Monday, March 11, 2019

2019 Arnold Grand Prix: The Great, The Good, and The Indifferent

500 Kilos. That was my original goal for 2019 Arnold. In the beginning, I was invited to the Pro/Am, not The Grand Prix. I'll admit, at first it stung.

Then, I embraced it. I liked the idea of a normal paced meet, likely the slowest paced meet I would have done since 2016 Raw Nationals. The C-Pod did always seem to have more hype from my perspective. It seemed to have more of a"home field advantage" kind of feeling. Not that the Grand Prix isn't great in it's own regard. I was perhaps looking forward to a different experience. Maybe, even one with less pressure.

500 Kilos. That's what I told Aaron and Wade I wanted for The Arnold. I told them this shortly after Nationals. Both of them said that would be easy. I thought it was reasonable. But then, I got to thinking. It seems easy. It seems easy because I just had a really great meet. Possibly, my best performance to date. So I've noticed, it's really difficult to follow up the best meet of your life with another best meet of your life. As I remember this little part, I take the 500 kilos and tuck it away into the 'let's wait and see' file.

I read a book called 'How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big' and it has been quite influential in many ways. Observing repeated patterns is one of the key tools I took away from the book. Just by observing a pattern, I can either interrupt it, avoid it all together, or go around it. I may not know the exact cause of the pattern, I just know it exists.

There are two patterns at play here. One is the aforementioned GREAT MEET and the pattern of the follow up. I've noticed for every three meets I do, one tends to be great, one good (or medium), and one shit, but for the sake of not sounding negative, I'll call it indifferent. Maybe it's the timing of the meets? Is it too much to ask for three really great peaks every year?

The other pattern is the curse of The Arnold. Every year, without a doubt, training for The Arnold is going tremendously. Right up until the last block. Every year, I'm ringing in the new year with huge numbers in the gym. I'm talking lifetime PR's type of numbers. And every year, by the end of January, my numbers tank. Seemingly out of nowhere. Maybe it's the post holiday lack of merriment that gets me down? Maybe it's the overwhelming guilt I feel for the all the parties I went to and all the money Santa (me) spent on Christmas? Maybe I just run myself into the ground from October to January and it finally hits me approximately 6 weeks out from The Arnold?

This year was no different. Squat and deadlift were doing quite well (deadlift in particular) and bench had been sort of lagging the whole time but I continued to be optimistic that it was going to show up. Until it didn't. Not only did it not show up, but it too started to regress. In my very unprofessional opinion, I believe an old nerve impingement (circa December 2015) had flared back up. No pain. Just no power. I lost ~7.5-10kgs on my bench. This really got me down.

About the time my training starts to slip backwards is about the time that I was asked to go to The Grand Prix. I was hesitant to accept. However, I do have some pride. So reluctantly, I make the move.

Don't worry, it gets worse from there. Every training session was a struggle. I legitimately wanted to withdraw. I begin to feel an immense amount of pressure to hit specific numbers that I know I don't have. What if I come in last (I did for all intents and purposes)? What if Scanlon takes my squat record on her 2nd (she did)? What if I fail a record attempt (I did not)? Maybe I should just weigh in heavy and avoid all pressures and comparisons? Maybe I should just withdraw?

Maybe, the only person putting this kind of pressure on me was ME? Maybe The Grand Prix is nothing to fuck with and I should just go and put up some solid numbers and be grateful that I was asked to be a part of it? Maybe I should just surrender to the patterns I've noticed and have peace in knowing that this meet isn't THE MEET but better this one than literally any other one? MAYBE, it's time for me harness my experiences and stop acting so green?

Let's go 9 for 9. That's what I told Aaron and Wade I wanted for The Arnold. At Nationals, I had the meet of my life, went 8/9 and totaled 490.5kgs. At sub-par condition, not a single grinder or even a slight risk, I went 9/9 and totaled 485kgs.

We played the pattern. Maybe we bypassed the total shit meet and turned into the indifferent meet. Maybe instead of pushing beyond my limits, leaving me with feelings of failure, we instead lifted within our means and I'm left with the feeling of hunger for the next great meet.      

Monday, February 11, 2019

Gratitude and what it means to me

When I was a kid, I watched powerlifting and bodybuilding on TV. I loved wrestling and sports. I played lots of sports as well. This was the beginnings of my quest for strength. Many years working on our farm and many others farms to make money, also lead to the natural strength that I was so blessed with. I remember seeing the first worlds strongman man contests on TV and thinking how cool it would be to some day compete in strength.
When I started competing in powerlifting, I had already been training for a few years. Simply training, working out and just trying to get strong. I had no desire to compete and honestly didn’t know of an outlet to do so. I was a big guy, enjoyed being strong and was fine with that. Back in those days, I had a bench and weights in my office where I worked. I had some dumbbells up to about 40 lbs. A co-worker would come down after hours and hand off to me and convinced me when I broke 300 in the bench, that I should do a meet. I was like, no way. He knew of a gym owner in Murfreesboro, TN. He stayed after me, and so there you have it. He came down, handled me at the meet, it was bench only. I met Anthony Clark and several local lifters, had a great time and was hooked.
There is a lot of story to be told between that day and now. I won’t make you suffer through all that but, it brings me to the history of what is now The Ogre Compound. In the late 90’s, I started acquiring equipment and making boxes and boards and anything else I could do to have the tools needed to get stronger. I would work side jobs and after paying bills, I would take the extra money and buy plates. I remember buying all the 2.5’s the money I had would buy and being questioned as to why I needed 20 of them. I knew someday, well I hoped, that I would have a place where like minded people could come and train and do great things and get strong and be part of a team.
In 2004, I moved into the house where the gym is currently housed. There was so much work done just to get a portion of it where we could train. In early 2004, we ran a regional meet in Bristol, VA. I bought my first of 3 monolifts at that meet and from there, the quest for more equipment really ramped up.2006 I opened the gym to private clients. I remember having 3 people and thought I was busy. In 2009, we build an addition where we currently have the monolifts and all things squat. From that point, we trained at the gym full time and have never looked back. Hard to believe how time has gone by. In 2013, I was at a meet in Cincy at The Sweat Shop judging. That is where I met Melissa or Missy as she is known. She moved here in 2014. We have made a house a home.
I have traveled all over the planet in my pursuit and others pursuit of strength. I have been fortunate enough to go to far away places with lifters and see and do great things with them both as a lifter and coach. It is now February of 2019. Missy has competed in powerlifting, making a comeback from serious injury the year before at strongman nationals and had a great day with a lifetime pr in the deadlift. We’ve seen newcomer Cooper compete in his first strongman competition. Then part of the team was at another meet, Deanna, Alli, Mark and Deek. All doing so well and lifting as a team. This weekend, Big Mikey competed in a meet, going 8-9 and taking best lifter. Next weekend, another part of the team is competing at a meet that part of the team is running and reffing and a state chair. We have a weekend to catch our collective breath and then off to the Arnold. Some of the team is competing there and I get to coach with my buddy Chris. In the midst of all this, I am lucky enough to have an online team of folks and they are training hard and competing everywhere. It never stops and there are no days off…it is exactly what I signed on for. The days can be long and hours tiring but, even in moments where I question myself as to why, it is never far away that I’m given a message or sign as to why I do this.
The gratitude comes from the trust all these folks have had in either coaching, equipment, facility, team and any number of things. For many of us, that little area downstairs is our social time, our solace and place of sanctuary. Where people from all places, races and religion simply come together with the common ground and goal to be the best versions of themselves and help each other achieve it. In the last month, I have had two people talk to me at meets that I had met earlier in my career. Patrick I met in the 90’s when he was 16! Now I coach him and he trains part time at the gym. Benita, {spelling?} saw me at a meet yesterday. I have seen her at a couple of events and thought, she looked super familiar. In talking, she said in so many words, you won’t remember this but 10 years ago…and I knew exactly at that moment how I knew her. Roughly 10 years ago, she contacted me about training. She was a professional wrestler and in the time of chatting and emailing back and forth, she got picked up and off she went. The world is such a small place at times. That lead me to tell the story of how I met Frank, who trains at the same gym she trains at. So many stories, so many lives and times shared.
At the meet yesterday, Jesse spoke to me and said it was good to see me and in so many words, was appreciative of everything I had done for him and the SPF. Just the way we were treated, how we are treated every where we go. Each weekend, I have had to leave the team to train without me. They, the team, have created a culture. I have been upstairs grabbing a bag to leave and can hear them laughing, cheering and yelling for one another. Yesterday, I got an email from a lifter and video and there they were, being a team and spotting and coaching and supporting each other. A few weeks back, we had the biggest amount of lifters training at the gym in its history and I took a moment to step outside, outside the noise of the team and whatever music was playing to have a quiet moment to look up and give the Big Guy a nod and simply to be thankful. I have been so blessed to have worked with so many people. To train with them, to coach them and watch incredible things take place. Many have slept here, have eaten here and had a drink or several here. Noone here is rich but, a great pal of mine who has become family like so many, once told me, I needed to decide what wealth was to me. Was it to have a lot of money as that is rich or see the blessings I have and the wealth of things that I get to experience, share and simply live. I was chatting with Jenn the other day and told her, while this is hard…she was on me about taking care of myself and resting as she knew I was tired…I am living my dream. No, I don’t have a giant facility with all the cool toys and such but, we have a gym. Sure, I built it and have spent my life buying things, building things and such but, they make it a gym. Anyone can have a building and fill it full of gear but, the lifters, the people, they make it a gym. A place to be, a place to share and a place to pursue.
I can say the same for the crew I get to work with online. Many of them have become family. We visit them and they come and stay with us. Many have had children or have gotten married. I have had a few of the guys after speaking with the Father’s of their now brides, message me to talk about what was to come. I have held babies and have been to graduations and go to family events. So, to say my cup is full is quite an understatement. Is it hard? Yes! Is it tiring? Yes…I should probably rest more than I do but, never feel sorry for me…I’ll never be rich and I’ll probably always drive some broken car and have a thing or two in need of repair on my house but, as long as I’m able, I’ll climb down those steep steps from my kitchen down into the gym, spilling coffee as I go. I remember when Wes visited as he lived elsewhere. He was about 14 and stood holding his back staring at the one monolift in the old part of the gym just incredulous, “we had a monolift”. Many years have passed since that moment but it is a vivid memory. And now, he coaches people here and trains here.
I’m not sure how well I have conveyed my thanks and gratitude here but, I assure you, I am so blessed and know I am blessed well beyond anything I deserve. There are so many of you over the years that I have worked with that there are simply too many to mention individually but, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your belief. Any of you that know me, know that belief and the word believe means such a great deal to me. Thank you for your trust. Many have spouses and children that come here. To be trusted with them is an immense privilege. I have been able to coach some of the strongest women in the sport right here. To have that bond and trust means so much to me.
From here, I’ll say what I always say. I am going to try to be as strong as I can for as long as I can. I will continue to do what I can to learn and be open minded to new things and keep striving for what will help us all get that next pr, record and title. So, simply, from me to all of you that I get to be a part of life and lifting, so much thanks. The honor and blessing is mine.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Louis LaFont Biss

