It’s 2:45am, and sleep is elusive. My first attempt has led me back to my armchair, wireless keyboard across my lap, as I watch letters sporadically appear on the giant LED TV that serves as my monitor. Two sentences in and the tide of frustration is rising with every typo from this unsteady right hand. There is officially no escape from the shadow of this disease now. The reminders are everywhere. One day, I promise, I will leave all of these typos as they are in acceptance of the almighty “Way That It Is”, but not yet. My pride in my work still weighs enough to make me wear out my Backspace key. None of this is helping. The only thing that will help me earn a few hours rest and recovery is the exorcism of the thoughts that have run circles in my head since coming within inches of my goal this past Sunday.
We need music for this. In my headphones it’s Promentory by Trevor Jones from the soundtrack to The Last of the Mohicans. Not my normal adrenal-rage inducing fare, but far more epic. enjoy:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1ryJDVuZ6k
Two days ago, Vacaville, CA: I stand inches away from the platform, waiting to be invited by the head judge as the loaders finish bringing the Texas Deadlift Bar to 572lbs. The young lady at the scorer’s table announces that this will be a state record-setting attempt and asks for the crowd’s support and they oblige to a degree. The excitement in the gym picks up a bit, and I can feel that, behind me, I have the attention of my fellow lifters as they prepare for their own heavier attempts to come. The judge calls “Platform ready!” and I take two steps to the bar and kneel in front of it to begin my unorthodox new setup. There is no hesitation and I am not nervous at all. I know I have this. I can hear the crowd, there is no mystical silence in this moment. I glance up and on the handful of faces that I scan I am surprised to see hope. They actually hope that I’m about to do something big. As I take my grip, the sound in the room remains fully functional and time does not slow down. This is real. I do not reflect on how hard I’ve trained for this for three months. I never even consider the tear in my elbow that prevented me from attempting a real Bench Press, settling instead for a 220lb warmup weight and an early exit to allow myself hours to prepare for this moment. It’s not until the lonely drive home hours later that I would realize I wasn’t even visited by thoughts or visions of my Dad who passed away six weeks before. My focus is absolute, I am here, and this is real. For the moment I don’t even have Parkinson’s Disease. I know I have this and I hope I have the guts to attempt 600lbs for my third attempt. I am not overconfident. I KNOW I have this. Right hand palm up, ring finger on the edge of the knurling, left hand palm down middle finger edging the knurling. The Texas Deadlift Bar is a 45lb. beast with teeth and it chews into my calloused palms as I start to squeeze the bar. Shoulders back, and it’s time to let the Beast inside off the chain. I take a few rapid diaphragmatic breaths into my belly and push my obliques out and into the belt, making my core feel like a steel barrel. This spine will not give under any weight. Right foot swings out and grips the ground like a claw, the shin contacting the bar just outside the mark. The left foot joins on the other side and as always, the setup I’ve seen Chris Duffin use for big lifts has me in perfect position, directly over the bar with my bones stacked. I jack my hips forward a few times, hunting for torque in the system, but really I’m just slapping the Beast across the face to get him good and pissed off. The evil voice of self-doubt makes his usual appearance. “You can’t do this”, his usual line. “STFU”, my usual response. I find torque in my system and I shove, but not too fast. These bars are made to flex, allowing the weight to ease off the ground one plate at a time. So I push, trying to shove my feet out and through the floor. The deadlift is best thought of as a push (to me) not a pull. With the bar flexed appropriately, I rapidly throttle the torque from 90 to 110%. The bar hesitates for a second, reveling in it’s inertia, then it surrenders. With the weight climbing and pulling my shoulders forward, my knees attempt to lockout as my legs finish their work. As my surgically repaired and super-compensated lower back takes over, 572lbs virtually jumps into my lap…and then stops cold. My arms are hopelessly stuck in front of me, and no matter how hard I try to squeeze my glutes, my hips will not come through. I don’t give up, I feel like I can hold this for an hour, and the judge is inclined to give me a few seconds to pull off a miracle save. We make eye contact and he raises an eyebrow….”Well…?”. The expression I send back is total WTF?! disbelief. He lowers his hand, “Down….” and like that…it was gone.
