Lessons From My First Powerlifting Meet

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My middle name should probably be anxiety. I exist somewhere between total-nervous-wreck and barely-functioning-human.

Anxiety has made me do some pretty weird shit in my life. In the past, I’ve called out of work because I was too nervous to be seen. In college, I had skipped a few classes for fear of people just looking at me. While these are no longer options today, I still go out of my way to dodge crowds. I avoid confrontation like the plague, rarely speak up for myself, and pass up on opportunities that could bring a lot of reward, all because they might be uncomfortable.

I can’t stand attention on me, I definitely don’t like to show off in any way, and I hate being around groups of people. So in December of 2017, I signed up for a powerlifting meet.

Let me explain.

At the time, I had been powerlifting for about a year. Up to that point, I had absolutely no plans to compete but was nearing graduation and knew I needed to fill up my free time with something.

Honestly, the idea of competing terrified me. I knew I wasn’t going to be the strongest person there, wearing a singlet was probably going to be the most uncomfortable experience of my life, and I probably wouldn’t even place. There was no reason for me to sign up for a meet other than to show myself I could.

So, I did.

I signed up for a federation membership, found a meet, signed up for that, and told my coach what I had done. She was stoked, I was shitting my pants.

The event I’d chosen was near the mountains in Virginia and, about a week before meet day, the forecast was calling for over a foot of snow. At first, I was disappointed. I had put in a lot of work training for this meet, basically wanted to die from peaking, and had put up a fair bit of money for this thing. I didn’t want it all to be for nothing.

I got over that real quick.

As the meet got closer I started to get really excited about the idea of it getting canceled. When they were still calling for major snow two days before, I had pretty much convinced myself that it would be called off. I emailed the organizer to confirm, kicked back, and basked in the relief of a dodged bullet.

It wasn’t canceled. Fuck.

I didn’t sleep the night before. On the way to the venue, I was pretty certain I was going to barf on everything. When I walked into the gym I started to see spots. My coach arrived, reassured me that I was probably not going to die, and gave me the 1,000th rundown of how the day would go.

When they called my name for my first squat attempt my brain stopped working. I approached the bar, put it on my back, and walked out. My brain went something like:

“You didn’t fall on your face getting onto the platform, good. Now, remember the judge has to give you commands. Fuck. What are they?! [judge yells “squat”, I squat] Ok, I’m at the bottom. He’s going to give me an up command, right? Fuck, what is taking so long? FUCK there is NO UP COMMAND. Ok, just stand up.”

I stood up but there was obvious downward movement. I look at the board and see three. red. lights.

Going into it, I knew that, if I failed my first attempt, my day would be over. I knew that  I was going to pack up and leave. Until I actually failed my first attempt. When I walked back to my coach she was reassuring, probably thinking I was mentally beating myself up.

Surprisingly, I was totally fine. I remembered the commands, thanks for the delay anxiety brain, and knew the strength and skill were there. The only reason I had downward movement was because I lost tension in the bottom from being there for 10 fucking hours waiting for a command that would never come.  

I went on to nail my remaining lifts going 8/9 for the day and getting second place (out of 2, fuck yeah). I walked away with more than a solid meet and medal, though. More than I’d expected.

Despite my fear and anxiety, I got up in front of a ton of people, did something I never thought I’d do and I didn’t die. I did something that scared the absolute shit out of me. That means that I can probably do some other stuff that also scares the shit out of me. Which means that, even though anxiety is my best worst bud, I can still do really cool shit.

I never thought I would learn this kind of lesson from a powerlifting meet but here we are. I learned that you can let fear ride alongside you while you’re doing scary stuff. Let it be there, acknowledge it, just don’t let stop you. There is freedom on the other side of that-thing-you-want-to-do-but-think-you’re-too-scared-to-do.

You aren’t too scared. So do it.