Because I haven’t been enough like Jordan (we’re fraternal, I swear.) I’m kind of reflecting on the meet. I don’t have to work or train today, so now here’s a dryer look at what happened. Jordan calls these “After Action Reports”. What follows reads like someone who can’t write positively about anything is telling you about a positive expereince, because that’s exactly what’s happening. I’m a bit concerned this comes off as ungrateful or something, but I really don’t know how to express anything beyond “yeah, it’s cool.” I’m working on that for part of the 5 Points project, but it’s really just part of a slow, wildly uncomfortable change that I reference near the end about being social. Anyway, here goes:
The truth is, my head was about 50% out of it at the beginning. I am, -by myself-, a fanatical pessimist for reasons I may or may not mention in a future essay. My thoughts are usually that the worst outcome, however statistically unlikely, is the result I’d best prepare for. Effectively, if I’m right, I’m not as disappointed as I would’ve been as an optimist. If I’m wrong, I’m pleasantly surprised. So in the lead-up, all I can think of is the crowd, the new environment, losing control of my head, I have war-gamed every negative outcome, and I don’t want to do this again after its over. I just want to go at least 6 for 9 and for my current deadlift PR (412) to fall because it’s the Pittsburgh zip code and for literally no other reason and go home.
When I got there, my head was in a better spot, but I realized how much more I preferred to be at church and doing teardown. If I had to lift on Sunday, it’d be after that. It’d probably get better when I first lifted something, but for the moment, I’m dealing with the initial shock of many strangers in a new place and wanting to be miles away from both. Coach Mike however, is a saint. A very-longtime veteran of the sport, he immediately saw that the warmup room was too small for 30 lifters and immediately took control of a corner of the room. He and Jord would load weights for me and the other lifters in our corner, and the lifters would just lift. My mind was running too quickly to acknowledge the artwork before me. Listening to music (specifically a mixture of Jord’s playlist at EI and mine) helped to bring me into a bit clearer focus My warmup squats were stiff and barely came to parallel (with my knees at a 90 degree angle.), which has been an Achilles Heel for months. I can come back up with even 300 on my back, but breaking parallel is a total crap shoot that I really need to focus on. At the very least, I was now mentally present. I have an entire flight ahead of me, so I have an eternity to warm up, and Mike maintains a firm but loose grip on the corner as those who have their own routines lift whenever they want while my program is of course, controlled.
Very quickly, a “flight” is basically a section. The afternoon lifting session had 3 flights; C, D and E. There are approximately 10 lifters in each flight. Each lifter has three attempts at their lifts, we begin with Squats, 10 minute break to switch to bench, then the party really starts with the deadlift, ironically the final lift.
The catch is, they go by flight. So flight C goes through each of their 3 attempts with squats to begin the afternoon, then flight D (my flight), then E, then on to the next lift. Therefore, there’s a lot more waiting involved than I had first anticipated. After Charlie goes through their first attempts, I’d come up, do some warmups, sit and repeat this process at Mike’s call. When D finally is up, I hit my first-ever competition squat, a 264 pound (120 KG, because that’s how they measure it) and walk back, sitting for another 15 minutes.
Here’s where things start to get ugly. My second squat, this one at 280 lbs, is one I didn’t get low enough on. We stay at that weight and however long it was later, I try again. I am positive I got it, but 2 of the 3 judges disagree. So I’m 1 for 3, and in part because of what I believe is an incorrect call because it seems like others are getting the same depth and passing. I am frustrated with them, annoyed at myself, and feeling like the negative premonitions are coming to pass. And because I have a full flight ahead of me for squat, and Charlie flight benches first, I have about 45 minutes to think on it. Mike pulls me aside and makes absolutely clear that what matters to him is that I went down and got up and it really could’ve gone either way. The man knows how to keep my head focused on the task at hand.
At this point, I get an incredible reprieve. Kyle McMillian, Pat and Katelyn Spallinger, three friends from church arrive and stick around for the bench. In the eternity between Echo Flight’s squat and Delta’s Bench, I get to head out and talk to them. Pat, it must be said, is loving the metal and hard rock soundtrack that is at basically every USAPL meet. Kyle and Katelyn I can’t read. I try to walk them through what happens and how long it will be before I’m actually up. To be honest, I don’t remember much of the conversation. I am just so happy they’re here.
Eventually, I have to head back and warmup for the bench. The warmups for that look better, and I get two of the three. The third failure is mine entirely. A 253 lb bench where I failed to stay tight when I brought the weight down. I should mention that the bench press is run entirely on the head judge’s commands. You and the spotters get the weight off the rack, the judge yells “start” and you bring the bar to your chest and await the “press” command, which promptly follows. If you complete the lift, you wait for the judge’s “rack” command and that’s the lift.
Regardless, I am now 3 of 6. The church team needs to head out, but I wouldn’t expect them to sit through another two flights. I head out and talk to mom for a bit, we arrange for her to finally meet Mike, and I head back.