My name is Jennifer. I am Louie’s Granddaughter. Also, mother to his first great grandchild, but no big deal.
Some of you may know that I am competitive in the sport of powerlifting (or weightlifting as it is often called by family members). Well, by competitive, I mean, I’m one of the best there is. Literally, in the world of drug free lifting, you’re looking at one of the best in the world. No, seriously, I’m not kidding. I can legit bench more than 98% of this room. Now that I’ve established credibility, I can move on to my point. Most of lifting, is really just leverages. Leverages are really just the fastest and most efficient way from point a to point b.
When we organize our training, there is an analogy we use which is quite applicable to life. Powerlifting is made up of the squat, bench and deadlift. In training, we can think of what we need to do based on a bucket that needs to be filled up. First start filling up the bucket with large stones. These large stones represent the main movements. Squat, bench and deadlift. The remainder of your bucket should be filled in with smaller stones or pebbles, then sand, then water. Each represents different and necessary and individual ways to get stronger. All these things combined and your bucket is solid. No gaps. No weaknesses. Each element plays a different role but is necessary for a solid competition. 
Over the years of my life (not that many), I find it difficult to decide whether I am a large stone, a pebble, or sand or water. You see, I come from a large family. And then I did a thing where I also married into a large family. (I promise I’m gonna get to Louie, just bear with me). My husband’s family is really good at many things that I am not. One of them, is gift giving. (Actually also one of Louie’s strengths). They are all fantastic at gift giving. I sit there on Christmas day in shame as I am just not good gift giving. My father in law retired. It was a big deal. They were having a big party. I start to feel the pressure of “THE GIFT”  I ask my husband about “THE GIFT” and he’s no help. This is a guy who buys ceiling fans as gifts. Finally, I surrender. I ask myself, what am I good at? What can I leverage here? I call my mother in law, and say, “Listen, I’m no good at gifts. I don’t know what to buy. But what I can offer is cooking. I can cook all the food for the party” She sighs in relief. She is so happy to let me do the food and I AM SO HAPPY to offer it.
Within our family, we have so many leverages to offer. We are a lot of large stones, pebbles, sand and water. My Grandma, Nancy, if you ask me, offers polish. Many people offer a meal, or a sleep on their couch or in their home, a place to stay after college, a word of advice. My Grandma does all those things but does them with POLISH. If you come to stay on her couch, she makes that couch up with fresh sheets, and a fluffed pillow, and is sure you have the remote near you before she turns off all the lights off and tells you good night. If she provides you a meal, whether in your home or hers, all appropriate accompaniments are presents. Salad, bread, entrée, sides, desserts and all packaged perfectly. If you have a meal in her home, there is no worry or thought of condiments or napkins. She will set up your t.v tray, be sure the lighting is right and you have ice in your glass. Should you need a place to stay after college, she will pack your lunch and your co-workers will be envious of your well balanced meals. If you need a word of advice, she will offer it, and do it matter of factly and her thoughts will be clear but never rude. While my Grandma has many fantastic characteristics, the one that has always stood out to me is her polish.
We are a big family and that requires a lot of work for all of us to get together. Which translates to a lot of stones, pebbles, sand and water. We all float along with our different leverages. Depending on the time and the season, we have all likely been a stone, a pebble, sand or water. My father Larry, offers the leverage of fixing or building. My mother Anne, the leverage of small/special details. My cousin, Tony, the leverage of labor and presence. While I claim the leverage of cooking and meal planning in other arenas, Michelle and Mike are the keeper of that title here.  Aunt Tracy and her family, often the entertainers of little ones. Aunt Kathy, the décor specialist and often times playing the role of event coordinator or organizer. Aunt DiDi, the peace keeper, the keep on keepin on of the matriarch. And all of the rest of us, filling in with our pebbles and sand and water. 
And Grandpa. Louie. The constant. The king. Mr. Christmas. I’ve been thinking about this speech and what I wanted to say for some time. And truthfully, it’s nothing like the one I had been rolling around in my brain. I wrote it once several months ago. Again, a couple of days ago. And once more last night. And that’s ok. I’ve learned through writing, that you can’t get married to one singular idea, you’ve got to let it flow through you. Over the past few days, I think I speak for all of us when I say that time has not necessarily stopped, but has not necessarily existed either. As I said before, I’ve been struggling on where I fit in. On what I have to offer. I think it came to me Thursday night as we ended the sacred fire for my Grandpa. There is one role that is not often mentioned. The role of the observer. My Grandpa often the man behind the camera both literally and figuratively. Over the past few days we’ve had so many friends and family stop by. I know I speak for all of our family when I tell you how incredibly grateful we are that each of you came. I watched old friends and family of the past come and remanence about years past. I watched young cousins comfort each other and challenge one another to take the ride down the hill on the big wheel. I watched the new generation take the reins on cooking and cleaning as our mothers and fathers comforted one another and played host to my Grandma and Grandpa’s friends and family. For those few days, time in fact did not exist. The past, present, and future were all there mingled and mashed up together and it was as if someone painted a live portrait of my life and time did not exist.
 Gathered here today, there is a beautiful smorgasbord of people. Each of us here have a story. A role. A different one. We may sometimes be a large stone, a small pebble, sand, or water. And that makes up a great and varied and wonderful story. And my Grandpa listened to each one. And he listened to understand. And he accepted each of us whether we were a stone, a pebble, sand or water. And that’s why we are all here today. Because in some way, Louis LaFont Biss made each of us believe in ourselves and our own leverages… just a little bit more….one day at a time.  So…let’s raise our glasses……To Louie!..... May we forever be indebted to you and may we forever repay it.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

2018 Raw Nationals: Will the Real Jennifer Millican Please Stand Up

As per the usual, the beginning of a new training cycle always hinges on the results of the last one. After IPF Worlds in June, I was pretty beat up and beat down. For almost the entire training cycle, I was either just getting over being sick, or about to be sick again. If I wasn't sick, I was dealing with an annoying tweak. And of course, the added fun of having to keep my bodyweight in check. All of this to say, I was probably a little worse off than I thought at the time, but in typical me fashion, I couldn't realize it until I came up for air after the meet. 

I had decided long ago that I would be moving up a weight class regardless of what happened in Calgary. So that was not even a topic of discussion. A non-negotiable. The training cycle started super slow. All dumbbells all the time. I was pretty hesitant to get any sort of heavy weight in my hands at all because of how beat up I felt. I sandbagged for quite a bit even with primarily non-barbell movements. Eventually, I get called out by my coaches and decide it's time to quit playing.

