“Nothing in this world can take place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” – Calvin Coolidge
“Benjamin Riddle, on deck.” I heard that familiar phrase over the loud speaker. I walked down the hallway, listening to the sounds of the crowd outside, muffled, reverberating against the walls, passing athletes and coaches in the hallway. My gaze is down, but determined. I brush past the door guard, and into the crowd. I hear the low roar of the crowd talking, cheering, reacting to the lifter on the stage. Some people murmur some things to me, but I don’t really hear them. My vision starts becoming tunneled, my heart rate starts raising, and I am visualizing my lift. I stand, alone in spirit, in front of the chalk bowl waiting for the lifter in front of me to finish. “Benjamin Riddle, you have 1 minute on the clock.” I reach down, grab the chalk, and slowly go over my entire palm and fingers methodically, breathing deeply… hearing my own breadth echo in my ears. I calmly walk on stage, turn and face the barbell, and peer down into it. I can feel the heat of the lights on me, and everything outside of the barbell turns dark. I am relaxed, for the most part, outside of a healthy amount of adrenaline and anxiety. This is the heaviest Snatch I have ever attempted in competition, and it is at 90% of my last recorded max.
I approach the barbell, wrap my hands around it, methodically get into my starting position, scream… and begin the lift. Everything feels fine, I shoot under the barbell, and then feel my elbows buckle. I miss the first attempt out front. That’s fine I thought. Just the first one, ignore that, get onto the second. The second attempt: I move harder, faster, I hit bottom, and then the weight is forward. I’m fighting, refusing to let go… and I fall to my knees. Miss number 2. “FUCK!” I yell down to the barbell. “Benjamin Riddle, approach the barbell.” It’s my third, I’m starting to feel fatigued from the weight cut already. I choose to ignore that and tell myself that “no matter what, you hold onto that fucking barbell.” I hear the announcer tell the crowd, “give him a round of applause everyone.” Everyone starts cheering. I grab the barbell, and pull with everything I fucking have. I feel myself launch into the air, keeping mindful to keep that barbell close. I shoot under it, it’s my best attempt yet. I feel the weight shift forward… then backward onto my heals. I’m fighting, it feels like minutes pass. Then, the weight shifts back to my heels, I can’t keep it. I know that I’m about to crush my skull, and am forced to launch the barbell in front of me. I go spinning on my back across the stage. I hear the barbell fall to the platform, thudding in failure. It seems completely silent. I watch the barbell bounce from left to right while laying on my back. No, I think. I stand up, waving at the crowd as I walk off stage and thanking them for the support. I walk to the back where the other athletes are warming up for their attempts. I sit down in my chair, put my head in my hands… I am alone.
I started warming up for my Clean and Jerks. They felt nice, but I could tell I was beginning to fatigue. I just ignored those feelings, telling myself to forget about the Snatches, there will be time to reflect later. My warm-ups felt pretty good. I am naturally better at Clean and Jerk anyway. As was the same as my Snatch, this was the heaviest I have ever opened in a competition. My time came, I approached the platform, set up, and conducted the lift. Everything went well, I got the majority call, and down it went. I thought to myself: Damn, only two whites? These judges are tough. At least I got that lift. My second came up, 5kg heavier. No big deal I thought… I’ve hit this before plenty of times. Took the lift. Two reds, one white. Damn. I looked down and people were shaking their heads in disbelief that I didn’t get that lift. What’s it going to take? That was it though. That’s what I had left in me. My body was gassed from my weight cut, which ultimately contributed to my failure. To put it bluntly: I was lifting heavier than ever before in competition but I had eaten the least amount. Sounds pretty black and white to me… but at the time I thought I was doing the right thing. My third Jerk I couldn’t even get over head. I had gassed completely, my body was throbbing, verging injury, and I felt defeated. I left and got Drunk.
After reflecting now for days I realize how much I took away from that lift, the lessons I learned, and especially where the victories were… diamonds in the rough. To the spectator, perhaps untrained or unversed in Weightlifting… they may simply see a bad performance. I see so much more. I have come out with a new understanding of what it takes to lift at a high level in terms of judging. You really do need to lift without leaving question. Seems easier said than done… but steps have to be taken to insure that. Technically I know what I need to work on in my Snatches, and where I need to focus. But more importantly, it was the intrinsic, illusive victories that I gained.
I went into a competition that was the most competitive I have ever been in. I had the heaviest openers and target Weights that I have ever had. That is a measurement of success. A year ago my max Snatch was 20kg less than today, and I am opening 7kg higher in a competition than my max Snatch was… a year ago. Just having trained my body, developed the confidence and the drive to challenge myself in that way is a huge measure of success. Shit, my working weights are what my Max Snatch used to be.
I challenged the Lion. I went into a more aggressive competition with more aggressive lifts… and did the thing. Failure or success, I had the courage to get up there and give it what I had on that day, and I have gained something intangible and magnificent because of that. I knew going in that the risk of failure was very real, and it was staring me right in the face. I went in with an injury and under fed. I had many thoughts of changing my weights to something with a greater margin of success. But, that I knew wasn’t where the gold was found. If you want to be good at this sport, you have to have courage. You have to be willing to burn and fail. For that reason alone I stayed at my current weights, because I knew they were difficult to hit. Smart? Maybe not, but there are so many more tools an athlete must develop besides being calculated. Including learning how to fail.
It seems cliche, but winning isn’t found over night. Shit, performing well isn’t found overnight. Competing, like training itself, is a skill that must be developed like any other. Success in this is not found because you win all the time, it is because you fail, often, so many times even after others quit. This I am sure of. I refuse to take my hands off of the barbell, and I refuse to let this beat me. I now know what high level judges expect of me. I have dissected what things I need to work on, and I have developed strategies to pursue these things. This is what comes from failure. To watch an athlete shatter a record, or perform outside of your abilities… do not think they got lucky, ever. You have no idea what they have gone through to get there. There is a cost to everything. The cost is failure. Over and over again. The missed lifts, the injuries, the sacrifices of time and hedonistic desires. All of this because of a small light at the end of the tunnel. A light that you know, if you chase it, will yield a much more powerful version of yourself. You have to be willing to hurt, be alone, fail, learn, and keep pushing. Today my body is completely wrecked. I am limping around the office, most people looking at me like I’m crazy. They are the untrained spectators. They are the ones not daring to face the Lion. They may only see a failed lifter. I see something else. I see someone who is putting it on the line. I see someone growing. I see someone putting in the time. I see someone paying The Cost. In Weightlifting, it is up to you, and only you, to get that bar overhead. See you in the arena.