And at that point, sitting in the corner as Echo flight wraps up their benches, I am blindsided by the most intense feeling of absolute boredom, annoyance at everything and social anxiety that I have ever felt. I’ve been in a huge crowd of God-only-knows how many people, save for Jord and Mike and that reprieve with my church friends, for I-don’t-know-how-long and I’ve been in front of people now six times, I have another 90 minutes at least before anything of consequence happens and even the goals I care about (6 for 9 and the end of the 412 PR) don’t seem too likely given past performance. Now my head is going ballistic. Jord says something to me, I just kind of stare back and we talk about the two premonitions I had. The first, that the crowd would screw with my performance (which wasn’t true), and that I would get intensely bored halfway through the meet (technically, two thirds, but I was right). I’m now starting straight through people and the deadlift (easily my best of out of the three) seems an eternity away. I distinctly remember Mike asking if I was ready, and giving him a blank stare as well with a half-hearted “sure”. He tells me, and I’m dead serious, that when I stand up, which he’ll tell me when to do that, to jump three times and land in a half-squat to, his words “shock the system” into waking up. He says don’t force the squat, just land and let the momentum bring me down.
This…worked. Really well. The rest of the night is on a more functional autopilot and I hit the first two deadlifts easily. The third lift will be something else entirely. I’m fairly certain it’s higher than 412, but Mike and Jordan refuse to tell me because both know I’m screwed once the actual numbers get in my head. Mike calmly but firmly tells me that what’s coming is “what the last 7 months have been all about” and Jord basically hints that it is, in fact, more than 412. By the way, the point about “the last 7 months” is important because I am 9 months out of knee surgery, and 7 months out of being cleared for full activity. What follows is a complete out of body experience. Mike had this odd grip on my head, pulling my ears back, and everything just kind of zoned out. I walked up, doing my usual routine at the bar (looking up, leaning over to put my left hand on the bar while keeping the back straight, and doing the same on the right), pulling the thing, locking out and putting it down when the lead judge said I could. Mike meets me at the steps backstage and smirks.
“435”, he says before plopping an excited knock on the back of my head.
Because I’m not physically capable of emphatic expression and I can’t write it well regardless, I’ll just say that I felt very good after that. I’ve been thinking about that particular deadlift for the last three days. Further, I was more happy that I would get to go home in a bit after Mike, Jord, Mom and I gathered. We all talked for a bit, and Mike, Jord and I took a quick picture, before I drove Mike home and would meet Jord and Mom at her house for steaks.
I will say that, whether it was an adrenaline dump, dehydration (which is absurd, because I had 4 liters of water at the meet alone) or some other thing, I immediately felt very tired and, upon arriving at mom’s house, very, very cold. But this wouldn’t last after I managed to snarf down a few pieces of chicken and a 32 oz glass of water. I was also finally able to get back to the Spallingers, my friend Elizabeth and the Koerbers (my pastor family) who checked in near the end of the night. While I would’ve loved to have watched the Steeler game with the Koerbers as I usually do, tonight I was more than happy to settle for watching it the tail end of it, meaning that epic interception and nothing else, on my phone, with my head plopped onto the kitchen table near the steak I was supposed to be eating. It took me five minutes to realize the game was over.
Doing what I can to reflect on what has been a positive experience I didn’t expect, I can say this. I am in no hurry to return to the platform. I might, but it certainly isn’t a priority. There were parts of it that were fun, very much so, but the excitement didn’t come from being -at the meet- (at all, if I’m honest), it came from, as one might imagine it should, LIFTING 435 POUNDS. Everything else apart from the reprieve and (cough) being social (unconvincing, awkward cough), especially the interminable wait between attempts is, as Christopher Hitchens once described chemotherapy, “an almost Zen-like experience of boredom”. I didn’t share my colleague’s enthusiasm for meets beforehand and I still don’t. If given the choice, I’d MUCH rather be with my people at City, but I can see the appeal of the meet.
The day after, however, is kind of like the Jubilee conference, which is the only large crowd I’m remotely comfortable in and brings about an experience and feelings I never thought I could replicate. It’s a complete withdrawal as I tried to recover and reflect on what had just happened, even though I am neither capable of thinking too deeply or talking to too many people. After Jubilee, all I want to do is be alone, talk to no one and do the bare minimum of what’s expected of me that day. After the meet, apart from leading a Bible study as a substitute, that’s pretty much what I did.
This would’ve been a lot harder without Jord and Mike being there, but it’s fair to say I wouldn’t do this without either person regardless. Jord got me into this game, and Mike took someone with a 95 max bench press and I don’t know how much for the dead lift, and turned them into a 250 max bench and a now 435 deadlift, and oversaw recovery periods from two surgeries in two years to get to this point. Thanks also to the team at Elite Iron for being a home away from home gym in Atlanta and to them and the church people for the shouts here on FB and the texts.