Goldstein got her first tattoo at the age of 48. It’s an image of a volleyball that now resides on her left leg. 

She got her second tattoo four years ago, when she was 62. That tattoo is harder to describe, but it runs along the back of her right wrist and depicts a cardiac rhythmic wave pattern and small red heart sandwiched between a barbell.

“This tat is for my visual,” she explains. “When I hold it out to you, it means nothing, except you can see the barbell. There’s a heart, because I’m in the heart business, and the rhythm was my father’s cardiac rhythm (he died at age 44, when Goldstein was 16, from cardiac arrest). But if I hold it this way, (the wave pattern) spells Henry.”

That tattoo basically sums up Goldstein’s “three worlds” — powerlifting, her professional career and family. As for the latter, Henry is her 4-year-old grandson and shining light. She is his “nana badass” (as she jokingly calls herself) sporting cropped gray hair with bright purple tips, those tattoos and some pretty impressive powerlifting skills. 

“I used to be able to bench press him when he was smaller, but he’s getting heavier now,” she says, noting that her son and daughter-in-law are expecting a second child in October, a girl. Goldstein expects another tattoo will be in order to honor that baby, though she has no idea what it will be.

Truthfully, it could be many things — loving grandma, kind friend, consummate professional or even Mama Jai, the term of endearment given to her by fellow St. Louis powerlifters. At area powerlifting gyms, from The Center in Affton to The Lab in the city of St. Louis to Broken Barbell in Weldon Springs, Goldstein, now 66, is considered a legend.

But powerlifting is only one of Goldstein’s superpowers. Perhaps her greatest strength is an ability to live in the moment, to be grateful for what she has rather than what she doesn’t, and to embrace people, even strangers, with her warmth and good humor.

And teaching others to save lives. That she is also passionate about.

I learned of Goldstein earlier this year, when a friend emailed me a terrific piece about her in West Newsmagazine. In the article, writer Jeffry Greenberg chronicles her powerlifting career, which began after she and her niece, Allison Lavine-Lindberg, joined Club Fitness in Creve Coeur and met trainer Chris Glover, who eventually opened his own CrossFit and powerlifting gym called CrossFit Maryland Heights.

“Chris worked with Ali and I for years. One day he said, ‘How’d you like to get into powerlifting?’ ” Goldstein recalls as she tells me the story. “Ali and I looked at each other and thought, OK, we’ll try it. 

“So Ali, Chris and I did our first meet together about 15 years ago. I took last place, but I was the oldest lifter, and Ali and Chris took first, and we were all hooked.”

Goldstein stayed with powerlifting, and credits Glover for the success that eventually came her way. While she didn’t place in that first competition, she finished first in her weight class/age division in every meet she entered from March 2012 to December 2022 — 18 over that time span. Each USPA  (United States Powerlifting Association) and USAPL (USA Powerlifting) meet requires participants to execute squats, bench presses and dead lifts. 

Goldstein also is certified to serve as a referee and as a judge at USPA and USAPL competitions. And last year she finished the requirements to become an international judge for USPA.

She moved to St. Louis from Trenton, N.J. when she was 14. It was around this time that she started playing competitive volleyball, first at Parkway North Junior High and then at Parkway North High, where she graduated in 1975. Growing up, she and her family attended United Hebrew Congregation.

“Volleyball is my first love. I played for nearly 45 years,” she says, explaining that in her 20s, she played on the Jewish Community Center women’s state volleyball team that won nationals for three consecutive years. 

When I met Goldstein in late July, she was still recovering from knee replacement surgery at the end of March, followed in June by a knee manipulation under anesthesia to help restore her range of movement. We met at the Mid-Rivers Mall in St. Peters, where the Ability Gym is located. As Goldstein explained, the gym falls under the auspices of DASA – Disabled Athlete Sports Association — which through adaptive sports and fitness, empowers individuals with physical disabilities “to find their inner athlete.”

Goldstein was there to lead a two-hour CPR training for instructors who work with DASA athletes as well as other DASA employees. With a solid background in healthcare and 13 different licenses in CPR instruction, she now is the sole owner of CPR-N-MOR, which offers training classes in CPR, first aid, wilderness training and, well, more.

She had her DASA charges sit on the floor in a circle and joined them. “I can get down with this knee, but I might not be able to get up,” she jokes. She leads them through the paces of training, injecting various real-life scenarios that would require CPR assistance, and instructs them in the best way to administer life-saving help.

Meghan Morgan, a social worker and program director at DASA, has known Goldstein for eight years, after she had been recommended as a CPR instructor.

“She’s incredibly professional and relatable. We call her back every couple of years to run our CPR certification. She cares so much about our athletes, and she remembers them,” says Morgan. 

“About three or four years ago, we started exploring bringing the sport of Paralympic powerlifting to DASA. We reached out to Jai Jai because of her connections in the powerlifting world,” Morgan continues. “We started doing a (powerlifting) competition here every May, and she’s been helping us out with that since we started. This past summer she became a certified official for Paralympic powerlifting. She took that extra step and now donates her time, so we don’t have to pay for an official.”

Goldstein plans to return to competitive powerlifting in October, at the Missouri River Open, as a judge. She hopes to compete again in early 2024. In the meantime, she’s doing her best to stay active by swimming, kayaking and keeping up with Henry. She’s also an avid tent camper — “I camp, not glamp,” she says matter-of-factly, before breaking into a big smile.

Though powerlifting might not be for everyone, Goldstein encourages anyone curious to try. However, she cautions newbies to train with someone who is a true powerlifting coach, otherwise they could be setting themselves up for injury. 

“The sport itself is absolutely amazing in so many ways. The camaraderie is fabulous,” says Goldstein. “The good thing about powerlifting is that it doesn’t care how old you are or how much you weigh. You can do the sport forever. The oldest I competed against was 84, and I hope to get there one day.”

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About the Contributor
Ellen Futterman, Editor-in-Chief
A native of Westbury, New York, Ellen Futterman broke into the world of big city journalism as a general assignment reporter for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner in the latter part of the 20th century. Deciding that Tinsel Town was not exciting enough for her, she moved on to that hub of glamour and sophistication, Belleville, Ill., where she became a feature writer, columnist and food editor for the Belleville News-Democrat. A year later the St. Louis Post-Dispatch scooped her up, neither guessing at the full range of her talents, nor the extent of her shoe collection. She went on to work at the Post-Dispatch for 25 years, during which time she covered hard news, education, features, investigative projects, profiles, sports, entertainment, fashion, interiors, business, travel and movies. She won numerous major local and national awards for her reporting on "Women Who Kill" and on a four-part series about teen-age pregnancy, 'Children Having Children.'" Among her many jobs at the newspaper, Ellen was a columnist for three years, Arts and Entertainment Editor, Critic-at-large and Daily Features (Everyday) Editor. She invented two sections from scratch, one of which recently morphed from Get Out, begun in 1995, to GO. In January of 2009, Ellen joined the St. Louis Jewish Light as its editor, where she is responsible for overseeing editorial operations, including managing both staff members and freelancers. Under her tutelage, the Light has won 16 Rockower Awards — considered the Jewish Pulitzer’s — including two personally for Excellence in Commentary for her weekly News & Schmooze column. She also is the communications content editor for the Arts and Education Council of St. Louis. Ellen and her husband, Jeff Burkett, a middle school principal, live in Olivette and have three children. Ellen can be reached at 314-743-3669 or at [email protected].