Now, despite my hesitation to push, I was still optimistic (read: confident) about what I would be able to put up as a 63. Now, some of you reading may already know, but for those of you who don't, I'm gonna let a cat out of the bag. IT'S REALLY HARD FOR ME TO WEIGH LESS THAN 130 POUNDS. I don't care what my coaches say or how tall I am. For me to get/stay under 130lbs takes mucho discipline and I'm not talking about the showing up to the gym and getting through my training sessions and sticking with the plan 90% of the time discipline. I'm talking about 24 hours a day, 7 days a week of strict what am I eating/drinking, when am I gonna get cardio in, will I get a full 8 hours of sleep, what if I have to (or WANT TO) do something social kind of discipline. That's what it takes. And, quite honestly, I did it. For all intents and purposes, I DID THE DAMN THING. (see below)

When I decided to go full force into USA Powerlifting, I set out to win Nationals, go to Worlds, win, and move up to 63's. Well. I went to Nationals. I won the 57's. I won best female lifter. I went to Worlds. I won. I set two world records. I won best female lifter. The only thing I did not follow through on was moving up immediately. Do I regret it? The only glimmer of regret I have is staying in the 57's for another year. But I wouldn't change that first year for anything.

I only regret staying a 57 because I knew I was slipping. I knew my willingness to have the discipline required was fading. But I took the bait of the shininess of another title and shot at making history with a huge wilks. I went entirely against what my gut was telling me. I ain't just talking about hunger pangs. (insert hysterical laughing here)

Back to the subject at hand. I decide to quit playing, and I'm confident about the numbers I would be able to put up. I am confident because as soon as I step off the platform and exhale as a 57, my bodyweight jumps to 135lbs. I can linger around 135lbs with mild discipline. But still discipline nonetheless. With no real discipline and living my life like a regular person, I'm at the top of the weight class. So I know what training feels like when I'm hitting that beautiful stride. Only this time, I'm gonna take it up a notch.

Now, was training all rainbows and sausages? Not really. I was a little disappointed actually. Except for bench. Bench was bae the whole training cycle. Which I totally expected, but even with my high expectations, I was still impressed with how well bench was going. I kept waiting for the crash. There was no crash. It was glorious.

Squat was going pretty well. We came out of the gate of heavy training with 170kgs. From there (my perspective here), it was pretty lack luster. We inched the weight up, but not one session was magical or super confidence boosting. I spent weeks squatting a single at 180kgs. I had decided I would not go any heavier than that. About 2 or so weeks out, Aaron tells me to push it for real. So, I load 182.5kgs and it was pretty close to a max effort squat. So, (in my 57kg brain), I think, I'm probably good for MAYBE 180kgs or 183kgs for a national record at the meet and even that would be awesome.

Bench. As I said, bench was bae. Man, I don't even know what to tell you. It was just fire the whole time. We didn't get greedy. We did step up the frequency. I was doing some kind of pressing every session. I didn't rush or push any specific number. I really tried to walk a line. I thought because I had such trouble with bench at Worlds, missing 100kgs TWICE (hello fatigue), that if I could build a huge bench for Nats, it would really take my competitors by surprise (despite benching against the greatest bencher of all time). I knew where I fell short was the deadlift, so my strategy was to push the subtotal.

Deadlift. What a bitch. WHAT A BITCH. So real quick, when I said I was sick for most of the training cycle before, what was kicking my ass was shingles. It just kept coming back. I couldn't get over it. Shingles attacks the nervous system. And, uh, lifting heavy ass weights isn't exactly easy on the nervous system. Bad move on my part? Maybe. However, the show must go on. I kept waiting on my deadlift to show up. And it was taking it's sweet ass time. For real. Now, I am a shakey person. I get the shakes. Please watch any video ever. MY NERVES IS BAD Y'ALL. I knew that my deadlift wasn't turning the corner because I would start getting the shakes at much lower weights than usual. So, one thing I did for the entire training cycle was take supplements regularly. I read all this stuff (it may be witchcraft or a placebo but guess what? Idgaf) about how stress or things like shingles that attack the nervous system will strip you of vitamin B and minerals. Which will kick your immune system in the dick and you'll be sick forever (i.e me). So I order some b complex vitamins and liquid minerals  (and liquid vitamin d plus k for good measure) because I am no bueno at taking pills and quite honestly I am so sick of feeling like shit. I kid you not, that I felt my real deadlift finally showed up at my last heavy session when I hit 195kgs. It wasn't until that session that I thought I might be able to pull enough to be in the running.


I had some thirds in mind. I was *somewhat* confident on my stretch goals for thirds. But all I knew for sure is what my first and seconds were and I didn't care what they loaded for thirds. I was just going to make them. What you have to understand is my expectations are set in the mind of a woman who has been at a caloric deficit for weeks (months?) and who is coming down to the wire on body weight. I know enough to know that meet day is a different ballgame and that expectations need to be kept in check.

I am warming up for squats and think....uhhhhhh, what the fuck. WE JUST MIGHT have a good day on our hands. Of course, it's important that I don't acknowledge that and just do exactly what I'm told. My opening attempt, when I go out, I am taken aback by the crowd noise a bit. When I set up, I am not quite sure about head position and where I want to focus my eye sight. I hear only one person. I hear my husband. "LET'S GO JENNIFER", and set up, walk it out, and about halfway up I hear the crowd make a sound as if to say "put some weight on the bar". Three white lights. Second attempt, more confidence, easy, three white lights. I don't say shit to Wade or Aaron. Aaron just keeps telling me to keep everything the same. I'm thinking, what are they gonna call? It feels easy, but DO I HAVE more than 183kgs...can I really hit a lifetime PR on the platform?! Fuck it. They will make the right call. Just do your job. 185.5kgs. An American Record. An unofficial World Record. AND most importantly, a 400lb+ squat in sleeves, a LONG TIME goal of time. I walk out and the crowd is amazing. I hit the pocket, slow down a bit at the slowing down spot, the crowd comes in right on time, and I stand up with it. Three white lights. This may be my most favorite lift I've ever lifted. It was in this moment, that the real Jennifer Millican had made her debut on the powerlifting platform.

Bench. So, now I am unusually fired up. It's a different kind of fired up than I've felt before. I just hit a lifetime pr, that also happened to be an American Record and an Unofficial World record. TO BE CLEAR, I spent a lot of my lifting 'career' on breaking these sort of records. Like, my entire focus for many years was breaking these records. And the truth is, is that I didn't care at all about them IN THIS MOMENT in time. I just wanted to make attempts. And now, I'm thinking, well damn, what if bench follows suit?! And it turns out it did follow suit. I hit my opener at 100kgs (thank you very much failed attempts at Worlds). We jumped 7.5kgs to my second. My 57kg brain was nervous for this jump so I kept the option open to make the 5kg jump. My 57kg brain had no place in the 63kg weight class. I had hit ~110.5kgs in training. I thought it would be super cool if I hit 110 in the meet. After my second attempt at 107.5kg, Wade came up to me and said "We're gonna do what we came here to do" which I knew meant 112.5kgs. 57kg brain is like 'are we sure?!', the competitor brain is like 'just do your job'. So they load 112.5kg, a number that I told myself I would reach at the beginning of training but also seemed so far out of reach....BUT ALSO I knew I would make it. I knew I could grind if it came down to it, but I also knew I didn't need to based on my 2nd attempt. I didn't need to grind. My third attempt was just like every top end single in training only with more weight on the bar. And when I walk off the platform Wade looks at me at me says, 'that's right mother fucker!'. Now, I have two lifetime pr's under my belt AND I have the highest subtotal going into deads.

Deads. Deads are more of the same. I know this is where I fall short and I know I've pushed them as far as I can via subtotal. Now, I just need to put together some solid attempts and let the chips fall where they fall. As I mentioned earlier, deads have been lagging just a bit. Not horrible, but a little slower than the rest of my lifts. However, they did seem to show some response my last heavy session and the rest of the meet has me feeling optimistic. Did I feel magic during warm ups for deads? No. After squat and bench I got messages from a couple of my lifting homies. And they both meant a lot to me. They both had the same message. 'Just don't stop pulling!'. So, as far I as I was concerned I had done my job. I had reached the subtotal that I thought was out of reach. I knew going in as a 63kg, it was going to take a nearly perfect day and even after that the pull of a lifetime.

Third attempt dead.
First, I look at Aaron,
-Do I have time to pee?
-Ok, dammit
Next...Wade comes to me and says
-All I need out of you is the pull of your life
-Ok, the pull of my life, got it
-I tried really hard and I peed everywhere

It was 202.5kgs and it would have tied me with the total that won. I would have lost on body weight ironically.

