This year the World Championships meant something more than just Powerlifting.
In the past I have raised money for kids battling cancer through the exposure of my Powerlifting competitions. As the Canadian Powerlifting Champion I have visited Public Schools and Cancer Camps for Kids to talk to the children about setting goals and over coming obstacles. I tell them about how when I was a kid I wanted to grow up to be a superhero and help people who need it with my super strength. It was a dream that most believed was only child’s play. That is, until I grew up to tow twenty-six-thousand-six-hundred-and-fifty pound school buses for charity. I prove to the kids first hand no dream is impossible as I tow them a school bus.
I am use to lifting at Powerlifting competitions, knowing the news papers are going to follow the contest and report it to the public. The added pressure of these kids looking up to me and following the results was something I accepted. I knew I was lifting for something more than just medals. This year, the 2011 Single Lift World Championships was even more personal.
Leading up to the World Championships one of my best friends was diagnosed with inoperable stomach cancer. It rattled me to the core. This is a friend I have known since we were kids. The Cancer hit hard and fast, and he has been forced to take time off of work because of it. He is the type of stand up guy who has made many friends. As soon as every one heard of his situation a fundraiser was planned to help him out, and to show support. Unfortunately, the only available date for the fundraiser was the same date of the World Championships in late June. To say I was upset I would not be there was to say the least. My other friend who was spearheading the fundraiser assured me I would be doing my fair share leading up to the event anyways. Still, I felt guilty, and wanted to make it up to my friend battling Cancer.
Over a phone conversation I told him that when I went to the World Championships I would bring him back a medal. It was a promise I intended to keep.
It did not take me long to find out the promise I made was of titanic proportions. The United Stateswas holding the World Championships that year and lifters from all over the World were competing. My best event is by far the Deadlift event, which took place in the last day of competition. I made weight for my weight division of 198 pounds and ate and drank a little bit before returning an hour later to the warm up room.
The warm up room was back stage, and packed with international lifters. You could hear foreign languages spoke all around you as some of the sport’s finest tossed around hundreds of pounds in preparation. I have to admit, there was a bit of intimidation. I put on my Ipod and kept focused. In the stands were my parents, girlfriend, and her two kids to cheer me on. It was not the biggest of entourages, but I would assume some from places likeUkraineandMaltahad much less. I was grateful.
All the lifters gave their opening attempts in the Deadlift and it was apparent this was going to be a hotly contested event. The Belgian lifter was ahead of the pack with his opening attempt by a sizable margin. He was surely the favorite to win Gold. Barring an injury before he could complete his lifts, he looked to be a solid bet for Gold. The battle for silver was anything but a lock.
The next highest first attempt weight was a three way tie between the Ukrainian Champion, American Champion, and myself. The Ukrainian was the reigning World Champion in Squats, a title he won by defeating me. As a matter of fact, the American Champion won a silver medal in Squats defeating me as well. If they were to defeat me in this competition, with the Belgian taking Gold, I would be without a medal in 4th place.
As expected, the Belgian lifted his first attempt with ease and was already ahead of the pack. I was the heaviest of the 3 lifters battling behind the Belgian so I would lift last. The Ukrainian went first, and he struggled with his lift but managed to lock it out. The American went second and did the same. Although it was my first attempt of the day, it was already 540 pounds and close to my maximum. I was nervous, and I could tell there was some tension in the crowd with my family that I might have put too high an opening attempt in a desperate move to lock in a medal. If I could not lift 540 pounds I would be going home with nothing.
The weight started from the ground slow, and likely gave my family a heart attack, but I sprang up at the end to a standing position with the weight in hand. At the top, with the “down” signal given by the judges signaling a good lift, I looked over at my dad and gave a wink. It was a sign to let them know I was okay. I was no longer in danger to “bomb out” of the competition.
