Surely you have seen Olympic Weightlifting before. Maybe one Youtube video after another led you to witness the exploits of Dmitry Klokov or the kids at California Strength. Perhaps you saw Ilya Ilyin at the last Olympics when you didn’t change the channel fast enough after table tennis. Even the uninitiated, though they don’t even know what the lifts are called, are usually momentarily mesmerized by what these often average looking athletes can do with a heavily loaded barbell. It is obvious to all that they are truly witnessing the pinnacle of what the truly dedicated can produce from the human body. In the case of the above mentioned Ilyin you might have seen the man Clean and Jerk (that one where they take the bar from the floor to the shoulders and then launch it overhead in two movements) 242kg to win the World Weightlifting Championships. That’s 532.4lbs by the way. Overhead. On first exposure, many will follow the video links to other feats of strength from the beautiful Lydia Valentin or Pyrros Dimas. Sorry, the GREAT Pyrros Dimas (really, look him up). For most, this fascination lasts through a few clicks and then ten minutes later it’s back to cat videos and “People are Awesome”. That’s fine, people really are awesome!
But then there are those of us who become obsessed with this discipline. When the layman sees a World Record Snatch, he sees the lifter squat down to take a wide grip on the bar, open their mouth very wide and make a terrible face, stand up and quickly fling the weight up while returning to a squat to catch the weight overhead . Even broken down into it’s most basic imagery it’s speed and coordination are amazing. What we see is every major joint in the human system used in perfect efficiency. It really is the ultimate expression of what the body is capable of. The process of Snatching a heavy weight overhead is an incredibly complex process and learning that process has been a humbling experience to say the least. My quest for excellence in movement with the barbell has recently taught me a valuable life lesson. My life has gotten out of balance. This obsession has become all that I think about and if we’ve met recently, I guarantee our conversation eventually turned to weightlifting. My day starts and ends on a wicked spiked foam roller preparing for or recovering from the days workout. (Actually that’s not a bad habit and I recommend it for a good night’s sleep and a fresh start). My mild dilemma is that learning these lifts requires a certain level of fanatical drive, and they are vitally important to my plan for continued good health. What might surprise some is that my strength counts for very little when it comes to Olympic Lifting. For true mastery of this discipline I’m going to need coordination which is very difficult with Parkinson’s. My ankles must be mobile while my knees must be stable while my hips must be mobile. The lower back must stay rigid while the upper back flexes into extension. That is just what’s required to break the weight off the platform. Following that is a complex chain of muscles pushing and pulling at just the right time all performed in a split second, or in the case of this slow and stiff old padawan, 2 to 3 long seconds. Success requires balance to control the strength. I recently learned a great lesson about this during a training session.
I was Deadlifting heavy in preparation for my attempt at the American record of 568lbs. coming up on May 31st at the Old Skool Iron Classic. I had just set a personal record of 550lbs. and decided to strike while the iron was hot and attempt to unofficially break the record. I put two dimes on the ends of the bar, bringing the total to 570lbs. With the speed that I pulled 550 with earlier, there was no doubt in my mind that I had it in the bag and I was going to be able to go into the meet in ten weeks with the confidence necessary to yank big weight. What I didn’t pay attention to was the fact that the collar on the left side was only an inch from the end of the bar while the right had almost three inches. Some of the bigger plates I loaded as I worked up were of the same 45lb weight but were of varying thickness. This is NOT like me, I am normally a stickler for all of my weights being the same brand, but I was paying attention to strength, not balance. Well when I pulled, the weight came up just like I knew it would. The problem is it came up 3″ higher on the right side and I couldn’t safely correct it so I was forced to drop it. That is NOT the lesson about balance though. While I was explaining what happened to my friend and teammate Marion, a beautiful girl came up and said, “That’s awesome, I’ve never seen the bar just bend like that.” I was so wrapped up in my missed lift that I didn’t even notice her talking to me! It wasn’t until watching the video after that I realized what she said. Not only did I miss the lift, but I was rude to a beautiful woman who showed an interest in what I was doing and has my respect because she’s a hell of an athlete who works her butt off in the gym. This was a glaring sign to me that my life is out of balance and I need to relax a little. I’m sure all I missed was a friendly word or two but a conversation with someone like that should be far more important than any lift.
To be brutally honest, and I’m not ashamed to admit this, my obsession is rooted in fear. Many people have expressed admiration for what I’m doing and I appreciate that, but if they think that I am displaying a lack of fear they are mistaken. Of course I’m scared of what’s going to happen to me, but I’m not terrified. “So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart.” – Tecumseh. I’m not facing off against death. Parkinson’s doesn’t kill you directly, but the drastic reduction in the quality of life is, to me, a certain level of death. We can’t give in to either the paralysis of fear and do nothing nor can we blindly focus every aspect of our lives to the fight against it to the point where our life’s only purpose is to fight. Tecumseh’s poem also says “Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life”. Speaking now to an audience of fellow patients that I hope this blog someday finds, this poem is calling for balance. We must fight to maintain our health every day but we must devote just as much energy to enjoying it or what’s the point? I always say “If you want to keep moving then get moving.” You don’t have to do what I do. I push myself so I can be an example to my fellow patients. I just want to get your attention and show you that you can take your fate in your hands. It does take work and it might even take a certain amount of obsession but it also takes balance. I see that now and I’m easing back a bit. I’m going to lift heavy and I’m going to laugh at my failures. I’m going to enjoy my life. I hope you do too.