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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Twin Port Raw Open 2017 was my third meet-a-versary and it was what I expected. I weighed in at 85.81 kg and competed in the Masters 1 84+ class. I went 7 for 9 and ended with the same total I had at MN Women’s State Championship. I took gold in my class. I qualified for the USAPL Raw Nationals in the Masters 1 84+ weight class. And I came away with a PR in my deadlift – 358 pounds.
But what does it mean? What journey did I take to get here?
To me it means that I have proved I can set a goal and reach it. What was my goal? To match my performance at MN Women’s State Championship. But why was that my goal? Shouldn’t I have tried to improve? Yes, but…
You have to understand that I LOVE the Twin Ports meet more than any other I compete in for a few reasons: one, it’s in Duluth, MN. Duluth is my favorite city in Minnesota because it is a gateway to my favorite lak: Lake Superior. If you live anywhere in Minnesota and haven’t been to Duluth I am sorry and you should remedy that right away. Two, it’s such a well run meet. Joe Warpeha runs a magical meet. I mean it’s rainbows and unicorns magical. If you haven’t competed in it you haven’t lived. Three, it’s the anniversary of my very first meet in which I took bronze in my weight class and powerlifting took gold in my heart.
But there is ONE drawback: it’s between the Minnesota State meet and USAPL Raw Nationals. There’s something about competing in the State Championship meet that is romantic and cool and then there are Nationals which I want to compete in every year I qualify. Training is kind of back-to-back-to-back for these meets and I don’t devote as much recovery time as I should between training cycles. So yes, I want to improve, but it’s not necessarily going to be reflected in the numbers I put on the board. And I’m ok with that.
Now that we’ve got THAT out of the way, how did I really do? I mean really do?
I’d love to say that I feel like I kicked ass and took names but really I felt like I did ok. I would have loved a heavier squat and to at least have tied my PR in the bench. And to be perfectly honest I would have loved a bigger deadlift. But I’m happy with what I did, especially considering the start.
As I’ve said, this meet is well run – on par with Nationals in my opinion. I arrived (with my weekend roomies) a little before 7am, weigh in time. I had slept poorly the night before and was experiencing surprise menstrual cramps. I was tired and cranky and had to wait for my weigh in time – I was in the middle of the lot numbers – so I found a couch to nap on.
I eventually did get weighed in – 85.81 kg. Definitely over the 84 kg cutoff, just as I expected and it was NOT a bad thing. It just meant I was going to be competing in the 84+ weight class for state records only. All the Masters 1 lifters were in the same medal class so weight really only mattered for records.
I was in Flight B so I waited for Flight A to be done with their second squat before I went to warm up. This is normal meet day protocol – wait until the flight ahead of you is done with their second attempt and go warm up. I probably should have gone earlier or found a different bar to work in on for warm ups. I was helping the women ahead of me – they were lifting lighter so it made sense for them to do their warmups before me. Unfortunately this was a BIG mistake. I squatted the empty bar to warm up my joints and did 60% of my opener for four reps. I was walking up to the monitor to see where they were in the lifting order when Bonnie enters the warmup room saying “Donna, you’re up. They called your name.” Shit. How had I missed that?
Well folks, that’s when I sprinted to the platform. Cardio is good you, right? We got to the lifter area and they were calling the woman in front of me. Where was she? Was she in the same situation as me? And as her time ran down I had to calm myself and amp myself up at the same time. One warmup was better than none, right? And my opener of 281 is a gimme so I knew I could do it. But I was still nervous as I walked to the bar. What if something happened because I hadn’t warmed up all the way?
I shouldn’t have been nervous. I walked out to the bar, cleared my head and started my routine. Stop about a foot away from the bar. Look at bar, set shoulder, clear my head. Right hand touches bar, then left. Fingers wrap around and slightly shake the bar to set the position. Lunge to the bar, ducking head under and coming up with shoulders positioned under the bar. Walk forward and position myself under the bar. Tighten the traps and lats and begin bracing. Feet under bar, wiggle hips to adjust tension and position of bar. One, two, three. Stand up with the bar. Head down, watch my feet. One step back, two steps back, three steps foot position locked. Steady bar. Look at head judge. SQUAT. Breathe in, brace, breathe in, squat down. Down, down, down. Feel the bottom. Up, up, up. Push your knees out. Squeeze your glutes. Stand up. Lock out. RACK.
