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.

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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!

And now back to our regularly scheduled program…

Training Week 2 and a Virtual Powerlifting Meet

A couple weeks ago was about getting back into the swing of powerlifting training, learning how to eat my macros for a successful cut, and a virtual powerlifting meet to test my current strengths and areas for improvement. All in all it was a successful week for all three, though some more so than others.

Getting back into the swing of training is pretty easy though I do sometimes forget what I need to put in my bag on a given day – good thing I mostly remember the important stuff! I can do without socks and extra underwear, and even sometimes my sports bra, but it would suck without the right pants (or shorts) and tops. The other thing is figuring out what my working weights should be to keep increasing my strength – I try to push myself but sometimes I forget and go way too light (no more 16k kettlebell swings for me). But that’s what I have coaches for, right?

The next thing is my diet. Cutting is hard work. I actually have to pay close attention to what I eat and when. And track it. I’m working hard on this one – I really want to be in the 84k weight class by October. But I don’t know how well I’m succeeding. Again, it’s good that I’ve got a coach (Julia Ladewski) out there I can ask the questions to: what about meal spacing and timing? How does one eat 6 meals a day? What?!?!? And so on. And she comes back with answers to all my questions and suggestions to help me along. And then we go through the next week and start all over again. It’s definitely a process.

The fun part of the week was incorporating a virtual powerlifting meet into my workout. When my coach JVB hosts an online powerlifting meet to cap off her 12-week Unapologetically Powerful coaching program the second week of training I can’t help but enter and see how I do. I decided to come into the week using the lifts for two things: 1) baseline for my strength in that lift and 2) a means to learn what I need to focus on during the remainder of this training cycle. And it was good for both. A little humbling, too.

I’ll critique my lifts in the order they appear in competition even though I did them in the order they matched my training days and on vastly different days.

First up, as always, was the Squat. It’s a favorite and I surprised myself with a PR of 308 in the last meet so I was feeling fine. I was totally thinking (OK, hoping) to hit 310, just because I could. First attempt at 265 was totally fine. No problemo. Second at 285 was good for me, too. But that third attempt at 310? Nope. Not happening. I admit to be a little down BUT I had a couple things going for me: 1) a GREAT spotter in Mark and 2) the video that helped identify my problem area – not staying braced through the whole lift. So yay! takeaways are awesome.

285 attempt is so good.

310 attempt – not so good but I’m caught by Mark. Failure teaches a lot.

I’ve been having problems with my bench and asked JVB to help me get a stronger bench by programming my training to help build my back and upper body strength. My goal for my meet lift was to hit 165 pounds – what I had missed at my Twin Ports meet a month earlier for not waiting for commands. My first lift was 155 and it was good – hard, but good. So here is where I need to start working on attempt selection and getting consistently stronger with the bench: I thought I could get that 165 up so I increased bench to that amount. Well, I was wrong. Twice. But I didn’t give up or go home out of anger. Instead I analyzed the stick (a little shoulder positioning, a little too heavy) and now I have goals to work toward.

My 155 bench is good.

My 165 bench? Not so much…

And last, the deadlift. Ah, the deadlift. There is no lift that looks so easy and cause so much joy and heartache. I missed a attempt at Twin Ports – 360 pounds just wouldn’t come off the ground. Why? It was heavy! Or it could have been mental. I’ll never quite know but for this virtual meet I redeemed myself. I pulled 330, 340, and finally! 350 pounds for a tough but fair deadlift. What a way for me to end the meet. Was it perfect? Hell no. Was it lovely for me? Hell yes! I know I have work to do and pounds to before I reach my current goal of a 400 pound lift, but this 350 sure felt good.

My 350 dead? You bet it’s good! (By the way – look at that arm!)

And now I’m off to the races, training those weak spots and getting better every day.

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.