Donna the Destroyer.

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This name was unofficially bestowed upon me during the 2015 USAPL Senior Powerlifting Championships by one of my coaches during the squat session and solidified during the deadlift session. I’ve embraced it, not for its potential negative connotation but for the positive impact powerlifting has had on my life.

I came to the sport of powerlifting during a time of transition in my life when I needed something to help me believe in myself and my own strengths again. And boy oh boy, did I LITERALLY find the right thing! I had known for a while that lifting heavy made me happy, but while I was training for my first powerlifting meet I realized how much joy I could find in that metal bar and those plates.

Until I began powerlifting I categorized myself as a ‘weekend warrior’: a generalist with hobbies such as rock climbing, kayaking, bicycling, and hiking. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been fortunate to climb Devil’s Tower (3 times) and spent 5 years doing multiple climbing trips (up to 5 a summer) to the Black Hills, but I didn’t put myself in the category of ‘athlete’. Nope, it was a hobby that I really loved and excelled at but not my true calling.

I was introduced to my true calling when I was working out a Crossfit gym. While I can take or leave (mostly leave) the bootcamp style workouts – burpees, jumping jacks, running – it was the weights that made me stay. The first time I stepped up to the bar and lifted it (I think it was a press of some sort) I fell in love. The feel of the steel in my hands and the weight of the bar going up was like the weight of the world falling off my shoulders. For those minutes I was zen. Each new lift I learned (and I learned them all) I felt my power grow. The first time I pulled a 300 pound deadlift was unbelievable. I was hooked.

Then an injury and life circumstances took over and I quit lifting for a while. Almost a year, actually. Until one day someone at my new gym (Movement Minneapolis) asked if anyone wanted to do a powerlifting meet. Oh how I wanted to do that meet! Circumstances being what they were I couldn’t commit to training with enough regularity to warrant competing. But it didn’t stop me from training with the rest of the gym members. I learned so much – from my very first bench press to being told my ‘arch was so pretty it belonged in Paris’ to learning how strong I am compared to the athletes I was training with – even though I didn’t compete in that meet. And I didn’t know it then but that was the start of my powerlifting journey.

My first meet was the 2015 Twin Ports Raw Open in Duluth, MN. It was the last Saturday in May and it changed my life. I had been training for 12 weeks, preparing myself for competing. But I wasn’t quite prepared for the intense feelings of pride and strength that welled up inside me as I took to the platform for my first lift – a 215 pound squat attempt. That feeling of zen returned, the crowd (including my very proud mother) faded and it was me and the bar. Hands in place, shoulders under the bar, stand UP. Three paces back. Reposition feet. Look up, nod to the head judge. SQUAT was the command. Sit back and down, knees out, bottom position. Look up, knees out, elbows up, STAND, hip thrust. Lock out, look at judge. RACK was the command. With the help of the spotters the bar was walked into the rack and set down. I had completed the very first lift in my very first meet and I was fine. I knew what I needed to do and I did it. I took third in my class that meet with a 248 pound squat, 154 pound bench press, 292 pound deadlift, and a 694 pound total AND set four Minnesota state records for Women’s Masters 1a 84+ class. I had found my calling.

Since that first meet I have competed in 3 additional meets and have medaled in two and continually break my own records. Each meet I learn new things about myself including, and this was a big one, that I’m an athlete. Maybe it’s because I’m taking it more seriously than previous goals, or that I’m competing and winning, but there has been a mindset shift. Instead of seeing myself as someone who does something as a hobby I now see myself as a capital A-Athlete, seriously training for her next adventure (which is the 2016 Twin Ports Raw open) and planning to qualify for the 2016 Raw Nationals in Atlanta, Georgia.

Powerlifting has allowed me to destroy the old myths I had been hanging onto – I’m not an athlete, women should be small and demure, women are the ‘weaker’ sex, and so many more. My inner strength has increased as the weight on the bar has gone up and I find myself exerting myself in ways I hadn’t before: telling my boss what I need, making solo vacation plans for myself, taking up all the space I need.

I’ve learned the power of myself and will continue to destroy those thoughts as they pop into my head. I AM Donna the Destroyer.

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