First lift done. Nothing to worry about. That old adage about your opener being something you could do for three reps on your worst day? Totally stood up to the test. Now I was in the game.
The second attempt was memorable only for the fact that I missed 292 for depth. No big deal – I at least knew where I needed to go for my third attempt. All I had to do was remember to feel the “second click” in my right hip before I came up again. And I nailed it at 303 pounds. Not a PR, but good enough to help me remember what I can do.
After my bench performance at State (which was AWESOME, if I do say so myself) I wasn’t expecting anything huge. I went 2 for 3 in bench – missing my third attempt of 188 pounds. Should I have not gone all out and attempted to match my previous PR of 182? Maybe. But I decided to push myself a little harder and missed. Oh well – there’s always my NEXT training cycle to hit it. I suppose you’d like to know the lifts I DID make: opener at 165 and my second attempt of 176 – nothing to sneeze at but I’ve done better.
And then there were deadlifts. I remembered the squat warmup fiasco so I made sure I was in the warmup room in plenty of time to get them all in and STILL managed to be short on time. I had planned on taking one last pee break before deadlifts (lifting heavy makes me wanna pee) but there wasn’t time.
Now this is kinda my lift. It was after watching me deadlift that Jen Sinkler asked me if anyone ever called me Donna the Destroyer. So I knew this was gonna be good. I WAS a little nervous about having an opener of 325 pounds. But I also knew I could do it. But 325 pounds? That’s a lot. Oh well girl, that’s what you have to do to be the best you, right?
So, my opening deadlift went something like this: warmup, walk to the backstage area and wait for my turn. When I’m three out walk in front of the curtain and start mentally preparing. This means tuning into the background music and tuning out what is happening in front of me. Two out. Put my belt on. One out, walk to the chalk bowl. Chalk my hands. Sway to the music (I don’t really dance). Then I’m up. My name is called. Slowly I walk to the platform. I step up, take a moment to latch my belt. Tight. Step up to the bar. Right leg in position, then left. Look up and passed the audience. Set my lats, brace. Bend over to get my hand position – right hand into position on the bar then left. Straighten my legs, brace and breathe. Get into starting position and PULL. Up goes the bar. Down says the head judge. Follow the bar down and DONE! First attempt good.
My second and third attempts were awesome as well. I pulled 341 and then 358 – which WAS a personal record for me. I must say I was quite pleased with myself for that lift.
So I finished the day with a 303 pound squat, 176 pound bench press, 358 pound deadlift, a 837 pound total, a GOLD medal in my age class, qualified for Raw Nationals in the M1 84+ class AND 7 new MN State records. No big deal. It was a good day and I did what I set out to do.
How long does one train for a powerlifting meet, anyway? Well, in the case of me and my 2017 Twin Ports Raw Open training cycle it was 45 days spent in the gym. Forty-five days of ups. Forty-five days of downs.
I know I’ve written it somewhere but this is a special meet for me. It’s the third anniversary of my very first powerlifting meet. The one that started this whole journey. So while it took me 45 days in the gym and three calendar months of active training for this meet I’ve actually been training for it for over three years.
What am I talking about? you may be asking. I’ll tell you: my current training cycle was built on my last training cycle which built on the previous training cycle and so on and so on until you reach March of 2015 and my very first training day of my very first official powerlifting training cycle.
Ah, the memories. Ok, I don’t really remember it but I do know (because data trails) that it was a squat day. And the 4 x8 squats were performed at an average of 123 pounds (not quite sure how – maybe it was supposed to be 125?). Which is amazing when you consider that my first training set of back squats this cycle was at 245 for 10×2 and my last set of training squats was at 280 for 3×3.
In the day to day training I often forget how far I have come. As with most people I focus on the next goal and forget the intermediate goals I reached and surpassed that got me where I am today. I focus so intently on the now that I forget that this is a journey and every day I train is bringing me one step closer to a new goal and every training day passed has helped me surpass my old goals.
I went into this training cycle with the biggest goal of making this a fun meet. I already qualified for Nationals in my chosen weight class so no pressure there. I was just going to have fun and enjoy my third meet-a-versary with Team Green at my side.
Until my training cycle didn’t produce the gains I thought it should. Even though I had no expectations (HA!) to beat my last performance. Because contradictions are an athletes best friend.