The Belgian increased his lead with his second attempt. This was to be expected and not concerning. It was the Ukrainian and American Champions that forced my hand in my second attempt. They were attempting a weight I had never before lifted, and if I was to bring home a medal I would have to attempt that weight too. I could feel the pressure.
The Ukrainian attempted first and got the weight up, but not without pumping it half way up for momentum, then resting it for a second on his thighs. It was a foul, and the lift was not accepted. As I chalked up my hands I eyed the American take the stage to raucus applause from the crowd. He grabbed hold of the same weight and sprang up with much more efficiency. His lift was good.
I needed the heaviest lift I ever attempted in my life. I closed my eyes and promised myself I would not quit pulling the weight until I was standing up with it. I could feel my heart beating. I grabbed hold of the weight and heaved with everything I had. It was heavy, but no match for my will. I was still in the hunt for a medal!
For our third and final attempt the Belgian sealed the deal on the gold with the biggest Deadlift of the day. The Ukrainian, American and I all put down the same final attempt weight. If I got the weight and the other two did not, I would win Silver. If I got the weight and one of them did not but the other did, I would get bronze. If all three of us got the weight, I would be in forth place. An American on stage told me because I was half a pound heavier; the tie goes to the smaller lifter (regardless if it’s not by much weight). There is not tie breaking lifts. He told me I would have to attempt more weight than the Ukrainian and American to win. I told him I had already lifted heavier than I ever had. He then looked on me puzzled and asked “You came here to win didn’t you?”
It was all I had to hear. I could not risk getting forth place. I had made a promise to a friend I intended to honor. I was returning home with a medal.
The Ukrainian struggled as hard as he could, but the weight was barely an inch off the floor before his grips gave way and the weight came back down to the ground. He was a great lifter, but this was not his day. The American was more successful, getting the weight up to his knee level before he began badly shaking. He was calling upon all the strength his body could generate, but it was not enough to finish the lift. The weight came back to the ground. Another phenomenal lifter failed right in front of me as I was to attempt an even heavier weight. These were two lifters who had previously defeated me in the Squats event. These were two lifters who were as strong as any I had competed against. For a moment, I doubted myself.
Chalking up my hands I looked out into the crowd and could see my family. Through the lights of the stage pointing at me I could tell by the looks on their faces that they were nervous. Their faces were tense, but I could also see they had hope. Walking up to the loaded bar of 585 pounds, I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. The anxiety spread throughout my body. It made me stronger. I felt almost frantic. I reached down and grabbed onto the bar so hard chalk dust from my hands formed. As the chalk dust rose I tensed up my body and began my monumental effort to raise the weight. As the bar bent slightly the weight still remained on the sides touching the floor. The veins in my forearms ran up my arms, through my shoulders, and into my neck and head. I had a moment to tell myself, “Do not be denied.”
I fought against gravity for a brief struggle. Slowly the weight left the floor and began to rise. My legs shook like leafs on a tree. With the weight nearing my knee height I came to a slow crawl. The crowd gasped as I found myself in the same position as the American before me. My girlfriend admitted afterwards that it looked as though I too was going to fail in my third attempt. Then suddenly, just as I was appearing to falter, I found the strength within I needed. I sprang up to a standing position with the weight in hand. My grip strength (no wraps are allowed in competition) would not fail me. I would have hung onto the weight forever until I received the “down” signal by the judge for the lift to be good.
After getting the signal from the judges I let the weight down, and it felt as thought I let the weight of the World off my shoulders. I had clinched the Silver medal, but more importantly, I had kept a promise to a friend. It was a message that the human will is more powerful than most give it credit for.
Once I returned home to Canadathe first person I visited was my friend. I gave him the medal and we exchanged stories of the World Championships and the fundraiser I had missed. In the end he said he was glad it worked out the way it did. Looking back, I think things happened for a reason. Without me missing the fundraiser I would not have made that promise to give him a medal, nor would I have lifted with such conviction. It is when you push yourself for a reason other than your own gain that you push yourself the hardest. It’s a lesson I’ll never forget.