Last Saturday, February 16th was my first competition of 2013, the RX Muscle Bros vs Pros 14 at Gold’s Gym in Deer Park, NY. I competed in the women’s deadlift event where the women deadlifted 185lbs for the maximum number of reps without setting the bar down. I did 99 reps to win my third consecutive deadlift title. It was a great day that will fuel me for weeks and months to come but maybe in a different way than you would imagine. The real victory came in the few weeks before the competition.
Rewind the clock to January 11th, 2013. The day Bros vs Pros 14 was announced. It was within driving distance from my house and there was a deadlift event (events varied from one competition to the next). I had nothing scheduled for 2013 at this point, so why not start the year off in Deer Park, NY?
The best part, is Friday January 11, was already scheduled to be a back training day. Perfect timing to throw in some deadlifts with 185lbs and see what I could do. A quick Google search and I found out the last time they had this competition deadlifting 185 for reps in 2010, the woman who won deadlifted 185lbs 57 times. I did 40 reps on January 11th and remember it was easy. I knew I could easily hit and exceed 57 reps if I continued to train for 5 weeks. It was game on.
Tuesday January 15th rolled around. It was leg day. After my regular leg workout, I loaded the bar with 185lbs to go another round. I did 45 reps. I felt a huge wave of confidence. If I could do 45 reps AFTER my leg workout, what could I do when I was rested?! I remember saying to Barrett my boyfriend and trainer, at this rate I’ll be doing like 75 reps no problem. I was pretty sure I was on the road to another win.
But a little virus had other plans for me. Friday, January 18th I got sicker and sicker as the day went on. I didn’t go to the gym after work, I went home to bed. Saturday morning I woke up and felt like I had been hit by a bus. A visit to my doctor determined I was negative for the Flu but that I had some other virus causing Flu-like symptoms. Rest and fluids were the recommended treatment. Ok, fine. But I planned to be back in the gym by Monday. I had a competition to win!
But by Monday I felt worse. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I didn’t even get out of bed. By Thursday I was panicking. It had been a week since I worked out. I had a competition coming up, I needed to train! Thursday I went to the gym determined to make some magic happen. It did not. I did a few light sets and eventually stopped mid workout when the room started spinning. I cannot remember quitting mid workout, ever. Certainly not when I had a competition in 3 weeks.
I rested Friday and headed down to Ironmill on Saturday. I wanted to video tape some squatting for an online squat challenge and do some strongman event training. I had to be healthy by now, right? I loaded the bar to warm up. Squatting 135lbs felt heavy. I thought, are you kidding me? Then I upped the weight to 185lbs and squatting 185 for 5 reps was hard. This time Barrett noticed and commented that I was struggling. He was right, I was. I was still weak. I managed to finish the squat challenge but that was it. One heavy squat set and I was done for the day. Spent. I had nothing left for Strongman event training. I didn’t even try. I rested the following day on Sunday too.
Monday January 28th I was back in the gym ready to deadlift for the first time in two weeks. TWO WEEKS! That stinkin’ virus had kept me from deadlifting for two weeks. To make it worse, the competition was 2 and half weeks away! That confident girl from 2 weeks ago that thought 75 reps would be no problem, was gone. In her place was a doubtful, nervous Nelly.
My sole purpose at the gym on January 28th was to deadlift 185lbs for reps with everything I had. I wanted to feel strong again. I wanted to improve on my previous best of 45 reps from 2 weeks ago. And this time it wasn’t after leg day, it was first thing. I was fresh. I should’ve had a great set. Should have, but didn’t. I managed a mere 42 reps and collapsed to my knees. What was happening? My body was failing me when I needed it most. I peeled off my belt and straps, ran to the women’s bathroom stall, and I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. I felt completely defeated. I was afraid at the competition I would publicly embarrass myself. At this moment I was sure that’s exactly what would happen.
