I’m happy for you, really

Yesterday I did a thing. I volunteered at the Special Olympics Minnesota 2020 Winter Games State Powerlifting Meet. This is my fourth or fifth year (I lost track) and it is a meet I will continue to volunteer for and support. The athletes who compete and the families and friends who support them are amazing – overcoming stereotypes and just working to be their best. It warms my heart every time. These are people with goals and year over year I get to see some of them achieved.

I have met so many athletes and am in awe of their strength. They face so many obstacles that I have never known and they come out smiling and wanting to to do their best. Sure, they have off days like the rest of us but they come back time and again.

This year, one athlete didn’t hit his deadlift attempts and his coach came up to the platform as we were tearing down after all official attempts had been completed and asked if we would load the bar to a weight he hit in warmups. Irregular? Sure. But to help someone end the day on a positive note was a chance I couldn’t pass up. We loaded the bar to the weight and when he hit that deadlift and I can tell you I cheered just as loudly for him as I did during the official competition, if not more because now he had a win to take home.

That is what I love to do: give you the chance to be the best you and cheer you every step of the way. I am happy for you no matter what you do. If you hit the lift, great! If you don’t hit the lift, great! Either way you tried to do the thing and that’s what I love. Really.

Why did this come up? Well, at the end of the meet I was talking with other volunteers and they said the thing they loved most about watching me on the platform spotting was that I was genuinely excited and happy for each lift. And I realized that I truly am. I am happy for you showing up and doing what you can, no matter what that is. And I will cheer as loud as need.

I’m happy for you, really.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!*

* This post was started in 2018 and due to many little things has sat in draft state for a year. I have dusted it off and finished it because that’s the kind of person I am – I like to finish what I start, eventually and in my timeline.

It’s been a while since we’ve chatted, so maybe let’s catch up first. So, what have YOU been up to lately? I do hope you’ve been able to accomplish what you’ve set out to do (or not to do). Me? How have I been? I’ve been well, thanks for asking.

Wait. Maybe that wasn’t completely accurate. Not false, but not completely accurate. There have been many changes happening in and around my life that I have been trying to process for the better part of the past year. I’ve come to terms with some things and will continue to process others. And through it all I’ve continued to grow.

You probably noticed an absence of blog posts last year. This was not because I wasn’t doing things, wasn’t lifting or learning or growing. It was partly because I didn’t think I had anything new to offer, that my posts were a rehash of things others have said before, or things I had said before or just weren’t that important in the grand scheme of others’ lives.

It was also partly because I wasn’t really happy with the progress I was making. I was comparing myself to others out there on the interwebs and seeing amazing feats by people and I felt my progress was too slow, too low, not important. Why should I show people things that others do better than me?

And it was partly due to not knowing what to say or how to say it. Life is complicated and it doesn’t always translate well to the interwebs. How much do I share? How much do I keep private? Do I need to keep this powerlifting related? Can I branch out? Do I need to be more technical? Should I change the format?

So my goal for 2019 is to share more, care more about showing up, and care less about what others think about any of it. I’m going to start 2019 by sharing my 2018 highlight reel:

January:

Not much training but there were snowmobiles and snow. Yay winter!

February:

Same. Winter in Minnesota is long and snowy.

March:

Impromptu visit to Chicago with girlfriends. So much fun to be with smart women doing silly things.

April: 

Training begins for the 2018 Twin Cities Open! Lots of videos of lifting. A trip to the Iron Sisters training camp in Madison, WI. This was amazing and I highly recommend it. In fact, I will go again in 2019 if I can swing it.

May:

More training videos. Still working to hit the next milestones. And of course, at least one day trip to Duluth, MN. There is nothing like Lake Superior to refresh my mind and spirit.

June:

2018 Twin Cities Open: 314 Squat, 176 Bench, 341 Deadlift. Kayaking! White water kayak training at Otter Bar Lodge in Northern California. Amazing people, scenery, and kayaking.

July:

Caterpillars, gardening, and kayak symposiums. Oh my! And the beginning of a new training cycle – hello USAPL 2018 Raw Nationals.

August:

My favorite meet: Twin Ports Raw Open! I handled a couple of my strong friends and helped #teamgreen warmup for the meet. Weekend #girltrips with dear friends and a whole lot of training.

