“In life, no one really cares about your desire to succeed. No one cares about how much time and work you put into becoming great. At the end of the day all people see is a winner… or a loser…. They see 30 seconds, they didn’t see ten thousand hours… but you did.” – Ten Thousand Hours video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWEF5Ie89ug
You’re too old. You’re behind the game. You don’t have the natural talent. You aren’t mobile enough. You don’t have enough time to train effectively. You can’t afford the supplements. You can’t stick to the whole program. It’s too hard. You aren’t explosive enough for this sport. Everyone else is stronger. Everyone else is better. You can’t place….
All of these have been thought by myself or said to me. Sometimes I believe them myself, sometimes I defy them. This training period up to my first Weightlifting competition has been a unique experience in many ways… but also so familiar in others. As the doubts surmounted in my mind I remembered back to my initial decision to join the Marines in 2001. Being a troubled youth, many people thought it was a decision made in vain. I was just some punk, who did a lot of drugs and got into trouble. A hoodlum up to no good. Behind my back it was said by some people that I couldn’t do it. I was too weak. I couldn’t commit. I’d drop out. One day I was on the bus to Parris Island… and while sitting there with some also very nervous guys… I was ultimately alone in this journey, this decision. They wouldn’t complete this journey for me, they had themselves to worry about. Only one person was going to make it the next 13 weeks… let alone the next 4 and a half years.
When I first picked up the barbell for Olympic lifts, I merely saw them as an avenue to better athletic performance. Sure, the fun was there, and the athletic development. Like most, I muscled the bar a lot, thinking that it was my strength that I needed to focus on to move the bar. Just get stronger. I reached a point where muscling the bar simply didn’t work anymore. I couldn’t get under the weight, I couldn’t make the lifts. Months of failure, injury, doubt. How do others make it look so effortless? Why am I so weak? How are they so fast? A lot of people stop there. That wasn’t good enough for me. A buddy of mine and I were sitting down having a beer one night. He told me that he thought I was really good, that I was really strong. I told him that I’m not good enough, I’m not strong enough. I told him that I knew what I needed to do to get to the next level… it was just a matter of the willingness to sacrifice. Thinking back to my pursuit of the Marines, I remembered those nights in Parris Island while trying to earn that title. The loneliness, the sleeplessness, the discomfort, the pain. In order to pursue the barbell, it was going to be no different. I knew there’d be pain, discomfort, fear, anxiety, sacrifice, obstacles, doubt… and possibly injury. After that conversation, I put down my beer, paid my tab, slept it off… and the next day I was in the gym at 0500 to put in extra time under the barbell.
At the time I was a CrossFit athlete. Being in a CrossFit gym, the coach was worried that if I pursued my own programming, or separate programming from the rest, that I would create a schism in the community. In an effort to remain a part of it, I was training twice a day. I’d put in an Olympic Lifting session in the morning, around 0500, and then be back at 530 in the evening for a CrossFit session. I began to see this as an inhibitor. Too much energy being burned in too many directions. When I joined Flight, I saw the volume, and just made the decision to stop CrossFit altogether. This is where the obstacles started to surmount. Just expending a lot of athletic energy is the easy part. Physical fatigue and discomfort? Hah. That’s just the beginning. Sure enough, the schism began to happen. People saw me getting stronger, saw my lifts improving, and they’d approach me and say things like, “I should start doing what you’re doing.” At times people would approach me for advice on technique or training methods. Or I’d give pointers as my way to stay a part of the community. This would upset the coaches. The separation started. Already isolated from the group, I was just some guy in the corner, doing his own thing. My training methods weren’t the same as the community, my opinion on nutrition deferred greatly, my programming was not the same, slowly but surely the community – even if passively or subconsciously – started to grain against me. It’s only natural when you’re the bump on a smooth surface. So I made the decision to leave. Another sacrifice… leaving a community I had been so accustomed to. The gear there was great too, everything I needed. Eleiko bars and bumper plates, all the mobility and space a growing boy needs. Big locker rooms, a well maintained and clean gym. I then moved to a gym where I had no community. I knew nobody, the equipment was all hand-me-downs, the “locker room” is comparable to a trucker stop bathroom, with urine stained toilets and dick pictures drawn on the wall. As I began to change into my gear, I thought to myself: You chose this Ben. This is your journey.
Meanwhile, the training intensity increases. An Olympic Lifting program aimed at creating a competitive athlete is as strenuous a program as I have ever been on. This sport is the most difficult I have ever tried to get good at. Weightlifting hits you on all levels of your being. Like I said, the physical fatigue is the easy part. Weightlifting puts weight on your very soul. The grind continued. I knew my competition was coming, and I’d grind and grind. Each day a struggle with individual victories and failures. Hours and hours building upon each other. Extenuating circumstances each taking their toll, trying to pull me away. Traveling on the weekends for a long distance relationship, which means an effect on diet as well as displacement in training (which I was already experiencing to a great degree). A job with pressures from my boss that I simply do not get a long with. The displacement of community and gym. The fear and doubt of being a “beginner” and at such an older age than a lot of other athletes.
I continued to grind. My last hard training day in the gym, I collapsed from exhaustion, actually even getting sick that night from the shock on my nervous system. Cold chills, nausea, extreme fatigue, sleeplessness….
Laying in my bed, shivering, and so tired I could barely lift my body… I thought back to boot camp again. Constantly getting screamed at, constantly failing. Every day a struggle. Sleepless nights being homesick, fighting off loneliness, even nights spent crying and scared. The uncertainty. Long days and restless nights, everything was an enemy. Small victories found in a day by simply surviving. On graduation day my family and friends showed up as we marched out onto the Parade Deck at Parris Island. They’d make comments to me after it was finished, and we could leave. They told me I moved differently, that I looked great. I was fit, a sheen in my eyes, a new confidence. When I’d go out into public with my friends to celebrate, they’d brag that I was a Marine. Random people would see that.. the win. They didn’t see the sleepless nights, the pain, the tears… the loneliness.
We are defined by the great things we accomplish in this life in others’ eyes. A professor is introduced as such, a Doctor, a Teacher, a Cop or Firefighter. I am always introduced as having been a Marine. People see that. They don’t see my journey, my pain, the war, the tears, the anger, the exhaustion, the death and violence… my dead friends. They see the win. They didn’t see ten thousand hours.
I laid in my bed, exhausted, once again doubting myself in a moment of vulnerability. My friends and family will all be there, for my first Weightlifting meet. What if I fail? What if I burn in front of everyone? They’ll all be watching…. I am so tired…. Then I reminded myself: You earned this. Podium or not, this is your victory… the meet itself. You earned the right to even attempt to do this. You, and you alone earned the right to stand on the platform. You sacrificed, and now you get to do the thing. When I am up there, and when I lift and lift well, people will see that, the thing. They won’t see ten thousand hours. This is my flame. Weakness, doubt, uncertainty, all want to put my flame out. Nothing good just falls into your lap. It takes relentlessness. Win or lose, which is how “they” see it, I can hold my head high. This is why I can smile to myself when people say that I am strong. I. Earned. This.