I didn’t say word in the car ride home from the gym that day. As we pulled into the driveway, Barrett said in the kindest voice, “you know you don’t have to compete.” I didn’t answer, but he was right. I didn’t have to. People would understand, I got sick. I couldn’t train. On this particular day, succumbing to this excuse and throwing in the towel would have lifted a huge weight off my chest. Man, did I want to quit.
To make matters worse, what should have been a great thing, some publicity, was causing me more anxiety. RX Muscle was promoting this event with my name attached to it. ”Iron Mag Labs presents RX Muscle Bros V Pro 14: Return to Deer Park Gold’s NY! Feroce, Nelson, Klopp, and Lerch!” That was the headline, the title from the forums. I was the 2 time defending deadlift champion. I had won twice at Bros vs Pros deadlifting my bodyweight for reps. I had beaten a total of 4 IFBB Pros in the process. Could I beat the mighty Colette Nelson? It was the first time in my life my name was associated with promoting anything! I should have been thrilled, instead I wanted to run and hide. I didn’t feel worthy of the hype.
On January 31st I got a text from Lou, my strongman coach and the owner of Ironmill. He asked how my training was coming along for Bros vs Pros. I read the text and thought, does he really want to know? I couldn’t think of anything positive to say. I replied and told him Monday’s training session was bad. I admitted to him I was quite scared how my performance would be in two weeks.
Lou’s reply knocked my socks off. It literally put a lump in my throat. He said “Adversity builds character. And that is priceless because you get to find out who you are.”
I get to find out who I am.
Illness, missed workouts, and failed PR attempts, I can honestly say I never thought that anything good could come of it. I saw these set backs as something to battle or worse they’d beat me and I would quit.
But with these words everything changed. Adversity builds character. I was no longer considering myself the victim with a poor little me attitude. I was an athlete with a golden opportunity. This adversity was a gift. A priceless opportunity to find out who I am.
And really, who was I? Some girl who can win when training goes perfectly? Wow big deal. With a little effort anyone can win under perfect conditions.
Was I a girl who quits when training doesn’t go well? That’s not who I wanted to be.
Was I a girl who shows up to the competition, gives a crappy performance, and mumbles some excuse about how she was sick? That’s not who I wanted to be either.
I wanted to be a girl who battled with everything I had during the last few training sessions that remained. I wanted to be the girl who showed up on February 16th and surprised herself with much she persevered. Win or lose, I wanted to be the girl who went down swinging. On February 16th I wanted to have a PR performance regardless of anything else. That’s who I wanted to be.
Lou’s words left an impact. I wanted so badly to rise to the occasion. I had left behind the girl who wanted to quit. That’s not how this story would end, that much I knew.
Skip ahead to Saturday February 2nd. Two weeks exactly until competition day. It was once again time to rep 185lbs and see what I could do. I took my time and warmed up with 185lbs. It felt pretty good. Barrett grabbed my phone and got set to take some video. I went for it, determined to get 50 reps no matter what. I even surprised myself grinding out 60 reps. I was completely exhausted after that set, I didn’t have another rep in me. But most importantly, I regained some confidence. Maybe I could do this…
But I wasn’t out of the woods yet. There was some nagging hip pain setting in that I couldn’t shake. It was throbbing when I was deadlifting. I went to the doctor to have it checked out. There seemed to be no injury, just over use perhaps. Easy for the doctor to say, but it didn’t make it hurt any less. Driving home from the gym the pain was so bad I thought I’d have to pull the car over. But unlike when I got sick, quitting due to joint pain was no longer an option. This pain was fuel to the fire. I was building a tsunami in a bottle (credit to my girl Clary for that analogy). Adversity in any form was no longer standing in my way. It was a force to propel me, to let me find out who I am.
It was Saturday, February 9th. My last official day of hard training, one week from the competition. A week of heating pads and epson salt baths under my belt, I was determined to stay healthy and pain free. This was my last chance to put up some numbers before the competition. I arrived at the gym nervous with butterflies as if it was competition day. This training sessions was the final test, my last opportunity to get it right.
