A story of success and inspiration: Becoming a World Champion
If you had a chance to set a world record, would you be able to do it? I don’t mean a record like the longest fingernails or most flexible ears. If you had trained for this opportunity for half of your life, putting forth every ounce of effort and passion into the tiny possibility that you might become the greatest that ever was, could you execute when the opportunity finally presented itself? My opportunity was presented before me, and it was greater than I had ever done before. Greater than anyone had ever done before. The outcome of this opportunity is what shaped my life immensely, teaching me a life lesson that I was not accustomed to beforehand.
I was aboard a fifteen-hour flight. Falling in and out of sleep, my subconscious mind was seeing brightly-colored flags and hearing all kinds of foreign accents. As I became more awake, I realized the foreign accents were real, coming from rows in front of and behind me. The colorful flags, on the other hand, were truly part of a dream. I was probably thinking of those because the plane’s journey lead to the powerlifting world championships. There, each ornately decorated flag represented a country and its athletic ambassadors who would compete before the world in hope of bringing honor to their homelands.
In the seat next to me was my dad, who was also my coach. He had made this trip with me twice before, and it seemed that we had experienced so much in the elite world of this sport that not much could surprise us. The destinations had been different in the past two years, but the goal had always been the same. I had to win. After all, I had countless people back home waiting for me to bring back the gold.
Butterflies became a constant feeling for at least an entire week preceding competition day. I had learned from the past two years that the agonizing nerves would not go away until after competing. I loved powerlifting immensely, but I always loved it most when it was over. I hated powerlifting when the thought of missing a lift or taking second place kept me awake at night. I hated it on a bad training day. I hated it when it kept me from being a normal high-schooler with a normal schedule. Nevertheless, the feeling of a single good lift pulled me back in like an addict to heroin. The adrenaline while competing was more than rewarding, and the high of winning was indescribable. The possibility of feeling this just once again was all I needed to be hooked for another season. So, here I was, on my way to the world championships for the third time.
I looked around the plane to see how the other coaches and lifters were doing during our seemingly endless voyage. Some were still sleeping, while others were reading or watching TV. My teammates had always been older than me in the years past. This time, though, I was old enough to be at least the average teammate’s age. I was a veteran, a leader of the team. Most members of Team USA were just trying to survive the competition. Avoiding missed lifts and perhaps making the podium was all their hearts desired. It is hard to set your sights on anything beyond that. It is already scary enough expecting so much from yourself, and the thought of disappointment is devastating. For me, the thought was also painful, but I burdened myself further, anyway. I had won two gold medals in the previous years, and this time, I expected more of myself.
This could be my last opportunity to do something unforgettable. The next level of school was coming in the fall, and that marked the end of my powerlifting career. I had finally decided on retirement, and after all, I was not about to bring my dad/coach with me to college. My life in high school revolved around powerlifting, so I had to make my own infinite mark in the sport’s history. I owed it to myself, but even more, I owed it to my dad. He had been just as dedicated to my career as I had been over the years. If it were not for him, I would never be even close to this elite level of athletics. Not to mention, I would never have had the self-confidence to pursue all of my other “lofty” goals in life. He was the motivation and inspiration behind my success, and I wanted this record to show him that. Three-hundred and ninety-two pounds would do it. That was the deadlift world record. It was more than any girl in the 123-pound weight class had ever lifted in history, and it was also more than three times my body-weight.
Competition day arrived soon after the plane had brought us to Brazil. It seemed to have arrived almost too soon; I felt mentally unprepared. I sat in a hallway outside two large wooden doors. I was waiting to weigh in, and my stomach was screaming at me. Although I only had to cut five pounds in comparison to last year’s fifteen, the hunger was still annoying. I listened to my iPod, trying to distract myself with music. The hunger was nothing compared to the nerves. I tried so hard not to think about failure, but it haunted me constantly, anyway. The thought of letting myself down was unbearable, and I wanted this so badly for my dad. Doing this for him would make him indescribably happy; it was the best thank you I could possibly give him.
* * *
More anxious than ever, I sat in a chair behind curtains with several other athletes. I was wrapped up in a blanket to keep my muscles warm. The Russian competitor had just taken a slap in the face from her coach. This was not unusual, although I never needed Dad to slap me to get myself mentally ready for a lift. Pain pumped you up, it made adrenaline flood your veins, but it was a technique used more by guys or Russian lifters. I preferred audible pump-up. My music calmed me, as much as I could be calmed, anyway. When it came time to prepare for the lift, my dad pulled me out of my chair. As we stood waiting for my turn, he yelled motivating words into my ear. This was the best way to make me angry and determined. You had to be somewhat pissed off to do what I was about to.