September:

Labor retreat to Lake Superior for kayaking, saved a garter snake, and more training.

October:

Training and finally…trip to Spokane, WA for the USAPL 2018 Raw Nationals. Squat: 319. Bench: 165. Deadlift: 347. My squat was my favorite! And then a trip around the Pacific Northwest. I LOVE the Oregon coast and see more adventures out that way soon.

November:

Voting. Lifting. Being.

December:

Training and trips to Duluth and the holidays.

So yes, it’s been a busy year. I’ve done a lot, I’ve seen a lot, and I’ve got a long way to go.

That’s a Wrap on 2018

My 2018 powerlifting season is done. It wrapped up on October 14th when I received my 4th place medal in the Women’s M1 84 kg division at the USAPL Raw Nationals competition. This event capped off a year where I re-learned to squat, started to look more seriously at my nutrition, didn’t overly stress about “making weight,” and tried to have a more balanced approach to training and life.

While I didn’t hit every powerlifting goal I set this year I do have some key takeaways:

  • I squatted 145 kg (a little over 319 pounds)
  • My total at USAPL Raw Nationals 2018 (377.5 kg) was 12.5 kg higher than 2017 (365 kg) and 25 kg higher than 2016 (352.5 kg)
  • I made it to the podium at USAPL Raw Nationals this year with more competition than in 2017

Looking back over the four years since I began lifting there have been vast improvements, not only in form but also in mindset. I kind of did my first meet on a whim, fell in love with the sport and continued full speed ahead without thought of where I was going. I loved everything about the sport – training with purpose, getting stronger, competing. And at first it was about being “better than” other people. It was heady stuff, breaking 5 MN state records in my first meet (Squat, Bench, Bench Single Lift, Deadlift, Total). I’ve learned so much since then.

First, it’s not about being better than other people. Really, it isn’t. It’s about showing up and doing the work even when training sucks and you forget how to do anything and feel like giving up. There have been many, many times over the past four years I wanted to quit. And maybe at first I did. But lately I’ve learned that one training session (or one week or one month) doesn’t make or break you. It’s what you do over the long term that determines who you will become. And I’ve taken to listening to my body (mostly) and not shooting for numbers when I’m not feeling it. There’s always next week, next month, next training cycle to get that lift.

Second, don’t stress over the little things. This is much like the first point but expands to include weight classes and meet day weigh ins. My first few meets I didn’t know anything so I didn’t care, I just wanted experience (BEST way to start your lifting career). But then I got greedy and saw I could be competitive in the 84 kg (around 185 pounds) division rather than the 84+ kg division and my focus shifted to cutting weight to make that goal. And my training suffered. I was too focused on what I was eating and not enough on what I was trying to accomplish. Once I settled into a more healthy view of food (I really love food) and didn’t base my worth on whether I hit goal weight my training cycles were better. Again, it’s a “take the long view” approach that works for me. It really is a lifestyle and I need to take it slow and steady or I crash and burn.

Third, don’t beat yourself up over your performance at one particular meet. Sure, feel all the feels and work through your emotions but don’t dwell in that space. When I dwell in that space everything goes out the window – training, nutrition, you name it. I learned this lesson through shooting archery: you can’t re-shoot an arrow that has gone astray so analyze the issue, take a deep breath, reset, and focus on the current shot. Same goes for lifting: you can’t dwell in the missed bench press or deadlift. You have to push through the feelings and hit the next one.

Fourth, always keep learning. Nothing beats this one. Take classes, sign up for seminars, read blogs, talk with trainers, ask questions. The more you know the more you grow. Have you ever gone back and watched video of your first meet or training cycle and then compared it to now? See a difference? Yea? That shows what you’ve learned. Now look at video of the best of the best. See a difference? Keep growing and learning to get there. That’s my plan – keep learning.

Fifth, powerlifting is a marathon, not a sprint. For most people it is impossible to keep the “newbie” gains going after the first few meets. Eventually you find out how strong you really are and learn (there’s that word again) your weaknesses. You get stronger pound by pound, day by day, month by month and year by year. Sometimes you exceed expectations and sometimes you don’t (hello USAPL Raw Nats 2016) but no matter what as long as you are training you are getting better.