Again Spotify picks the right song for the moment. Ben Nichols – The Last Pale Light in the West https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZ_swBE-mJw
“In my hands, I hold the ashes
In my veins, black pitch runs
In my chest, a fire catches
In my way, a setting sun
Dark clouds gather ’round me
To the west, my soul is bound
And I will go on ahead, free
There’s a light yet to be found”
There would be another attempt, but the moment had passed, as they have a habit of doing. I could easily be haunted by coming so close to such a great accomplishment only to fall inches short, but I am not. The old me might have felt like I let every PWP (Person with Parkinson’s) down because of how badly I want to prove to them that we can still do amazing things. This however is not the end but the beginning. When I first started this quest, that 572lb pull would have been an American record, but someone got to it first. Not only did they reset the record, they smashed it, adding 93lbs to bring it to 661. The thought to give up that chase never occurred to me and in fact, this new goal has caused me to double down on my commitment to Powerlifting. The American records of 551 in the Squat and a 1515 Total are VERY lofty, long-term goals and may in fact be beyond my capabilities, but they dovetail nicely with the new Deadlift goal of 661. The true reward for all of this hard work lies in the results of the training: strength, balance, coordination, and mobility (almost). Developing these attributes actively resists the steady erosion of my capabilities caused by Parkinson’s. The results of the meet are just gravy on the biscuit.
Today is day three after the meet and my first day of rest. For those who worry about me, sleep has found me twice since we started this story twelve hours ago. As always while sitting still I am beset by doubts and questions. Why not make every day restful like this? Why follow a powerlifting meet immediately with the most aggressive version of Jim Wendler’s 531 training method, playfully named by The Man “Spinal Tap…Volume goes to Eleven”? Why pair it with the Flight Olympic Lifting program in place of 531’s normal assistance work? My initial answer is somewhat logical and defensive. Following an extended taper and downtime from my elbow injury, my system is primed to recover from a window of intense, high volume training. This will set me on a running start toward some very lofty goals as I wrap up my Powerlifting training for the year so that I can focus on moving better and becoming a better weightlifter through Flight.
But that’s not the answer to the real question of WHY? Why not accept fate peacefully? Why fight a losing battle? I was given those answers yesterday by men and women that I greatly respect and consider friends although we’ve never truly met. On my first attempts to rejoin the Flight program, I was crushed HARD by the reality that I may never have the mobility to Snatch or Jerk again. Yet another thing that this disease might have taken from me. I asked my fellow students and coaches if I was doing the right thing in attempting this program.
One of my coaches, Alex Maclin, reminded me why I have forced myself to learn the most difficult discipline in all of athletics despite my limitations. “You came to learn how to weight lift. You’re going to learn how to weight lift and practice it the best way you can. That’s all any one can ask for. Just do what you set out to do, the best you can do it.” I have no idea how many days I will have left with the ability to even attempt this, but my goal as I’ve often said is 7,447. Every one of those days is a very rare and valuable thing and it deserves “the best you can do it.” Thanks for the reminder Alex.
From my fellow Flight crew Jimmy Le, Cole Goddard and Jodie McClure Haney I received great support and reassurance, summarized best by Benjamin Riddle, USMC-ret. “Remember why you chose this path. Yes, you love the barbell… but that isn’t why it’s Robinson Vs Parkinsons. you began this journey to battle your disease like a Spartan, and may you leave the field with your shield, or upon it. You’re also doing this to lead for others with your disease. It was never to become the best Weightlifter in the world. Yours is a much more difficult and scary foe. You have to be a Spartan.” Spoken like a true NCO. It strikes me that I’ve always assumed Riddle was a Sergeant. He definitely has the bearing. Ben is also a fellow blogger, and better at it than I. Give him a read at https://onefootonestep.wordpress.com/ , You will be inspired.
The golden egg to take away from what has become my longest blog post to date is my concept of the weight of the MOMENT. The crucial moments where our lives change course are usually sudden and fleeting. We must be ready for them. In those few seconds I may have come up short of my goal, but that crucial moment has set me on a path that aims even higher. Had I been successful, I may have allowed myself to rest. Today is not the day that I choose the low easy path, I have far more to give. I choose to continue Climbing Mountains. https://robinsonvsparkinsons.wordpress.com/2015/03/14/climbing-mountains/ This path will test my mettle and I will not be found wanting, for true victory lies in the effort, not the result. I thank you for following along and hope you continue as this will be a story of Victory regardless of the outcome.