I caught a glimpse of the bar through the curtains. It felt like a shock through my body as reality set in. This was it. I had to do this; there was simply no other choice. I did not care how hard it was going to be. This was what I had worked toward for what seemed like forever. It would be the finale of my career. I had this. Training since seventh grade had prepared me for this moment. It was not even going to be a problem. I was beyond ready. I was going to break the world record. I was going to do it for myself, but even more for Dad.
This was what I told myself, anyway. The truth is, I was never that confident. My dad always said that I had to be “border-line-cocky” in order to pull off weights like this. Even so, it was not my nature. Doubt constantly crept into my mind, threatening me with the thought of failure. I was so afraid of failing; I would not have known how to handle it. I was so terrified of any outcome besides success, that I drove myself crazy until accomplishment was guaranteed. That was how I made up for my lack of arrogance. Pushing myself past conceivable limits was the only way I stayed sane. That way, I knew nothing could be regretted. My success was not derived from confidence, but rather from fear.
It is quite amazing how many complicated thoughts can flow through one’s mind in the matter of a few seconds. Yet, as I waited in the wing for my time, these thoughts overwhelmed me with waves of doubt, then confidence, fear, and then desire. A man’s deep voice, heavy with European accent, announced my name.
I approached the platform in small steps while never taking my eyes off the bar. Soon, I was standing before the 392 pounds. The three judges, one in front and one on each side of me, waited for me to start. My opportunity lay on the floor before me. The stadium was so loud, but I heard nothing. So many were jumping and cheering, but I saw none of them because I was so completely engulfed in my concentration. Without looking down, I reached for the metal gnarls that indicated the location of my hand placement. I felt the sharp bumps dig into my hands as I adjusted my grip. My legs tightened underneath the weight as they prepared.
I began to pull, and my heart fluttered as I felt the weight slowly rise off the ground.
* * *
Tears splashed onto the linoleum floor. Hiding in a tiny bathroom stall, I cried hysterically in astonishment. I lifted the weight. I pulled it off the ground and lifted it completely, but the judges did not give me the lift. They called me on a technicality. Between the disbelief and left-over adrenaline, I was in another world. The tears were running uncontrollably, and I was not sure how to stop them. What happened? I wanted another chance so badly. I had done everything in my power to be the best I could be. I had given my entire self: enduring excruciating workouts, starving myself to make weight, tossing in restless nights of anxiety, choking down [amazon asin=B000QSNYGI&text=protein shakes], fundraising for the trip, and not to mention living the reclusive lifestyle required for the job. This was not like me to fail, to be defeated. How could it not have happened?
Thankful to be alone in this state, I let the disappointment run its course. While trying to settle myself down before hyperventilation kicked in, I started to think about how new this feeling was to me. After thinking about it, I realized that most of what I had attempted in my lifetime had turned out successfully.
Do not get me wrong, I was not “spoiled” this way. I was just always so ready for approaching challenges. I put forth every ounce of hard work I had to do my best. This is not a bad thing to do, but it is bad to have a complete meltdown when met with defeat or rejection.
A few months after the world championships in Brazil, I realized that this had been a benchmark for me. I had to accept failure and not become so incredibly upset when it happened. Expecting constant perfection from myself was simply unrealistic, and honestly, it had been driving me crazy for a long time. It was an incredible relief to stop carrying around so much anxiety. Training became more enjoyable, rather than a chore and everyday life seemed easier to handle. This new-found peace helped me ideally end my powerlifting career. At the Arnold Classic, right before my retirement, I successfully deadlifted thirteen pounds more than the world record I had attempted in Brazil. Dad was thrilled, and words cannot describe the joy I felt when I saw the proud tears welling up in his eyes.
Was I able to execute when the opportunity presented itself? Perhaps not, at least not at first, but it was failure that led me to the understanding I had long awaited. This understanding not only helped me to eventually lift 405 pounds, but it has helped me in every day of my life since. No longer has expecting perfection from every aspect of my life brought me a refreshing happiness. I still work my hardest at everything I do, but I can finally accept that not everything is going to happen as I hope. In a round-about way, failing taught me a life lesson that I would not have come across any other way.
*Thanks to Alexa Schillinger for this amazing article*
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