By Brian Stanley

Contributing Writer

Photos by Brian Stanley

Powerlifting world champions Ken and Clay Tawzer are coming out of retirement, and this time they are lifting for more than championships and world records.

For the first time since cancer forced her to retire from competition, Mary Tawzer lifts the 45-pound bench-press bar while her son Clay Tawzer spots the lift.

The father-son combo from Los Alamos are returning to lifting to raise awareness for breast cancer screenings in honor of Ken’s wife, Mary Tawzer, who is undergoing treatment for her third diagnosis of breast cancer.

“I’m very, very proud of them and honored they do this for me and other women,” Mary said.

Mary, 63, was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in early 2018 after being admitted to Marian Regional Medical Center with pneumonia.

“While I was there, they did a CT scan, they wanted to look at my lungs, and they saw a mass,” Mary said.

After further examination, it was determined that Mary’s breast cancer had returned, this time spreading to her liver, stomach and lymph nodes.

“I’m always thinking I’m going to lose her,” Ken said. “I’ve just recently gotten to the point where I can talk about it without crying.”

Married to Mary for 41 years, Ken decided to return to powerlifting to use his performances as a platform to encourage women to get screened for breast cancer.

“I don’t want to see another family go through what we are going through or another woman go through what (Mary) has to go through, because it’s just unbelievable,” said Ken, a seven-time world champion.

Despite being Mary’s support since her first breast cancer diagnosis in 1997, Ken was overcome with emotions recently while working as a painter. He dropped to his knees in tears when the song “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers came on the radio.

Clay Tawzer, spotted by his father and some friends, works on the bench press.

“(Clay) had to pick me up. That’s what you go through as family, because I could end up losing her. I don’t want to lose her,” Ken said. “She’s my best friend (first) and my wife second.”

Mary recently began a new chemotherapy treatment at Mission Hope Cancer Center in Santa Maria. The new treatment uses the chemotherapy medicine Kadcyla.

“It’s supposed to really get in there and do its job, get in there and kill the cells. What is nice about it is that (the treatment) just kills the cancers cells, it doesn’t kill the good cells,” Mary said. “I’ve made it twice now. I intend to make it through this one. I’m not giving up.”

After years away from powerlifting competition, Ken and Clay returned to training last year inside the family’s red and white barn, which is part weightlifting gym and part horse barn, on the family ranch in Los Alamos.

“I jumped in on that too,” said Clay, a four-time world champion. “Breast cancer, or cancer in general, doesn’t just affect who ever has it. It takes a big toll on the family, too.”

After more than a year of preparation in the gym, it was time for Ken and Clay to return to competition at the World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters (WABDL) West Coast Bench Press and Dead Lift Championships in Sacramento in August.

A retired Guadalupe Police Officer, Ken wore a singlet with a pink Breast Cancer Awareness ribbon screen-printed on it to spread awareness. The singlet also bears the phrase “Save the tatas.”

Each time Ken and Clay would appear on stage at the contest, Ken would energize the crowd to draw motivation for each lift attempt.

“(Dad) came out trying to hype up the crowd, going, ‘This is for all families and the women who have breast cancer and have defeated it. I’m using your strength to help us right now,’” Clay said.

Ken’s actions on the stage prompted audience members to talk to Ken and Clay after the event, allowing them to share Mary’s story and encourage others to get screened themselves.

During Ken’s first lift he pulled a muscle in his arm, forcing him to pull out of competition, but Clay powered on.

Clay captured the top spot in the push-pull category for the super-heavyweight sub-masters’ division, bench pressing 446 pounds and dead lifting 440. With those lifts, Clay set a world record in the push-pull in the division with a combined weight of 886 pounds.

When Ken and Clay compete at the WABDL’s World Bench Press and Dead Lift Championships in Las Vegas in November, Mary will be joining her husband and son.

“I can’t wait to go. I wasn’t able to go to the last one they went to, but I will be at the Worlds,” Mary said.

After winning six world powerlifting championships herself, Mary was forced to retire in 2012 after her second bout with cancer.

“I did continue to judge for a while,” she said. “It just wasn’t the same, I wasn’t able to lift.”

That’s all about to change.

In mid-August the president of WABDL, Gus Rethwisch, personally invited Mary to compete this year at the world championships in a newly created division for people with cancer.

Unable to lift anything heavy since leaving the sport, Mary said she’s going to compete again with the goal to bench press and dead lift the 45-pound bar without any additional weight.

“I haven’t told my doctors about this yet,” she said.

To prepare, Mary joined Ken and Clay in the family gym during a recent workout to test her strength before November. Positioning herself for the bench press, Mary lifted the 45-pound bar off the rack, lowered the weight to her chest and then fully extended her arms to complete the rep.

When the Tawzers make their trip to the world championships in Las Vegas, the family is packing pink breast-cancer-awareness wristbands and breast-cancer screening brochures to pass out to competitors during the sign-in session.

“If (women) find a little lump, I don’t want them to be afraid to get it checked out,” Ken said. “The best thing to do is to get it checked out.”

Two years after Mary’s first round of cancer, Ken and Mary’s 21-year-old daughter, Becky Tawzer, went to her doctor for a mammogram screening after finding a lump during a self-examination. During the screening the doctor discovered a small mass in her breast that was quickly removed and tested for cancerous cells.

“It came back that if she hadn’t had it removed it would have been breast cancer,” Mary said.

Ken said an early screening saved his daughter’s life, and that’s the message he’s trying to get out to other women. “If my daughter can do it, they can too.”

More information on breast cancer awareness and screenings is available fromMission Hope Cancer Center in Santa Maria at, Ridley-Tree Cancer Center in Santa Barbara at www.ridleytreecc.orgor the Breast Cancer Resource Center at