Now you may be thinking this seems like a bunch of malarkey (I love that word) but as I look back on my last training cycle and meet I can see all of these points. As I was training I was looking back at my old training records and was astonished at the weight differences and what I was moving compared to my last cycle. And while I was working on my nutrition and making sure I made weight I wasn’t stressing over it. I actually continued to have “normal” meals and allowed myself to have fun with friends and never beat myself up over it. That made all the difference – I went into weigh ins with a laissez-faire attitude and was nearly spot-on. And on the point of beating myself up: I allowed myself to wallow in my missed deadlift attempt but it never derailed me. I worked through my disappointment in the performance and made a plan for meeting my goals next year.

The fourth and fifth points? Yea, I have examples for them, too. Squats have secretly always been my favorite lift. They are technical and scary and what happens if I can’t stand up or hit depth? And for about a year I was having that depth problem. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what was happening. But then all the cues from my coaches kicked in and whoa – have you seen my depth? It is truly a thing of beauty. Because I kept learning. And those “newbie” gains? I had them in all my lifts in the beginning but eventually each lift posed its own problems to me that I had to overcome. I didn’t get weaker between meets but I hit my maxes and needed to learn how to work through them – gain muscle, improve technique, rest, whatever. And I know this will continue as long as I am lifting – whether I am competitive or not.

So what does this have to do with you? Nothing. Everything. I don’t know. This has been my journey so far. I’m still new to the sport – I mean I’ve only done about a dozen meets – so I have a long way to go before I cross the finish line. And I’m looking forward to every learning something new every day.

And just because I can, I’d really like to thank my coach, Jennifer Vogelgesang Blake (Coach JVB). She has been with me since the beginning and has helped me with this growth. It has been wonderful having such a role model and cheerleader in this sport. Thank you! And to all the coaches at The Movement Minneapolis – thanks for letting me get all my workouts in and helping me when I asked all the questions. David and Jen – thanks for asking the questions “who wants to do a powerlifting meet?” and “has anyone ever called you Donna the Destroyer?” Without those I wouldn’t be here.

2018 USAPL Raw Nationals Minnesota Lifters

doing things solo – a new take on adventures

For the past several years I have been learning to love and honor myself by taking time to recharge – by myself. My first solo trip was in 2015 when I decided keep a reservation I had made for me and Jerome when he ended up having a conflict and couldn’t go with me. Since then I have realized that I need (and crave) time alone. For a long while that time alone was hiking and bicycling. Just being able to move at my pace, stop and smell the flowers or hug the trees without thinking about someone else was freeing. There are times I need to have nature to myself.

Recently I’ve begun being a little more adventurous. We’ve had kayaks for years and we do kayak together, but there are times we are not together and I want to kayak. So now I do that. Alone.

Last month there was the girls’ weekend at my friend’s cabin on a lake. I brought my kayak knowing that I wanted to practice my roll – oh, in case you are NOT fluent in kayak, rolling is when you flip the kayak over and get yourself back up without getting out of the kayak.

I am not keen on practicing rolling without a spotter – I mean, what if I don’t get back up? So I was hesitant and stalled most of the weekend. Until there was no denying that I was avoiding it in the name of “being a good friend” and my friend asked when I was going to kayak.

So I unstrapped the kayak from the car and carried down to the dock. Between me and the open lake there was a lily pad and wild rice strip to paddle through. At least a football field away. In the deep(er) water. I knew what I needed to do – gear up and paddle out. And that’s what I did. I paddled out, paddled around, and sat. Thinking. Gathering my courage. And over I went and up I came. I rolled about a dozen times – successfully if not elegantly. I could do it. Alone.

Fast forward to Labor Day weekend. I decided late in the game that I wanted to practice rolling on the big lake (Lake Superior, for those of you who don’t know) and Jerome had alternate plans. So I made a reservation for myself and headed up – alone, with my sea kayak.