It wasn’t the programming. In fact I kind of love my programming (even when I’m cursing JVB and her ideas of fun). It was me. My previous meet (Minnesota State Women’s Championship) was so good that I wanted my training to keep the feeling alive. But it didn’t. I felt weak. I missed or didn’t attempt lifts because I got in my head. And I did the unthinkable: I compared myself to others and their progress. And my progress stalled.
I think I’ve beat that feeling but let me tell you it’s been brutal. Weeks of feeling weak. Weeks of being ok with feeling weak. Weeks of NOT being ok with feeling weak. And the. This week. I’m not sure if it was the weekend break of whitewater kayaking or my head finally settling, but I feel strong. I feel more confident about my training days. I’m content.
Day 45 was working up to my opening attempts. And I did it. Just fine, thank you very much. I’m resting and recovering this week, looking forward to lifting again on Saturday, my meet-a-versary.
I just completed the 22nd workout of my Twin Ports Raw Open 2017 training cycle and I’m finally feeling it. All it took were some heavy weights and a little reflection. Man, I think this gets me EVERY training cycle.
What was up? To start with I started a new training notebook (I filled my last one in February at the Minnesota State Women’s Championship) and didn’t have any reference with me for my lifts. Also, my memory of my last training cycle was that it was pretty much all smooth sailing – everything felt good, my low days didn’t leave me feeling like shit emotionally, I didn’t have weird aches and pains, and the new training program suited me perfectly.
I think one of the biggest reasons it has taken me half my training cycle to get here is that I hit a low point emotionally and had trouble coming out of the hole. <– See what I did there? Squat metaphor. I think means I’m officially a powerlifter. Anyway, back on track. Once in the hole I couldn’t see that I was making progress, things felt hard and heavy and I had aches and pains I didn’t like. No matter what they said it didn’t feel right. No matter what I knew it didn’t feel right.
Maybe it was the rainy start to spring, the dry winter, too much pressure on myself, I think part of it was that I wasn’t talking about my problems with anyone. Once I started talking to people things started to shift in my brain and I now realize that my training is going just fine. In fact, being the data nerd that I am I started looking back at my last training cycle, the one that felt so good, and discovered that not only am I doing fine but I’m lifting more now than I did at the same point last cycle.
Here are the comparison pictures. The left is my previous training cycle and the right is my current training cycle. I must admit that I’ve made progress.
The moral of my little story? The best way for me to get out of my hole is to talk about it and just stand up with the weight. <- I did it again, finished with a squat metaphor. I know I’m going through some shit right now but when I keep it bottled up I can’t see the good that is happening around me and the progress I’ve made. So I’ll keep talking about it.
I’m looking forward to Day 23. And hopefully I’ll tell you all about it!
I just told that to one of my friends. That she’s the lucky shit who gets all of my attention right now. Why? Because she’s training for her powerlifting meet and is worried about what everyone worried about: I’m not strong enough, not lean enough, not this enough, not that enough. And I’m trying to be her #1 fan right now and help her through it. She asked me why I was being so nice, so this is what I told her (edited slightly for any kiddos who may read this):
You wanna know why I’m cheering you on so much? Because I competed at nationals last year and I felt like I was totally an imposter and had no right to be there. But I DID have a right to be there because I worked damn hard. I thought I wasn’t strong enough or lean enough or any of it. But others cheered me on and I did it. So I want to return the favor and you just happen to be the lucky shit who gets all my attention 😘😂
You always have the right to be show up. No matter how much you lift, how much you weigh, how much what you are doing goes against the grain of what you’ve always considered acceptable.
In fact, I’m so damn proud to call her my friend because this is something that is so outside of her comfort zone. She has committed to the training and is working through her anxieties and its wonderful. She is an inspiration in so many levels – the least of which is competing in powerlifting. She is quietly showing her inner strength each time she picks up the bar and each time she questions why and does it anyway.
Part of me is even jealous – she gets to experience the power of the community for the first time as a competitor. She gets to feel the empowerment of the women (and men) cheering her on as much or more than they cheer for themselves. To have a stranger hug you at the end of a lift is wonderful, a feeling I want everyone to experience.
So, when you see me cheering someone at a meet or at a game or in life just remember that at that moment they are the lucky shit who gets my attention – and you’re next!