“The roots of the word “compete” are the Latin con petire, which meant “to seek together.”
― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi,
I remember watching it live, Oscar Figueroa’s last lift. His story is nothing short of a testament to the power of the human condition. He took on Weightlifting to get himself and his family out of the drug fields in Colombia. He went through multiple programs and coaches, he bombed out in the Olympics, he went through two spinal surgeries. Watching him approach the bar in Rio… the lift itself was amazing. However, if you knew what was actually on the bar, it was transcendent. Oscar took the gold in his second Clean and Jerk, after his third he collapsed in a lifetime of pain and triumph, crying, and retired then and there, symbolized by the removal of his shoes on the platform.
One of the most common things I run into as a coach is the excuse to not try because you aren’t great, yet. It’s one of the most backwards things to listen to but if I had a dollar for every time it was said I’d quit my day job. Perhaps part of the sigh I admit when I hear it is another soul’s departure from greatness. Greatness is inside all of us. You, me, her and him. It’s where you create it, where you summon it. The definition of greatness does not just apply to the elite victorious… it is in every attempt you make that is against your own doubt.
Weekly I listen to people interested in lifting… but then it sets in to them that they’re not good at it yet… or not good enough in their own minds to even start. This is extremely backwards thinking. How do you get good at something without trying, without starting? We all have to start somewhere. It’s a simple and brutal truth… No, you aren’t good at this… but guess what, you’re not even going to come close unless you step outside of yourself and put your hands on that barbell. Then, even after years of grinding, you’ll never be good enough… at least not if you keep setting your standards of success by others’ measurements.
This past weekend I had the privilege of coaching at a meet in Asheville, NC. I attended with my own athletes as well as with Heavy Metal Barbell. Ninety-nine percent of the people in that room didn’t know exactly what they were watching… but I did.
Holly Hansler moved from California for a change of pace and to help me with starting a barbell club. When she moved here we qualified her for the American Open. Then life happened – she fell into a slump, quit lifting for months, and amidst other stress fell into a depression. As her friend and coach I would try to guide her, but at the end of day she had to decide to fight… and fight she did. I watched her take the platform in Asheville and while not hitting the best list of her life she had a successful meet and started pulling numbers she hadn’t hit in a long time. Even after her misses she was smiling… because in that moment she knew she was winning again. The tide was turning. She took home gold for the day.
My girlfriend, Laura had a hard time after her brother moved over seas and she moved to NC for a new job. She had a hard transition and felt a lot of anxiety which transferred over to her lifting. For months she struggled to find her rhythm. With the help of her friends at Charlotte Uptown Weightlifting and Heavy Metal Barbell she has began to find her strength again. I watched her hit a meet PR and take silver for the day.
Tayler Harris of Heavy Metal Barbell dealt with some serious injuries and had a long road back to health. She is a fierce competitor to watch and an inspiration to many in the community. It was her strength and conviction that took her to the Sinclair for the day as well as her highest posted total yet.
Right behind her was Sean Rigsby of Heavy Metal Barbell. Sean is an amazingly talented individual and a world class coach. He has high goals and those were temporarily side-lined due to a shoulder injury. I’ll tell you what he didn’t do that day was give excuses. He put in the work and put the most over his head he’d done in years, taking the Sinclair for the day.
Training is not linear. What this story shows you is that we all deal with adversity on our own journey in whatever form that it appears. Injury, heartbreak, death, transition, betrayal, bankruptcy… triumph. Strength by its very nature IS resistance… and acceptance. As a coach, when I hear people give excuses, I know to resist YOUR excuse because I have seen and lived different. None of us as athletes really know where our journey will take us, but we took the first step… and we kept stepping. One foot in front of the other. One foot, one step.
All of us as athletes will come across lifts that mean something. It’s not always about the medal… most of the time it is what is behind the medal (Steiner, Figueroa – Hansler, Harris, Wood, Rigsby). It is asinine to think that you should be Snatching the National Record before you approach a platform. I’ll tell you now this sport will humble that mentality very quickly. Competing in the sport of Weightlifting is a skill in and of itself. As a coach it is my job to prepare you. One day you will approach a lift that means something and you don’t want that to be an inexperienced lift. It’s not about your end goals… it’s about committing to the grind. Quit giving excuses and get in that class or program. Sign up for that competition. You can lie to me, and I can lie to you… but if you lie to yourself… who are you fooling?