I woke up on Saturday morning in Grand Marais, MN, drank my leisurely cup of coffee (ok, CUPS of coffee) and thought about the day ahead. I could go kayaking right away in the morning and feel accomplished all day, or a I could explore Artist’s Point and maybe go hiking and kayak on Sunday or… I must have had half a dozen options, all postponing kayaking. Why? Wasn’t that why I came up here? To kayak? To practice? So…

I decided to enjoy Artists’ Point in the morning and go kayaking in the afternoon. Saturday was a bright, sunshiny day. And much warmer than I expected so by the time I finally got on the water (about 3:45 pm) I was ready to get wet.

Grand Marais has a great Harbor and several natural bays. The harbor is shielded from the lake and is always calmer with small or no waves. I had decided to paddle around Artist’s Point so off I went. I went left around the east breakwall and WHAM! Bigger waves. I felt unstable and uncertain. I decided to abandon this idea and head into the harbor to practice rolls. I headed to the west breakwall and followed the harbor around until I found the spot.

 

And I practiced my roll. Sure, I had to talk myself into it, but I did it. Each and every time I went over I came up. Sometimes better than others, but I came up. I know I need a lot more practice and I know what I need to work on. But I did it. I practiced my roll. And after that I tackled the water outside the east breakwall, inspired by April Seifert’s Women Inspired Podcast Episode 78 which I had listened to on the drive to Grand Marais, MN. If you haven’t heard of the Women Inspired podcast, I highly recommend it. In fact, I was interviewed long ago and you can listen to that episode here.

Yup, I paddled back around the harbor and out around the east breakwall and Artists’ Point. It was exhilarating – the waves really weren’t that big and I knew I could roll if needed. So around the point I went. And I loved it. I had worked through my fears and took my solo adventures to a new level.

 

Sunday had the potential for afternoon rains so I as I was enjoying breakfast I realized I needed to get out on the water so I could be off before the rains hit. What I didn’t  think about or check was the waves report. Because as you may have guessed, as rain approaches the wind picks up and as the wind picks up the waves increase. Hmm…

Anyway, I got out on the water thinking I would work my way around the harbor and then go west out the breakwall, follow the shoreline until I found a good natural bay to turn around in, then work my way around the east breakwall and hit the same path around Artists’ Point I had done on Saturday. Easy peasy.

grandmaraisharbor
Actual Route

Only those waves. Yea, they were just a smidge bigger than Saturday. Maybe 2 feet – which is significant when you think that the kayak is about a foot deep. As I rounded Artist’s Point I had a decision to make: continue with my original plan OR screw it and get to shore and portage my kayak back to my car.

As a sane person I decided that the portage route was the best route for me. I overcame my fear of kayaking alone BUT I still knew I had to kayak within my limits and comfort level. So, it was a win – not only am I capable of conquering my fear and getting better I am also capable of listening to my fears and knowing I should take heed and stop.

Special Announcement

I LOVE MY LEGS!

You may not think this is worthy of the headline “Special Announcement” but this is a radically new thought for me. For so long I have HATED my legs – my first active memory of this was in high school (yes, that’s over thirty years ago) and it was “shorts” day. I dreaded it. I hated wearing shorts for two reasons: my legs are short and my thighs rubbed together when I walked causing shorts to ride up. I think I wore the longest shorts I could find so they wouldn’t ride up and my classmates couldn’t actually see my legs. But this wasn’t the start – it’s never the start – of these feelings. That’s a longer and more complicated story of images and expectations set by others… Coming from this point to being able to say, no scream, I LOVE MY LEGS is a big deal.

Thick thighs. I’ve had them all my life and used to HATE them. In high school I rarely wore shorts or skirts or anything tight so I could hide them. I was lucky grunge was the predominant style – I wore baggy EVERYTHING so I didn’t have to compare my thunder thighs to my friends and others who more closely matched the ideal I wished I could have. And now I think of them as THICC THIGHS.

With my thick thighs comes a little knee bump that prevents my legs from ever looking lean. This is an inherited trait (thanks Grandma) and will always be there. But man I hated it. They were never long and lean and the styles I loved (hello 1940s Katherine Hepburn) looked ridiculous on me. But what did I know thirty years ago? How do I feel about these now? Well, they’re just my knees and they help me with so much.

And then the length. Have I mentioned they are short? Short and squat. That’s how I’ve described myself forever. Again, the long and lean styles I loved from the 1940s looked awkward – flared pants with thick thighs? That doesn’t work. But with age came a knowledge and a laissez-faire attitude towards what others think.