I spent this training cycle leveling up. Now, it's go time. The real Jennifer Millican is here to party.

As always, huge shout out to ApLyft, SBD, my coaches Aaron Thomas and Wade Johnson, my husband (the real mvp) Michael and all of my Team Ogre teamates and all of my GASOLINE!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Becoming Friends with The Monsters

As a child, I was the kid who tried too hard. I went all out in P.E. I remembered the quiz no one else did. I actually tried really hard at school projects. Up until about the 6th grade. Then I got the vibe that trying really hard didn't make me "cool". Seeming as if you didn't care made you more popular. As an adult, I can see that my perspective was skewed and that my priorities needed shifting. None of that matters now. The point is, I stuffed my effort down and hid it so my peers would like me more.

This became who I was. I did enough to get by but never giving any real effort. There was one exception. Sports. I did give every ounce of effort in that arena. That effort is what people would call "heart". I was pretty good too. Some times, not quite good enough. In basketball for instance, I was an incredible defender and was FAST, really fast. However, I was/am 5ft tall and didn't have a great shot. My signature move was to make a steal, make a fast break away from my opponents, be all alone at my basket and miss the lay up. I couldn't take the pressure of making the shot. In the 7th grade I played the entire summer the with school team. Just before the season started, I was cut. It hurt, but I knew it was coming. My coach was great and I think it hurt her more than me. I tried out for the next two years and never did make the team.

I played softball as well. Softball was my sport. Basketball was really my side gig. I played short stop and nothing could get past me. I would beg my father or brother or grandmother or anyone with a pulse to come outside and throw with me or hit grounders to me incessantly. When that well was dried up I would throw the ball against the house and field the grounder over and over or throw pop flies to myself. Unlike basketball, my offensive game was just as strong as my defensive game. Not only was I fast, but I could hit the ball. I only ever played little league, I never got into serious travel teams or private lessons or anything like that. I made the team when I tried out for high school.

Playing on the high school team was not the glory I expected. I wasn't used to pitchers who pitched with actual strategy.  As a player, I was a little rough around the edges compared to the players who had more experience at higher levels than I. I got A LOT of coaching. Everything about how I threw, my batting stance, how I held the bat, how I slid, was all changed....and the worst change of all, making me bunt. I wish I could tell you that I withstood the pressure and came out one of the best players. But I didn't. I couldn't handle it. I found myself completely overthinking everything I did to the point of paralysis. I was cut my sophomore year. This one did crush me. I was so mad at my coach. I was so mad at myself. I was so mad at my parents.

Life went on after that. I attempted to come back to no avail. I went on giving a mediocre effort for the rest of my life. Wearing a scarlet letter of one who can't perform under pressure. One who is good but will choke. One who is not coachable.

Flash forward to 25 year old Jennifer. I was pregnant with my first child. My whole life I thought when I have a baby, I want to have the baby naturally. I don't know why but I just did. So, that was my plan. Well, that is apparently controversial. I don't get it, but everyone's opinion came flooding in about it. Family, friends, strangers, would all tell me horror stories or laugh at me when I told them, medical professionals rolling their eyes, I was quite astounded honestly. And hurt. And stressed out. And felt an immense amount of pressure. I felt myself thinking about who I was and how I fail. How I let people down. How I don't perform under pressure. And I hated that feeling.

Well, it's a long story, and a story for another time or maybe never, but aside from labor being induced, I was able to have her naturally. And that day, something changed. That day, I believed that I was not a person who always failed. That day, I believed in myself. That day, I trusted myself. That day, I realized that even if something is really, really, really hard, I could still do it. A great catalyst for parenting. I hesitate to use the word empowering because it has become a somewhat cliche buzzword, but in every sense of it's meaning, that day, I truly felt empowered. That day, I felt my true self had finally surfaced (oxytocin is a hell of a hormone).

This was the first building block in becoming friends with my monsters.

Flash forward again to 31ish year old Jennifer. My life was in a dark place. I needed to get out. I wasn't sure how but I was really just sick of it. And angry. Really really angry. Mostly at myself and at everyone. I needed to prove to myself that I was still lovable. Somehow, this turned into extreme independence (#poweryourown). I just thought that I would only rely solely on myself and no one else. If I wanted something done I would discuss with no one, ask no one's permission or opinion and just attack it. I also shut out just about everyone in my life. I finally looked inward and stared down every insecurity I had. I took everything that I stuffed down in the 6th grade and slowly began to attack each one.

I had a not so great record with consistency and commitment. I would often give effort in spurts. Procrastination was my primary motivator. When I cut to 114lb I faced this monster head on. One day during the cut, I decided that no matter what, I was going to stick with the plan. While doing cardio I was thinking about how I had some function coming up that was going to require some effort on my end to stick to the diet. At first, I began rationalizing. I would only eat one thing off the plan. I would only drink one beer and cut carbs from here or there. I would eat dessert but do extra cardio later. Then I was finally like, fuck it. I'm going to stick to the plan and make it work. NO MATTER WHAT. And I did. And I was successful. Another building block. Another monster that I became friends with.

So, I made the commitment to making the cut. I consistently stuck with the nutrition and training no matter what. I felt confident. When I made this cut, I was going after an all time total record in wraps. While doing cardio (where I do all of my profound thinking), I would think about attempts. I would see myself going to the bar for the attempts. Then I would get so scared. I would feel so nervous that I would shut my thoughts down. I would move on to thinking about something else because it felt too scary. It showed come meet day. I cut my third squat high. The weight moved so fast and so easy. Without a third squat, the total was out of range. I beat myself. I was poised to break that record. I was strong enough. I let disbelief beat me. I was so angry at myself but also so hungry for redemption.

For my next meet, I made a deal with my online coach that I would do a USAPL meet if one popped up close to me. Well, one did. So I kept my word and began training for the meet. Now, I was just red lighted in an SPF meet for squats. I told one of my training partners that I was going to do a USAPL meet and he said "what if you bomb?", I said, fear is not the master of my sea. But I was scared. I've been asked what I did to start squatting deeper and honestly I didn't do anything. I just started squatting deeper. Every time I had a bar on my back, I would cue myself, "as deep as you can every rep". I was a little stressed about my depth every training session but I just kept squatting as deep as I could every time. Because this meet wasn't "serious" and just to appease my coach, I didn't bother looking at any records. This was the first meet I had done without wraps. My mind just wasn't in the space of crushing any numbers or anything like that. Until my squat starting taking off. I started getting excited. I looked at the records. I had a really solid chance at a squat record and a total record. Just about as soon as I realized that, my arm quit working. My right arm just gave out. On bench, anything above 150lbs or so and my right arm quit.

Well, here I was again, poised to take some records. And poof, just like that, it was gone. My bench took a 50lb hit. Now, I could have quit. I could have said, I'll get em next time when I'm healthy. But I couldn't. I had come too far. I was too invested. I gave too much. Because I had become friends with that commitment monster, I still planned to do the meet. But I let go of the records. I let go of any number at all. I let go of my ego. I went to the meet with only my husband. The lightest I've ever rolled into a meet. I didn't know anything about the USAPL or the meet I was doing. I expected maybe 40-50 lifters. There were 300. We had no idea what we were doing.

Choosing attempts that day, I just went with what I thought I could make. Nothing was really planned other than openers. I went 7/9. I totaled far under what I thought I would. But I did what I was capable of THAT DAY. I accepted that. I had fun. Still the one of the most enjoyable meets I've ever done. I made 9 white lights on squat. I took an unofficial American squat record. I won best lifter. That day, I became friends with the monster called ego and a sprinkle of redemption.

Next meet. Healthy meet. With wraps. Time to crush shit. I took all my monsters by their hand and carried them with me. I took them all with me through the entire next training cycle. We went to the meet. We crushed it. We did the Women's Pro/Am. I was poised to take some records again. Except this time, I wasn't worried about them. If they were there, they were there and we'd take them. If they weren't, we'd take what we had. I took the all time squat record (at the time) at 123lb and was 15lbs shy of the total record. I went 8/9. I won best raw lifter. The spark I felt that day when I had my daughter returned. I added self doubt to the monsters I was friends with.

From here, I went on to do raw nationals. I felt extremely confident. I thrived on the fact that no one really knew who I was. I thrived on the idea that they thought my bench was what it was with a dead arm. This meet was just about getting a job done. A job that was required to achieve the ultimate goal of becoming an IPF World Champ. I got the job done and won the 57kg weight class. I went 8/9. I took the American squat and total record. I won best female lifter. The competitor that I knew existed within me began to break through. That day, I executed. I became friends with that monster.

Next meet was The Arnold. I regressed a little here. I reverted back to my old ways of chasing numbers and records. That's ok, it was right on time. I learned again that winning isn't about records or arbitrary numbers. Winning is about execution. Winning is about stacking up attempts and ego has no place.

So now, I begin training for THE MEET. I began training for IPF Worlds. Everything that I ever stuffed down was out in full force. If there was a component to my success that I could control, I had complete control of it. Training, nutrition, sleep, what I posted, what I didn't post, strategy, anything and everything that I could control, I did. And I did with precision.

There was one monster left. Self belief. I found myself again, doing cardio, thinking about the meet. Thinking about winning. I was scared. I felt nervous. Questioning my capabilities. Who I am to be great at something? I fail. I get so close to accomplishing something and choke. I don't travel well. What if I bomb? I never make third bench attempts. Being great is not who I am. It's who other people are. People who are just born great. That's not me.

Only this time, I went head on with these thoughts. Instead of distracting myself or ignoring these thoughts, I challenged every single one. I thought about who I was and what I had done. Instead of dwelling on my shortcomings, I embraced my successes. I began to control my thoughts I refused to think poorly of myself. I refused to have negative self talk. I refused to settle for mediocrity. I would see myself standing on the podium and felt the feeling of nervousness, and pressure. I let it wash over me. I allowed myself to embrace the idea of being the best at something.

Cardio became a sacred time. I would let my thoughts be free and when they began to go down the path of self doubt, like a good friend, I would guide them off that path. I would say to myself, "my name is Jennifer Millican, and I am an IPF World Champion". I felt nervous even saying it in my mind. But I just kept at it. I kept guiding myself into believing that I was capable of greatness.

I was driving. Again, feeling overwhelmed with pressure and nervousness to win. Then, I did something that seemed so silly. It felt so uncomfortable and took a few tries. But eventually, I said it out loud. At first quiet, and mouse like. By the time I reached my destination, I was saying in a commanding, stern tone, "MY NAME IS JENNIFER MILLICAN AND I AM AN IPF WORLD CHAMPION". It was in this moment that I became friends with the monster of self belief.

I went on to IPF Worlds. And I did it. I won. I won my weight class. I took the world record squat and world record total. I won best overall female lifter. I believed that I could be great. I became friends with my greatest monster, myself. I revealed who I buried in the 6th grade. I've never felt more humbled in my life.

There are ebbs and flows in life. That was a definite high. I often feel sad it's over. That type of self discovery is immeasurable. Though, I'm positive there are plenty of challenges ahead and while at times I feel as though I have conquered all my monsters, I have no doubt there are still more lingering in the darkness. I say, bring it on.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

#3strengthsports and what it means to me

Let’s just say when it comes to social media, I am a bit behind the curve. My son, Wes, actually created my Myspace page back in the day and helped me learn how to use it. I got Facebook many years later and it’s probably only been the last couple of years that I have an Instagram account and now have one for the gym and the gym dogs. I have had to have help from Cory Jean, Jenn and Missy to figure out how it works. I have only in the last year started using hashtags. I only bring this up to explain the title and take you along a little ride where 3 strength sports came to be. Now, I use the hashtags to get like minded people to see our videos and to promote the gym. From there, I have no clue and I’m really ok with that. But first, a rewind…let me take you back to how this came to be and hopefully, it illustrates the pathway and how my mind works and how my goals were set.

When I was a kid, you would see bodybuilding and then powerlifting on TV. It’s how I learned who Larry Pacifico and Kaz was. I remember seeing them on TV in powerlifting and then Larry commentating and Kaz on WSM. My Dad always enjoy watching Alekseyev in weightlifting so, my influence was very broad. Music was the same and I’ve always liked having that broad base to draw from. Growing up, with music, my Dad loved Hee Haw and that was where I learned about country music. It was years later, I was on tour with a band and got to do a show and meet Buck Owens.  On mornings I wasn’t in school, Don Ho had a tv show. I can’t recall the theme or what time or even what it was called but, I saw him sing Tiny Bubbles on tv. Years later, I played the Don Ho theater and got to see him sing it live.  My Mom was a big American Band stand fan and so was I It is where I got to see and hear all the new and current pop bands. I always love Soul Train and it hurt my soul when Don Cornelius passed. TO me, he was so cool and I was very influenced by R&B and the such. This gives you a picture of how broad-based music was for me and that just scratches the surface. I tell you this to help you understand my though processes and how I operate. I pull from as many sources I can learn from and find influence and inspiration.

As a kid, I was always amazed by size and strength and has influenced me to be as big and as strong as I can be. The nick names have been earned through out the years. Seeing bodybuilding, powerliflting, weightlifting and strongman made me always want to try it. I spent most of my early years and early adult life pursuing my music career and I was very lucky to travel, create and record music and be published. The passion I had for music eventually went back to strength and I found powerlifting again. It’s always been my home for strength and the back bone of what I currently do. That said, I have always been interested in and have trained the Olympic lifts and dabbled in strongman. I made up my mind that I would eventually compete in both sports. Many years ago, Wes and I drove to West TN and did a strongman practice. Back in those days, no one had implements. You would have to drive somewhere to a gym or competitor that owned them and they were very hard to come by. I remember Willie Wessells trying to convince me that the log clean and press was like the weightlifting he had seen me do…I was a fish out of water. Hand over had I was seemingly good at but, I am terrible now. I did some medley work and even flipped a car. It wasn’t long after a pal of mine Hunter Allen had some implements and we’d train locally when I could. I finally competed, I believe, in 2004 at the Music City strongman. Wes and I competed in the amateur division. I can’t recall how many competitors there were but, Wes placed 4th overall in the heavy weights as they combined teens, masters and open amateurs. I was lucky enough to win. This is also where I met Clint Darden who tried to convince me to pursue the sport at the pro level. Powerlifting was home for me but, this put the thought in my head that when I achieved my goals in powerlifting, I wanted to come back and try it again.

I eventually achieved what I set out to do in powerlifting I had broken the 1,000 lb barrier int eh squat, benched 700 and deadlifted 700 and totaled 2,400. While I am likely never to be done powerlifting, I set out to achieve some new goals. In 2012 I competed in my first 2 weightlifting meets. I honestly can’t recall what I lifted but, I enjoyed it and thought I eventually get around to trying to do a national meet. When Missy and I decided that she liked me, we would do training dates. She wanted to do weightlifting as well so, we’d train together and eventually, she did her first meet in 2014. We both did 3 meets together in 2015. I was able to win gold at nationals, silver at Pan-Ams and Gold at the World cup. I considered that job completed and went back to training powerlifting full time.

My first ever online training client, Thad Forehand, hired me to coach him in powerlifting. We had a string of successful meets with his last 2 meets going 9-9 and I was excited to see what would happen next as he had made great progress and that’s when he said, I wanna go back to strongman…in so many words. So, he kept me on as coach and we have had a long and successful run. In 2016, he competed in Louisville at the USS masters strongman nationals. So, Missy and I drove up and spent the weekend and watched and coached and I was like, hey, I could do this…Missy did as well. So, the following year I drove out to Clayton, NC where Thad and I competed together and both qualified for nationals in Detroit. I started training for nationals December and trained hard and was ready…about 2 weeks out, after training 6 months, we got the notice that Jenn’s start time had changed for her powerlifting meet…see, she was competing in the IPF worlds and that meet took place in Belarus. Let’s just say getting there and back again is harder than it might seem. The time change meant I couldn’t leave on Thursday after she competed and would have to leave the next morning. Longer story short, it meant I wouldn’t be able to compete as I couldn’t be there during the scheduled weigh in times. So, after Jenn won worlds, I flew back, which was a crazy trip from Belarus to Warsaw, where I was delayed and then to Chicago where it flew off the rails and they changed my gate as I got the one I was told where it was and ran back and missed the flight by 2 minutes. They were going to put me in a hotel and could fly me out at about 10:30 am the next day…so, I spent the night in the airport, flew out on another airline the next morning at 5 and Thad’s lovely wife Lisa, scooped me up in Detroit and I got to coach Thad and Missy that day. while it was a disappointment not to get to compete, I’d trade that 100 times over to get to coach and watch Jenn when her first IPF world title. It was a lot of training and I needed an outlet so, I competed in a USAPL qualifier and finished the year competing at Classic nationals later that year.

Earlier this year, Missy and I traveled to Kentucky and competed in Lee Woody’s contest to qualify for nationals again. Missy killed it and I struggled but, managed to qualify which, that was really the only goal. I was undertrained and not really prepared. For me, life is pretty busy these days and I’m blessed and grateful for it. It leaves the tank a little empty and motivation not where it needs to be to train and be fully prepared. Getting ready for nationals was no different. When I competed at USAPL nationals, I figured I had done it and checked it off the list. I was wrong. I got notified that I had earned an alternate spot on the M2 world team and trained as if I was lifting until I was released. Prep for strongman nationals was medium to say the least. But, I worked at it. Events were to be circus dumbbell clean and press for reps, car deadlift, medley of tire flip and sled drag, arm over arm with a panel truck weighted and stones.

Briefly, I have owned a circus dumbbell for some time but, would only occasionally get it out and press it. We got Missy one as well. I got to where I could do a rep with the contest weight of 140 and thought, well, at least I won’t zero the event and can score a point. Car deadlift I felt decent about. I do a lot of block pulls for training and we have a pal, Bull at Jut Be Fit, that has the implement. I thought I might be a threat for a win in this event. I have tired and sleds and trained but, I wasn’t sure how that event would go. I’m a big boy and honestly, did not put in enough time training cardio or moving events. Hand over hand is tough as we need help to do it and my drive way is not conducive. We’ve done it a few times with our vehicles but, this was one I just didn’t want to zero. And stones would finish up and I hate stones. I am terrible at them. So, that meant, I rarely trained them….most times, Saturday is when I can train them and I have a crew that trains in the morning and by the time I’m done at that time of the week, I am cooked. I did train the event but, not near enough to even b e a threat. I was hoping not to zero. Call it ego, call it whatever you like but, I have always felt like getting a national title in strongman, even if at 50+, would be quite the feather in my cap. Hence, 3 strength sports. I want the folks that choose me to coach them and handle them feel like I have the experience and that I know what I’m doing and all the things that go along with that. And to be honest, I want to win and see how I match up.

So, it is finally contest day but wait, another rewind. Missy and I plan our trip way in advance.  We are going to fly out at 2 pom and get there even before Thad and Lisa and we will eat and be merry. That morning, lots of bad storms and we thought we’d be delayed. Eventually, we were but only by 30 minutes. We get the call to board, we get seated and locked in and about the time I get buckled in, we are called to get off the plane. We are being delayed due to bad weather in New York. Long story short, it’s about 10:30 when we land, not 7:30. We take a shuttle to another shuttle to get us to a car rental and then drive from LaGuardia to White Plains and it’s midnight by the time we get checked in and thank God for late hour pizza places. Those are the things that can derail you and Missy and I seemed to take it in stride so back to finally it’s contest day and as per usual, I am ill as a hornet. I don’t know why it is. Most meet days, I no longer want to do it. I have trained, and I’m tired and I’m old and all the reasons and the anxiety of getting to the meet site and so forth makes me, say, pretty grumpy. Once I get into the flow of warming up, I’m good but, up until that point not so much. That morning was no exception. Once we get there, Thad, Missy and I go our separate ways and find our stations. I only see them occasionally during the day. There are 391 athletes and then probably 100+ staff so, it’s crowded and hectic and busy. I met my competitors Mike and Mel and as per usual in the strength world, by the time we’ve sat there for 5 minutes, we’re pals and in short, cheer each other along and encourage and push each other.

Event 1 was circus dumbbell clean and press. Our contest weight was 140 lbs. Initially, it was to be a 2” handle which is what my dumbbell in the gym was. That worked out well as I already owned it. The rules were clean with two hands, steady it, press with one hand, show control and get the down command and then you couldn’t drop it, you had to control it down, touch the ground with it and then go back up. When we got there it was a 3” handle and that was a mess for all 3 of us. It’s just how it goes in strongman. Sometimes changes occur and they are unannounced and you have to adjust on the fly. Mike and Mel struggled with this and couldn’t get a rep and that worked out well for me. I only needed one rep. It was awkward in warm ups and I did the empty dumbbell a few times, then 120 a couple of times to get the feel. I did manage the rep I needed to win the event and stopped there. There was no need in more. That put me ahead 3-0-0 and that would prove the difference on this day.

Event 2 was the car deadlift. The pick height was 14” with the bar in front and not the side. We trained with the implement twice during the cycle so, I felt I could get reps at the contest. I had pulled Missy’s Xterra motor end loaded for reps so I was feeling confident. I have no idea what the weight was as we had a car. I did 2 reps to warm beltless and felt great. Mike pulled 6 reps, Mel 9…so, I needed 10. They gave me a count and once I reached 10, I stopped and took the points. It was 6-2-1.

Event 3 was tire flip and sled drag. I had really trained the flip and felt confident. I had dragged the sled on our gravel driveway with several hundred pounds but, this is strongman and things happen. Mike and Mel finished the event so I knew I would have to have a good time to win. The initial flip was great and when I went for the 2nd, my hands slipped completely and I injured my hand. I just got a bad flip and had a smooth area. I managed to flip it and then the 3rd flip went well and then again, bad grip area and I had to grip from the side to get any grip. I had to stand it up and then run to the sled. I knew at this point I couldn’t beat the times from the guys so I stopped and conserved energy. We got the announcement that we had to complete the tire flip portion to not zero so, once that was secure, I took the point and moved on. Now it was 7 me, Mel 5 and Mike 2. I new this could get tight as I am terrible at hand over hand.

Event 4 was hand over hand. This was to be a 2” rope and turned out to be 3”. At this point, my right hand is throbbing and I’m concerned. Mike almost finished the pull, then Mel did finish but, I knew the y had worked really hard and that it might play in my favor. When I stated the event and I wasn’t going nearly as fast, I stopped to give my hand a break and hopefully recover for stones. It proved to play out in my favor. Score was me 8, Mel 8 and Mike 4. I knew I had 2nd but, could I pull the win off.

Last and event 5 was the stones. I am not a fan. Tacky and clothes covered in tacky and ultimately, I’m not very good at them. We were reportedly going to start with a 250 so I knew I could load that but, as things happen in strongman, they changed the weights. So, we started with a 275. Mike went first and loaded the 1st and 2nd which I believe was a 300. Mel is tall, so I figured he’d load the 275 quickly and we would see what he had left for the 300. As I stated previously, Mel worked really hard to finish the 2 prior events. He could pick up the stone but simply couldn’t get it over the lip to finish the load and got a zero. I was shocked. So, that meant, if I could load the 275, I would win. Now, let me say, the biggest stone I have loaded in 2 years doing this has been a 250 because I won one and can’t seem to load the 300. I was less than confident, and the stones were covered in tacky and while that may seem like a good thing, it can make the stone slick, so to speak. When I was given the start command, I couldn’t grip the stone, I had to move it around and missed picking it up twice. The stone didn’t feel heavy I just couldn’t get a grip. I gave it a slight spin and boom, grip and I pulled it up to lap it. I took my time after watching Mel not being able to get it over the lip and knew I had to have it rolled in high and tight. Once I got it where I felt good about it, I shot my hips forward as I stood up and loaded it easily and walked away. My first strongman national title. I am not ashamed to say that I waited till my 50’s to get there.

Me, Missy and Thad represented Team Ogre well. I was a proud coach. Missy fought through injury to finish and still had a chance all the way through and really, that’s all you can ask for. She showed grit fighting through frustration and disappointment and simply gutted it out with an injury she will have to overcome as she gets ready for women’s worlds. Thad didn’t place as well as hoped but, had a great training cycle. We had to overcome some tweaks and injuries and he did just that. NO zeros on any events, which was a huge goal and walked out of there with no injuries and once you are a master aged athlete, you understand how big of a deal that is. I couldn’t be prouder of them.
We spent the rest of our time sightseeing, something I never do and Thad and I got to catch up on some bourbon sampling. It is always good to hang out with him and his wife Lisa and got to visit with Kemal and his great kids. Saw lots of old pals and made some new ones. And in this sport at this point in my life, I couldn’t ask for more.

What’s next? Where do I go from here? I’d like to get in a single ply shirt and try USAPL bench nationals. October is Class nationals and this year, I will forgo competing and coach. From there, I am exploring what’s out there. I have spent a lot of time while writing this, talking to people I know in the Highland Games arena. Now, I don’t think I scan simply get a few implements and go win another title but, my goals are to try, to push myself as an athlete even though I’m old and to be an example to our team and our gym. If I can, anyone can. To show the team that the coach is always trying to expand horizons, learn and practice what I preach. I want to be as strong as I can for as long as I can. I want to prove that whatever limitations I may face now that I’m over 50, that I can still push the boundaries and I can still try new things and learn. This makes me a better coach and more, a good example. Will it ever be #4strengthsports? Time will tell but, I am looking into it, looking into events for next year’s strongman nationals and should train in a bench shirt this weekend. For today, I have won a national contest in 3 strength sports and so for now, I’m going to enjoy that. Something I couldn’t always do, simply enjoy the work and the results, come what may. Let me also say that this doesn't make me special or any kind of badass. I could have just as easily not been able to finish. I am truly blessed and also very lucky. But, just for the moment, for me, this one was special. 

Thanks for indulging me and reading this. I’m sure it’s not near as riveting for you as it was for me writing it but, I hope it gives you perspective into the mindset of someone that does this sort of stuff. I don’t want to, I need to. Thanks to all the team online and home for watching out for one another and keeping things going. I couldn’t do this without the help and support and more, thanks for believing in me both as an athlete and more, as a coach and believing in the things taught. It truly is what helps keep me going, especially on those days I don’t want to move, let alone train. I am truly humbled and forever grateful. 

So, until the next time I do this, Lift Heavy, Train Smart & Eat More PIZZA!!!!

#theogrecompound #teamogre #3strengthsports

Monday, June 25, 2018

2018 IPF Classic Worlds-The Coach's Perspective

The last few years for Jenn and I have been a whirlwind. Some incredible meet results, world travel and pizza in about each location consumed with beer. We seem to learn something each meet and training cycle and work to hone our skills along with Aaron Thomas. It’s a really interesting dynamic that works very well. It’s exceptionally cool for me as I have known Aaron since he and Wes played football together seemingly a life time ago.  There is much communication and questions and every time I start a list for the next meet, there is many notes with many times, a lot of white out and marks along the way. That said, it has worked and has produced many great results.
However, before we get to this meet in Calgary, 2018 IPF Classic Worlds, it’s best to rewind a bit. There has been back and forth with Jenn about staying 57 or moving up to 63. It’s gone back and forth, been discussed, discussed some more and about every time I think we’ve decided, we’re back and forth again. Long story short, she decided to do 57 at nationals…again, I’m going to rewind some more. All the meets I have been part of with Jenn have been great meets. She continues to learn, as we all do, and she continues to improve. I’ve written about it before. Women’s pro/am, wins class, best lifter. On to 2016 USA powerlifting nationals, Atlanta. Wins her class, which I fully expected. Then goes on to win best lifter! I didn’t expect that. It’s not an issue of doubt, it’s just that’s so much to ask. It’s really hard and there were amazing lifters yet, there Shorty went and won it all, again. We go to the Arnold, very confident and we both didn’t follow through but, she gets 2nd, and we knew where we made mistakes and trust me, we talked about it for seemingly ever to make sure we didn’t make those mistakes again. The Belarus at worlds. I was very confident. Again, I expected she would win, planned for her win, was there for almost every session along the way. I knew she could and would win her class and then there she went again, best lifter. The build up here is it is a career year. Yeah, coulda woulda shoulda at the Arnold…all those ladies there were badasses and so every meet, you must be 100% on point and we weren’t. But, everything else was lined up and executed and winning the meet overall happened as well. It’s really impossible to ask for more.
I should also add, Jenn asked me about my no bullshit thoughts on her staying 57 or going 63. Now, keep in mind, after Belarus was done, she wanted to go 63…I can’t speak for Aaron but, I thought the turnaround was too quick given she was going to gone and out of the gym so much. I didn’t think it was a good idea. So, when she asked me, I told her, it was up to her but, my opinion, was to stay 57 and become iconic. Yes, I think the 57’s are loaded and there is much up and coming talent but, I still feel that Jenn is the best 57 in the world and if she’s on, no one can beat her. I feel like she’s proven that and that it’s not a glitch or fluke or a first time lucky shot. If the results from this meet don’t prove it, nothing will. Of course, in true Jenn fashion she questioned everything I said in the statement. It’s just the way it is for her and I. Now, I will admit, it’s easy for me to say that. I don’t have to lift her weights and more, I don’t have to make that stupid weight cut. At this point, and you’ll read, you can see why I’ve let up on my original statement and feel 63 is time. I stand by my original statement but, if this is what she wants and given what the cut takes out of her, I’m for it and will do my part. Also, this is where she and I are once again very alike. I got to the point where I had won some meets, hit some records but knew, if I wanted to achieve my goals, I needed to move up a class. I felt like I had something to prove and wanted to see where the added weight took me. I had made cuts to make 308, nothing dramatic but, I wanted to just train, eat and see what the lifts turned into. The rest is history. I completely understand the need and want to move up. This year, the timing just seems a little better…at least I feel better about it…
Going into the 2018 world season if you will, was filled with expectations. And now here is the catch. Expectations are necessary. They are needed to create, note I use the world create, to create goals and set up training cycles and to get everyone’s mind wrapped around what is to come and what we must do to make those expected results. Back to the catch, expectations are the seeds to frustration as well. Now don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean I expected less or I’m already making excuses. That’s hardly the case. Jenn and I always talk numbers initially and then put them away for a bit and then they crank up as we get closer to the meet. Last years nationals, this year’s Arnold and worlds were no exception. This builds up to what we’ve faced the last 5 months. I am the conservative one, Aaron is the scary one and Jenn leans towards scary. It’s not fear it’s just always my approach. I’m looking at sure things and they are much broader minded than I.
Jennifer is someone that loves this sport and more, more than competing, loves to prepare and this is why she is a world champion. It’s not just showing up to train every day and being consistent. It’s eating right doing the walking and cardio to manage pain, weight and everything else. The studying and hundreds of chats each cycle going over things, asking my opinion and then busting my chops challenging everything I say. See, no matter what, regardless of past results, we are pushing, and we have to prove it day in and day out. But, this is the mindset and formula of a world champion. I came up with a saying for her, to be all time you have to be all time all of the time. Sounds cool…yeah, but, it’s hard to live with expectation and while she flew under the radar of her career best year…this time, you could and everyone else could, see her coming and, expectations were high.
At last year’s nationals, Jenn made the decision to go 57. There was talk about how to go to worlds as a 63 so, the plan was set. Jenn goes over this a bit in her blog so, I’ll move on here. Now, she will disagree with me but, I feel like the weight cuts are starting to have a negative effect. Here is why I say this. Jenn has been training at our gym now for a bit over 4 years. She’s always been a 123 or 57 depending on where she lifted save for the one time she and AT decided it was a great idea to cut to 114, one of the many reasons why I drink but, that’s a story for another time…anyway, she’s been a 123/125 lifter her entire time here. I have witnessed in that time how her body has changed. She is much denser now and heavily muscled. She was in great shape when she arrived here but now, she’s even more so. It makes it more difficult to cut as now she must lose muscle to get to the weight class.  In her time here, she is always training and prepping for a meet and that always culminates with a cut. And sometimes, the cut is long and each time it becomes a bit more arduous. It is not just hey, cut a few things out of the food plan and do a water cut and we’re all good it’s quite the process and it has to be wearing. In fact, it is. SO, finally, at nationals. I see the effect. You can see it in her eyes and in her size, or lack thereof. It’s not a bad meet but, I notice then she has a bit of a struggle with her last squat. Like the low end strength is having a hard time revealing itself. The end results isn’t a bad one. She goes 8-9 and has a new American record pull. She easily wins her class but, is knocked out of best lifter by a few 100th’s. 2nd overall, not bad but, certainly not like the year before.
For the Arnold, Jenn had decided to lift as a 63. It’s a risk…she likes risk…me, not so much. But, she is going 63 and then finds out that she can go to worlds only as a 57 so, starts a little bit of a cut, to get to 60 which makes her wilkes score drop. She and many others can explain it much better than I can but yes, 3 kg has a huge impact on your score. The meet is pretty good. Not quite the planned numbers but, an 8-9 day and I called for a 200kg pull to finish in the money,  in any other meet, I would have called 195 and she would have pulled that. Now, back up a little. Just prior to the Arnold, say 4 weeks, Jenn comes in and has a mark on her face. Not like she got hit but, like a little rash or spot, I dunno but, it’s there. She has written about her Shingles episodes. The thing is, this has likely been underlying for some time. Long story short, this really takes it out of her and starts the journey of dealing with this challenge. The long and short of it is, this is something she had been dealing with since early February, if not longer.
The training cycle for worlds was difficult. As she wrote, one deadlift sessions, she missed a pull and simply packed up and left. I figured she was just pissed but, she never just packs and leave. I’ve seen her cry, I’ve seen her get mad and struggle and we’ve even had arguments but, she never packs up and leaves. I get a message from her I’d say roughly 2 pm later that day. She is apologizing for leaving and tells me she just woke up….that’s when I knew this was a bigger issue then just a skin irritation and feeling a little played out. The problem is, these things take time to get over and get back to 100% and this cycle, her body was not going to cooperate.  She gets passed the initial Shingles then almost immediately a cold and then Shingles are back. All this is going on while she is training to defend her title and it’s not going according to plan. Basically, this lingers until 3-4 weeks out. Jenn, not unlike myself, feels like when you are better, you feel better and ready to be 100%. I can certainly appreciate and operate in the same manner but, it just isn’t going that way. Many times it seemed she felt good enough but, the body wasn’t responding. Plain and simple, she was sicker than any of us knew and simply, were willing to accept. The picture I’m painting here is Jenn was never fully well the entire training cycle. She fought through and while she had big expectations, they were adjusted to what we thought were realistic numbers.
I was an alternate on the master’s world team and decided I’d go up as if I was lifting. I wanted to see Beau Moore kill all the world records, see everyone and do some scouting. I knew I’d be meeting Aplyft and Aaron earlier in the week and it gave me some time to catch up on rest, programming and be prepared for the scouting and meetings I wanted to do. Jenn arrived Tuesday night and she was like 11 lbs. over. When she told me I played it off but, in my head I was like WTF!? If you’ve read Jenn’s meet recap, you see how the cut went and Jenn made weight. Conversation’s with Aaron and I planned on what to expect and we both knew that we could be rolling the dice with what was to come. The long training cycle and issues had taken a toll both mentally and physically, now the weight cut, which was completely different than the previous year. This could be a dog fight.
And, we called it right…
Squat warm ups were going along and 2nd to last I believe, both SiouxZ and I feel like Jenn is cutting depth. It’s not bad but, I have watched judging for a week and they are calling it tough. I saw what I thought was good lifts in the pocket get turned down. SO, I knew we would have to be on point. I told her I needed a bit more depth. She does her last warm up…it doesn’t look great. Keep in mind, we have a gold standard. Jenn is the current world record holder so we expect that everything is going to be pristine but, it is not. It’s all good and I’m my reassuring coach self and say, we’re good, you’re good. Opener comes and Matt Gary and I look at each other and think, this may get reds from the side It’s just not the convincing depth we are accustomed to.  She gets it 2-1 and she’s in and the battle and the day to come, it begins. 2nd attempt, Jenn comes out, pick is not great and she labors to get in position. Just when I think she is going to get the squat command, she reracks it and sets back up. Time is short, we are both confident she’s fine. She has a decent pick, sets up, gets the squat command buzzer goes off and Jenn hears from somewhere, “time” and she racks it…we were completely caught off-guard. It’s not something I ever thought to talk about, none of us did. That falls on me. Only ever listen to the head judge. It was very confusing and just like that, no 2nd attempt. Jenn is in back, we’ve already called to repeat and she is apologizing. She is running through the events and I simply say, only ever listen to the head judge. Now, it’s done, focus on the next attempt. Get it and we’re good, you’re good. It’s not a mistake she will ever make again and it just goes to show you, you can prepare and think you have everything covered and that you are experienced and something will come up and bite you square in the ass. But, it’s one attempt and while precious it isn’t a breaking point. Everything is about composure and that was our focus word last year. Focus word, I didn’t have one this time. I always have one. I always have a saying…am I slipping? Am I failing Jenn? I have nothing new for her. I put that aside as she has her 3rd attempt and just like a champion does, she goes out, nice pick and best squat of the day. 170 and under what we had expected but, a lead and I’ll take that going into the bench.
Bench warm ups seem much better. Last warm up is 90kg and it looks fine. Opener of 95 is not as good as hoped and even Matt suggested 97.5. SiouxZ and I thought 100 would be more than doable. We were wrong. Jenn’s opener she touched a bit high, so I told her so as to make sure we got the right bar path and touch point. This time, she touches low and grinds and about 2/3 of the way up it stops. We repeat and it’s the same, she’s out of gas to push from the grind of the 2nd attempt. She is not happy to say the least and hurls her wraps in the back.  We are in a dog fight. That being said, she has gone 6-9 and is leading by 7.5kg going into the deadlift. She seems to hate the pull and I have always said, and, we have certainly argued about it that, deadlift is her lift. She’s the American record holder and when the bar hits the floor, she shines.
In the back, it occurs to me that I have a word for Jenn, a new focus word, thank God. Grace. In most the meets, Jenn is cruising along and hitting records and amazing lifts. It’s almost easy. Today, it’s hard, none of those things are happening and I told her, no matter what, handle yourself with grace and be graceful. In tough moments, how we choose to handle things can make or break us. And, to Jenn’s credit, this is exactly what she did. Warm ups look damn near perfect. I am excited. I knew after the last warm up, it’s over and she will repeat. Opener is 170 and bam, that’s our Jenn and we call for 180 as expected and planned and it is not what we expected and planned. I see the right knee cave in. She’s about to simply run out of gas. The length of illness and the rough training cycle and weight cut, have finally caught up. This last pull will seal it but will be a tough get. Now, we are playing the game to see if we can get the lifter from Ecuador to show her hand. She’s lighter than Jenn and has had a great day. Noone is surprised as she was a bronze medalist the year before.  So, a tied total means the gold would be snatched away from Jenn. I honestly felt like the 180 did it but, another 5 kgs would do the trick. So Matt and I called for 190, let’s see if they selected enough to tie and win. We were going to hold that until close and then change to 185. Jenn at this point is done and even comes up to us, and she never does this, and says just do enough to win…we assured her that we were and once she went to the back, Matt and I chuckled. I knew she would have to have all she could muster to get this. Now, you know Jenn pulls this and wins but, something I had said to Jenn after Belarus was, the hardest things to do once was to do it twice. Being all time does require you to be all time all of the time. But, sometimes the pressure of being the best, the expectation of it all, the tough training cycle while being ill and a crazy weight cut, it catches you and you have to give what you have. You have to give 100% of what you have to give that day. Jenn was well under 100% but, gave every ounce and shred of energy she had in that moment. It was a hard fought lift, it was a hard fought meet and nothing came easy. In her toughest moment when she wasn’t her best, she was still the best and handled herself with grace and composure.
Moments like this are defining. Belarus seems magical now. It was the first one, it all seemed to go as planned even though there were issues and obstacles.  Training went well, prep went well and our plan worked perfectly. Calgary was basically the opposite. Typing this and reading it, I am as tense as I can be. As a coach, this was the toughest yet likely the best coaching job and team job and lifting job we’ve done. See, what is defining was not all the issues, not the illnesses and the weight cut and all the things that didn’t cooperate. In spite of all these things, in a moment that seemed dire, composure and grace come through. What is defining is with all that, you come through the other side having given your best and staying the course and showing the heart of a champion. Jenn embraced the grind and the fight and managed to still come out on top. This was a win that was super sweet. Despite everything that happened and went wrong, it’s what went right and was fought through that decided the day. 
We all went to the back and Jenn is getting congratulated by all the lifters and coaches. I shake a few hands and go to the back and sit. I am spent and emotionally, I’m done. I am an emotional coach. I am not Tom Landry on the side lines who is stoic and everything is water off a ducks back. IN these 2 IPF world meets, I have done my best to be the example of being composed and cool as ice. I’d like to think I have done that until the meet was won and then I can let go a little. Tears flow. It’s done and she wins for the 2nd time. It is truly harder to do it twice than to do it once. This is one that will be talked about for years to come. It’s quite rewarding to work with people who you share a passion with. The Gary’s Matt and SiouxZ are a delight to work with and Matt and I seem like old kindred spirits. It’s just automatic with us. Aaron and I have such a neat history and he is clearly one of the brightest people I know. Not only is it great coaching with him, he and I enjoy talking training and strategy. It’s just a big positive thing and a positive team. It’s a great joy to me to see it all work so well together regardless of the circumstances.
Jenn and I, once medals were done, took off and had what I hope is a traditional meal of pizza and beer save, this year we added wings. We talked about many things and simply enjoyed the moment and company. These are things I cherish. I couldn’t be more proud and more excited. Every time we all learn something and it helps to make us better.
What’s next? It looks like Jenn will make her foray into the 63’s and that will be no joke. That class is stacked with great lifters and the challenge will be great. All I can say is stay tuned. I can promise that we all will do our very best to put Jenn in the best position possible to as successful as she can. We know Jenn will work as hard as possible and prepare. You can count on expectations being high .I can’t wait to see what happens next!
I would be remiss if I didn't thank some people. On my end, Missy ran the gym in my absence and got alot of help from the entire gym family. Grant is here over the most of the summer and stepped up as well. We've had team mates like Jr...Wes Garner, come in early to make sure Missy had a hand off and spots, etc. So, to all of my home team at the Ogre Compound, thanks so much. I couldn't do this without your help and support. Equally, the support I got from Team Ogre online is amazing. I truly appreciate your trust and belief in what we do. To all of the Super Human Radio folks that bought one of my gym t's to help fund this, you helped make this possible. For Jenn, I'm not speaking for her but, in admiration, her husband Michael knocks it out of the park. He is so selfless with all the support and making things happen. I truly admire him. I know the kids missed Jenn and I love those kids to pieces. Jenn's family is so very supportive and I enjoy being with them and amongst them any time that I can. truly, it takes a village. And for any of you that read this that I got to share bourbon with this trip, I hope you enjoyed it and it inspires you to do so again.
onward and upward from here.
Until next time, lift heavy, train smart & eat more pizza