I stepped up to the barbell loaded with 185lbs. I wanted no less than 65 reps. With Barrett filming and my friend Sean shouting “c’mon pull!” I did even better. 72 reps. 72 good solid, I’m back and I’m confident reps. I left the gym relieved. I even made a little youtube teaser video from that day to start some buzz online. For the first time in weeks I thought I had a real shot at winning.
February 16th at Gold’s Gym in Deer Park, NY. It was game day and the women’s deadlift competition was first on the schedule. Since I had won the last two deadlift competitions I was given the advantage of going second to last. The headlining Pro, in this case Colette Nelson, goes last. The advantage of going last is huge. You know exactly how many reps you need to do for the win. This helps any athlete dig deep and squeeze out a few more reps.
All the other girls had gone. The current leader had completed 65 reps. I knew I could hit 65 no problem. But I didn’t know how many Colette was capable of. That was the big question.
My plan was simple. I knew I had to beat Colette before she started. I had to go out there and put up some ridiculous number of reps, far past anything she had ever done in practice. A number she doubted she could catch, so she’d stop trying. In my mind this number was 100 reps.
I wanted 100. More importantly I believed I could do 100 reps. Maybe I was crazy or just crazy enough to believe I could. 2 years ago a woman won this competition with 57 reps, today’s winner would do at least 65 reps. But 100?
I stepped up to the barbell, wrapped my straps around bar, and took a deep breath. Time to find out who I am.
I cranked out a good 50 reps without too much effort. It felt like the bar was flying off the ground. I did another 15 to hit 65 reps for the tie. Now it was time to put it away. I was getting tired but these are the reps that count.
I got to 70 reps, then 80 reps. Then I started grinding them out 2 reps, pause and breathe, then 2 more reps. I got to 90. The crowd really started to yell. At this point I think it was obvious to everyone in the room that I was going for 100. I took in the energy from the crowd and let it lift me. I grinded them out one slow rep at a time. 95, 96, 97, (hitch, lean, hitch some more) 98, phew I was barely hanging on. Rep 99 went up pretty fast. Then I made a mistake. I didn’t pause and catch my breath, I went right for rep 100 quickly. My body wasn’t ready. It didn’t come off the ground more than 3 inches. I screamed in disbelief and fell to my knees. 99 reps. Just one rep shy of 100.
Promoter and competition judge Bryan Hildebrand came over and helped me stand up. I limped off to the sidelines where I collapsed to the floor. My lower back, glutes, and hamstrings were completely shot. I couldn’t stand if I wanted to. Dave Palumbo and his co-hosts were calling me over for an on camera interview but I couldn’t stand let alone walk, stand, and talk. The interview would have to wait.
But it was that moment of complete exhaustion, that I learned who I was. This was the outcome I wanted so badly. Yet doubted I could ever make happen. I learned what I could accomplish when I put all the nonsense aside and continued to fight. It wasn’t about beating the other women that day, it was about pushing myself in the face of adversity. Pushing myself beyond what I ever thought was possible. Three weeks ago I never dreamed 99 reps was possible.
Colette had yet to take her turn and the winner had yet to be determined. But even if Colette beat me, I still felt like I won.
Colette was up. I couldn’t see her from where I was laying on the floor but I could hear the rep counts coming from the judge. She was struggling through 50 reps. At 52 reps she set the bar down. It was over. 99 reps was good enough for the win!
This was a sweet victory and perhaps what I view as my greatest competitive win to this day. Not because of the 99 reps but because I didn’t quit three weeks ago when it all seemed impossible. I learned who I was. I wasn’t a quitter, I was a fighter and that’s who I wanted to be. And that’s who I want to continue to be in competition – and in life.
So my message to you is don’t quit. Don’t ever quit. When failure seems inevitable, when your body seems too weak to continue let alone carry you to victory, don’t you dare quit. Let all of it propel you. Keep fighting and best of all, find out who you are.
See the comments section below for the Live Stream Video of the event as it appeared on RX Muscle on February 16th. My deadlifting starts at 27:20 and the interview after I found out I won starts at 37:45.