But I’ve realized that I love my legs now. When did this happen? Well, I was driving into work one day and looked down at my legs and said to myself for no real reason “I LOVE my legs.” I’m forty-five years old and I don’t think I’ve EVER said that about my legs before. Mostly I’ve derided and hidden them because they aren’t conventionally shaped, they have large, powerful thighs with NO THIGH GAP (is this still something women and girls worry about?), and are relatively short.

But that day I realized that I love my legs. It’s not that I went to bed thinking I hated my legs and woke up loving them it has been a gradual process to be sure. They still have the same attributes they always have but I’ve learned that those attributes make me who I am. They still rub together when I walk, they are still short and I still have huge calves, and they still spread wide on the surface when seated. Nothing about my legs has really changed (well, they are MORE muscly now) but my attitude towards them has shifted.

This shift has taken place over the past several years, especially the last four when I began powerlifting. Yes, powerlifting (you were wondering when that would come up,  weren’t you?). My build seems perfect – thick shoulders to hold a bar, thick thighs and strong legs to help me squat and lift the weight. So while I will never be a conventional body I have learned to LOVE my body because now I know that it is built exactly as it should be – thicc thighs, knee bumps and all.

 

SOMN Winter Games 2018

WOW!

That’s what I have to say about my third time volunteering at the Special Olympics MN Winter Games Powerlifting meet on Saturday February 18th. There were over 50 athletes of various abilities from across Minnesota and even a team from Manitoba, Canada showing their strength, support.

I love volunteering at this meet because of the joy and excitement of the athletes. They are equally excited to lift and show off their skills as they are to cheer and support the other lifters. The energy level of the athletes and the fans rivals any USAPL meet I’ve attended and even though their numbers aren’t the highest I’ve seen (hello Big Ray Williams, Jen Thompson, Kim Walford, and so many others) the lifts mean as much, if not more to the athletes.

The energy on the platform began with the first squat and continued through the last deadlift. For me, the first squat is arguably the hardest lift of the day. This lift really sets the tone for the rest of the meet. And I can say that most lifters hit this lifts beautifully based on their ability. There will always be some red lights but they only help to make you better – regardless of your ability.

What I probably love the most is watching all the volunteers and coaches with the athletes. The gentleness and respect given is amazing and in this case truly everyone is a winner. The big men who lovingly give a white light to lifters and the strong women who keep them safe on the platform truly love what they are doing.

I will admit that I have favorites. The Barbenders group from Minneapolis has two of my favorites – Nell and David. I know David through a fellow Movement Minneapolis member (hi Greg!). David is tall and lanky and lifts with his heart (figuratively, folks). He is quiet and polite and remembers so many details.

Nell and David

And Nell. There are not many female lifters in the special Olympics so its easy to root for them all. But Nell has a smile that just won’t quit. When she finishes a lift she just beams. And it’s the biggest smile I’ve seen. The smile lights up the room and I always just want to give her a great big hug!

The last lifter I have to mention is Reetu. She is wonderful to watch, too. To see her smile you have to look into her eyes. They sparkle when she knows she’s made a lift. How wonderful it is to watch her! And her lifts are so good! You know I’ll be watching for her next year!

Reetu

This year we – you know, #teamgreen – met up with the Bemidgi team and made lasting friendships. Volunteer coach Allyson Allen competed my coach Jennifer Vogelgesang Blake in her first meet way back when. She has a fine team who was in rare form at the meet. The support and love they showed each other was infectious and the kindness they showed us (#teamgreen coach JVB and teammates Andria Johnson, Traci Slane, and Libby Berg (if you need a chiro and are in the MPLS area I’ll hook you up)) what it meant to lift each other up and keep you humble. I’m going to strongly recommend we emulate them at all of our meets going forward.

Dale showing coach JVB some moves

The comraderie that is present in a Special Olympics Powerlifting meet is magical. Even strangers are friends. There is no greater joy for me than watching these athletes approach the bar and perform a lift. It is a beautiful site to realize that the bar doesn’t care who you are, it respects you for your effort.

2017 USAPL Raw Nationals 

Whelp, I did it again. I competed in my second USAPL Raw Nationals meet on October 14th. This time I came in fourth in the Masters 1 84 kg division and got to stand on the podium with three incredible women – Alicia Webb, April Grey, and Lorin Blake. You can watch us here and here.

2017 USAPL Raw Nationals Women’s Masters 1 84 kg class Photo: Dennis Krantz

I know you are thinking: so how DID you do, Donna? I’ll tell you: I successfully squatted 292 pounds, benched 171 pounds, and deadlifted 341 pounds. While none of these are close to personal records they are all better than I did a year ago at the same venue and they qualified me for the 2018 USAPL Raw Nationals.

Before I go any further with my recap I want to call out my coach, the amazing Jennifer Vogelgesang Blake. She has been my rock for the past two years, helping me get through personal issues and get over emotional hurdles and giving me the kick I need to do the work. I’ve been following her programming and it’s been what I’ve needed to grow.

I’ll also give a shout out to my gym The Movement Minneapolis and all of the wonderful coaches and teammates there. If it weren’t for my internat stalking of Jen Sinkler and Mark Schneider (yes, I stalked you both) I wouldn’t be where I am today.

And last, I can’t thank Julia Ladewski enough. She had been helping me with my nutrition and making weight since Nationals in 2016. This woman is amazing at knowing how to tell me what I know and then making it stick and actually getting me to follow the plan. She listened to me whine about it being hard to est right to get make sure I was in the 84kg weight class. Kudos to you, Julia.

So as you can see I have an amazing support team and wouldn’t trade it for the world. Thank you to everyone who has believed in me and helped me believe in myself. Without you I wouldn’t be where I am today.

And now back to our regularly scheduled blog post.

So, how do I feel about my performance? Would I have liked to have done better? You bet. Am I disappointed? No way. I gave it my all and then some and can honestly say it was the best I could have done on that day.

This sounds a little anti-climatic but i can trace this feeling to my first training session of this cycle: I kind of wasn’t into it. Part of me felt I had peaked at my first meet this year (MN Women’s State), part of me was disappointed with my performance at Twin Ports (even though I took gold), and part of me was just plain tired and probably needed a break. So why did I continue? Good question. 

I continued because I had made a commitment to myself and my team and family. I continued because it was expected of me. I continued because I don’t know how to quit. I continued a little out of habit.

But really I continued because I knew it would be good for me and would keep me from falling into myself and into depression. You see, Powerlifting is more than a sport to me, more than a passing fad – it’s therapy. Without a goal I am lost and start listening to the negative voices and worse I start agreeing with them.

Powerlifting in general, and training with a competition goal in particular, helps me quiet those voices, ignore their incessant chatter. So I continued even though things were harder than earlier in the year. I wasn’t at the gym on consistent days, I don’t think I hit all my training sessions, and I was more stressed than usual.

These are not excuses I am making for my performance at Nationals. These are explanations as to why I am pleased with how I did – actually showing up and doing the work despite the chaos. And doing it to the best of my ability.

My 314 pound grind during my final squat attempt is a great example of giving it my all: coming off my training cycle I didn’t even think I could walk that out from the squat but I did, and I squatted to depth and got out of the hole and it wasn’t until after I pushed my hips through that I lost it – I actually shifted my right foot for leverage and I knew it was over. But I gave it my all, I didn’t quit.

I went conservative on my bench attempts and crushed all three of them. Ending the day at 171 pounds may not have been my best bench ever but it got me through Nationals.

And my deadlifts. This is the one lift I have a little sadness around. I was really hoping for great things, breaking the 363 pound barrier I’ve put up for myself. But it wasn’t meant to be.

My first lift went up well, no complaints. It was my second lift that threw me off – 341 is an easy weight for me but that day it felt like a million pounds. My setup and start was all wrong. Maybe switching my grip the month before wasn’t the best idea. Oh well, I did what I had to and got that bar off the ground. Unfortunately that meant I didn’t have enough left for my final attempt (again, a weight I knew I could lift) and I started my lift before my setup was even complete! But even in that situation I didn’t give up – I went down pulling hard.

So I guess that’s the moral of the 2017 USAPL Raw Nationals – I didn’t give up. I ended up on the platform and performing better than I had a year ago. I improved myself and really in the end that is the only statistic that counts.

I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings!