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

Saturday, June 23, 2018

2018 IPF Worlds Meet Recap

I just want it to be over.
These were my thoughts going into this meet. It's negative. And ungrateful. And exactly how I felt.

I knew after Worlds last year, there would never, in the history of Jennifer Millican be another meet like 2017 IPF Worlds in Minsk, Belarus. In 2017, I faced some adversity, challengers, and I stepped up. In 2017, I set world records, I went 8/9, I won the weight class and I walked away as best overall lifter in my first international competition. Not to reminisce too much, but I hope I never forget how I felt that day.

Expectations are a bitch. They are the most necessary double edged sword that I am currently aware of. In some instances, setting and/or having expectations is 100% appropriate. In others, they get in the way. The most difficult part of expectations is that they are made up. Legit. Just made up by our own minds, by society, by a subculture you identify with, by your co-workers, your family, whoever or whatever. Personally, I work hard at managing my own expectations, I work hard to make clear my expectations to my children, to my clients at work, to my husband. So much energy spent around expectations.

A long time ago, in a land far far away, I went to college. I studied organizational communications. Essentially, I majored in expectations. I learned then the importance of expectations and the influence they can have over your own satisfaction, the roles they play in negotiation tactics, how important it is to understand them when providing a service or product to another person. I believe, where I have stumbled in the past has been one of two "expectation management" flaws.

One, is that I never voiced my expectations to a soul other than myself, believing somehow, that life would happen just as I had played it out in my mind over and over again. The other, is that I was almost never prepared for more than one scenario (see previous sentence). In college, I did learn those skills. I learned the importance of communicating your expectations BEFORE an event actually takes place. Communicate them with anyone involved. When I take my children to the grocery: "In the grocery store, it is my expectation that you will stay with me, ask my permission before putting something in the cart, and to be patient with me while in the pickle isle." While I believe this is helpful, it's certainly not fool proof. I've had many a melt downs in the pickle isle.

The other flaw: not preparing for all the scenarios. I've been told I'm arrogant. Maybe so. But probably, just mismanaged expectations. It's one thing to set the expectations, it's another to communicate them (and adjust them when someone you communicated them to shits all over them and you have to start over) but it's another level to be prepared for the expectations to hit the fan (the shit fan). While I believe that I set my own expectations within reason for 2018 IPF Worlds, I also believe, that I was prepared for them to hit the shit fan.

I'm going to take a few step back here. After 2017 Nationals, I took a risk and decided to go up to the 63's with the hopes of competing at Worlds as a 63. This hinged on all the females offered a spot on the team accepting. I won't bore you with the details, but not everyone accepted, which meant that I had to compete as a 57 at Worlds. Which was fine, because I knew the risk ahead of time, and another person who is fantastic at managing expectations, USA National Team Head Coach, laid it all out for me the moment I finished my last lift at Nationals.

Nevertheless, training up a weight class for the months I was able to was great. We took it slow after Nationals to let some things heal and to ensure we built some momentum. Quite honestly, it was one of the most enjoyable training cycles I've had. I was crushing everything, hitting pr's and enjoying life. Until about 5-6 weeks out from The Arnold. I start feeling weak and very low on energy. I push through and keep waiting for the turn around. One session, I failed a deadlift and I was done. Meaning, my body was done. I left the gym. I DON'T LEAVE THE GYM. I always finish. But I went home. I went home and slept for several hours. This was the beginning of a long road ahead.

I competed at The Arnold after a shingles diagnosis and round of anti-virals and managed a 472.5kg total. I went 8/9 and did well all things considered. After coming home, I continue my way back down to the 57's in body weight. Shingles come back. Another round of meds. Keep training. Get sick again, not shingles, but a cold. I take the week off because time is on my side. Go back to training, squat, tweak my glute. Take another week off. Get back to training. Feels like shit. Feel the shingles coming on again before heading out of town for my brother in law's wedding. Keep them at bay with yet another round of anti-virals until I return home. They return again as soon as I finish the meds. Go to a new doctor. Doc says it's not shingles, it's a bacteria infection. Take some tests, take some meds, this time antibiotics, start feeling slightly better but not great. Test results come back. Test positive for shingles but not an acute flare up, bacteria infection comes back inconclusive. WTF?? Seriously.

Training. Going ok, not great, but barely hanging on to my numbers. Except deadlift. Fuck that lift. Body weight is the real bitch. Just not cooperating. I'm beat down. Mentally, physically, beat down. I just want it to be over. At least at this point, whatever I was fighting seems to be staying away finally. And just to top things off, at the tail end of my heavy training I somehow managed upset my rhomboid during a squat which meant I was high bar squatting for the last few weeks of training.

As a side note, my coaches were paying attention and making adjustments. We increased fat, reduced volume and really did just enough intensity to stay afloat.

I send a first draft of attempts to my coaches. They say it's conservative and to give it another week. After another week, they agree to what we all agree are conservative attempts.

Expectations. They can be tough to swallow if you're really honest with yourself. I set my meet day goals up with a minimum goal. A pass/fail grade. For Worlds, it was to win. If I could manage nothing else, I wanted to walk away with the win.

For the record, I realize that I sound like a brat with a minimum goal of winning a World Title. But please rewind to the lengthy discussion regarding expectations. At the very least, I can expect to win. I believe that I am capable of more, but as a bare minimum, I want the win. However, because of how the training has gone, how I felt, where my body weight was and where it needed to be, I truly felt that we had created a plan that would ensure a 8/9 day. Well, I was wrong.

As I start the water load, it isn't going bad but not exactly smooth either. Fast forward to flying out. While I am traveling, I keep my water intake up. Way up. I probably drank at least two gallons while flying with a another two already in the tank before I left. And flying was horrible. I am not a good traveler as is. I get motion sickness, I hate sitting on the plane, I'm the worst honestly. Plus, all the nagging annoying tweaks are making it miserable. As I am flying through the air, I am noticing that my rings are beginning to uh, not fit so well. Keep pounding water.

Finally arrive and make it to my room sometime between 1 and 2am. P.S my Uber driver was legit driving 30 mph and I was LOSING IT. Anywho. For some strange reason, I decide to weigh myself even though I was quite aware that my hands resembled tiny sausages and it's probably not gonna be a number that I can rest easy after seeing. 135lbs (that's 10lbs over for those of you that don't understand my panic) WHAT?! Seriously. WHAT?! Worst idea I've ever had.

Go to sleep. Sleep very ok. Another thing I'm not too good at while traveling. I'm worse than an infant that just discovered how much it loves it's mother and can't go to sleep because it's scared it will miss out on loving her. I wake up with less than 24 hours until weigh ins at 129 point something lbs. So I dropped some weight over night, but still not where I'm used to being at this stage of the game.

Aaron tells me 2-3 cups of coffee (thank you sweet baby Jesus) and a light breakfast and then we'll start making calls based on what my weight does. "He's not worried" (lies). Luckily (I think?), my weight did start dropping quickly and end up at weight sometime after Noon (I think?). So I was able to have another meal and little bit of water, which put me back over but not by much (57.3). Aaron wanted me at weight before I went to bed which meant a couple of rounds in a hot bath. My old friend the hot have not been missed.

I wake up under at 56.5 or something. Aaron tells me to eat a bag of chips, but honestly, I chickened out even though I was standing on the scale with the chips in my hand and was still under. This is an instance where I did not trust the process. Probably a huge mistake.

I'm still feeling like I want it to be over. Normally, I'm a little scared at this point with anticipation but also ready to execute. For the first time, since my first couple of meets, I just wanted it to be over. It was not a good feeling.

I weigh in light. 56.0andsomething. Fuck, is actually what I thought. Too light....this almost never works to my favor. I just want it to be over.

Warming up, everything felt terrible. Really terrible. I can't get tight, I feel like I'm all over the place. Wade comes to me and tells me I need to be deeper. Fuck. I just want it to be over. Last warm up was slow. I want to drop my opener, but it's too late and I said nothing anyway, somehow believing that I was just being insecure. I was right. I should have spoke up. This is a mistake I won't make again.

Opener was slow and horrible and felt off on my back. AND I got my first ever red light on a squat since I moved to the USAPL/IPF. Kind of crushed my soul but I'm in the meet. SiouxZ asked me how it felt, I said VERY OK, she agreed. I wanted to tell her to only go up 5kgs, but I didn't. They went up 7.5kgs rather than the planned 10kgs. Second attempt and I am rattled already.

Unrack, again, feels off on my back and I re-rack. I have never done that. I always, ALWAYS, just make it work. This was also probably a mistake simply because it's not something I'm accustomed to doing. So now I'm working against the clock. Lot's of voices from all over telling me how much time I have, etc. I walk it out (horribly), get the squat command, and think "welp, this feels like shit and I am not sure I am going to be able to dig this out", TIME! I hear the word TIME and think that I don't want to burn the attempt if it's not going on the board so I re-rack it. I was wrong. I thought it was a judge that yelled time but it was someone from the back. I feel horrible. I do not feel like an IPF World Champ at all. I do not feel like a world record holder. I feel like an amateur and like I'm crumbling.   

I feel quite bad in the warm up room and I'm apologizing profusely to anyone that will listen. At this point, I know that I have to have the 3rd attempt but also that my total goal is shot. Going out for the third attempt, I was able to flip the switch a bit and actually had a decent walk out. It certainly felt better than any other squat THAT DAY but also the worst 170kgs has felt in at least year. Three white lights and a slight bit of redemption.

Bench. Ok, going into bench I'm relieved that squats are over but also terrified that my bench will follow suit of not being up to par. Normally when my bench starts going to shit I can't seem to get set up right. During warm ups, my set up actually felt good, a glimmer of hope. Annnd nope. I hit 90kgs as a last warm up and it was the slowest it's been since one of the first times I ever had that weight on the bar. I hit my opener and it looked and felt like a third. Again, I wanted to suggest that we only go up 2.5kgs rather than the planned jump of 5kgs but I said nothing. I thought "I haven't missed 100kgs on the bench in over year, I'll have to dig, but surely I can make it happen". I couldn't. I missed 100kgs for a 2nd and 3rd attempt. This one broke me. On the verge of a break down, I threw my wrist wraps, and left the warm up room.

Three more attempts and I'm free. Let's get it done. Deadlifts are the easy part of a meet. I come back to the warm up room and just do my best to have a decent attitude for these last few lifts of the meet. Deadlifts have been going terrible. The worst training cycle I've had for deadlifts. The most I touched in training was 187.5kgs and it was a shit show. Just to put things into perspective, 187.5 was my 2nd attempt at The Arnold and it was butter.

Warm ups feel ok. Not terrible, which is pretty much a step up. Opener is fine. Second attempt (180kgs) moves ok, but did not feel that great. I felt my knee cave which is another thing that hasn't happened since the early early days of lifting. I go straight to the coaching staff because I know it probably looked better than it actually was. This time, I'm speaking up.

Let's just get it I say. They all turn to me and say, that's exactly what we are going to do, don't worry. But I am quite worried that they will call a 10kg jump and I don't have that regardless of what 180kgs looked like. I said, let's just get it and DO NOT be over confident in me at all. They agree.

SiouxZ comes to me and says that they all agree that I have 10kgs in me my but they only went 5kgs because that's all I need to win. Perfect, I think. Though I know I'm still gonna have to dig. While I'm waiting to take my last attempt I start to worry that I'm not going to be able to pull of a win. During meets, I never keep up with what's going on as far as placings or anything, I just focus on lifting. I broke. I asked Aaron if I was still going to win....he said yes. I asked if I had to have the last pull, he said yes. I said, I get this pull and I win, for sure? He said yes.

I go out for this pull and I know it's going to be tough. I call for some hype from the crowd and they delivered. I break it from the floor and it stalls at my knees. All I can think is to keep the bar close to me so I don't start shaking so bad that I get red lighted for downward motion. I lock it out. I know I was shaky and I've gotten turned down on deads before. THREE. WHITE. LIGHTS. It's over.

IT IS OVER and I managed to keep my title despite such a difficult day.

All I can ask of myself is to give 100% of what I have in the moment. Even though sometimes the numbers on the bar fluctuate, my effort never will.

My take aways here are that there are no surprises with Jennifer Millican. My training cycle and meet went hand in hand. For a bit, I thought I might get saved by the taper....twas not the case. I'm not sure how other coach/athletes come up with attempt selections, but I drive the bus. I draft them and get input and we lay out the plan. Come game day, I let my coaches handle it because there is already a plan in place. The mistake I made for this meet was not speaking up about how bad everything actually felt. The good news is that I won't make that mistake again.

HUGE shout out to Aaron Thomas and Wade Johnson for sticking it out with me for the entire training cycle, coming to Canada, and continuing to be proud of me even on my worst day. I would say, after a meet and training cycle like this, and still managing a gold and a third place overall finish, we have nothing to be ashamed of. We've been working together for four or so years and the best is yet to come. Of course, SiouxZ and Matt Gary being there on the weeks leading up to the meet and on game day, I can't ask for better guidance and communication.

Also huge thank you to my sponsors for all of their support not only of my own endeavors but of the sport in general, SBD, SBD USA, and Aplyft.

While this is not how I prefer to go out, that's the last time I'll be called to the platform as 57kg lifter. The party is just getting started. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

2018 Arnold Grand Prix: Old Patterns, New Expectations

As I sit down to write this, I have no profound thoughts or huge take aways from the meet. Great opening line right? I decide to read my recap from last year to see if there is any profound differences. To search for inspiration. To find a gem. Truthfully, I feel a lot of the same things I felt then.

For instance, having feelings of burnout post nationals, gaining weight, having a smooth training cycle up until a few weeks out. Literally, all of the same patterns for this year. One of the key differences in 2017 and 2018 is that I knew before Nationals I was having feelings of burnout and I had a plan on how to deal with those feelings without derailing my training. I had expectations.

After Nationals last year, because I was new to the USAPL, I knew nothing of The Arnold or the timeline or how huge of a meet it was. 2018, I know I am going to do The Arnold and know in between October and the first weekend in March is a slew of holidays and 20 glorious weeks to hang out with family and friends, to over indulge, to sleep in if I feel like it, to train hungover, to have too many get togethers, to go to too many get togethers, and honestly have fun with training and put a little less pressure myself to be "in the zone". It was lovely. No, I wasn't lazy or missing training, but I was more relaxed than I was during the training cycle for Worlds and certainly fighting this particular mindset less than I was in 2017. Expectations.

I knew before competing at Nationals that I was going to The Arnold as a 63. I debated going to Nationals as a 63 but ultimately decided I needed more time. Had everything worked like I would have liked, I would be going to Worlds as a 63, but no dice there this year. As a disclaimer, this was a bit strategic on my part as at the National level, the 63's are extremely competitive and I know I need longer than 12 weeks to make the transition. This was my attempt at making the transition without having to take a year off from competing at Worlds but it is not to be this year.

All of this to say, in 2017 I was bringing it down to the wire to make weight as a 57 and I feel as though that had a big impact on my meet day performance. This year, obviously not a factor. This year, I knew I wasn't even going to look at a nutrition plan until January. A much needed break!

A couple of other strategies at hand were taking the ramp up to heavy ass shit slow. Lots of high bar squats, took the arch out on bench, and pulled sumo with the intention of taking it all the way to the meet. I really enjoyed this and so did my body.

Fast forward to heavy training. Things are going really well. MY BENCH! My bench was finally moving and I was PUMPED. Still pumped actually. As with 2017, in 2018 about 4 weeks out I am feeling a bit fatigued but that's to be expected. One particular training session, an important one, I fail a deadlift at 192.5kgs. After that miss, I am just toast. Misses don't bother me when they are just misses. Too heavy or a slip in technique, I can handle that. On this day, I just didn't have that gear. I felt like I was hitting the gas and nothing was happening. I decide I am just not feeling well and might be sick and go home. I WENT HOME. This is not typical. I always at least finish my session one way or another but I packed it up, went home and slept for 5 hours. The following week is deload so I figure it is right on time and I will bounce back for the last block of training.

During this deload week, I feel out my conventional pull and it felt like money. So we pull the plug on sumo about 3 weeks out. The week after deload I wake up Monday after a horrible night of sleep, which has been the norm for the past several weeks and look at myself in the mirror. MY FACE. MY EYE. It is red, and swollen, and sooooo itchy. I wake my husband up to confirm that my face is looking weird and I should probably seek medical attention. After training of course.

Go into the gym, ignore my face, say nothing to no one and just get the work done. Go to a walk in clinic. She gives me a prescription for an anti-viral but doesn't actually tell me a diagnosis. She suggests that I go to an ophthalmologist to make sure it is not infecting my eye because blindness is not cool. Long story short: I could not get into the eye doc without a referral, they won't take one from the walk in clinic, schedule appointment with primary care provider to get referral, he says, YOU HAVE SHINGLES, this is a run on sentence but imagine I'm saying it quickly and in one breath, and I say, I'm sorry what?????!!!

Yes, you have shingles on your face, you need to make sure it's not in your eye as soon as possible.

Oh. Well. Maybe that's why I have been feeling so horrible and have been having no energy and have been feeling weak af. HEW. So glad I'm not just fatigued or over trained or lazy. I am relieved to get through these meds and get this out of my system and maybe I still have a fighting chance at having a decent meet.

The meds are for 7 days. I get through the training. I am sleeping better but training is still feeling hard. I am tired and still don't have that low end gear needed for lifting heavy shit. At this point in training, I am suppose to be hitting big numbers but I just don't have it. I look up the side effects of the meds and they include cold symptoms, tiredness, headache, dizziness, etc. Relieved again! So, get through these 7 days and we'll be back on track!

Day 8. Meds are done. Going to bed early. Going to sleep well. Going to crush the last two weeks of training. Nope. I don't sleep at all. My face is itching throughout the night and now I know exactly what's going on. The shingles have returned. Insert blank stare face.

Go into the gym. Tell Wade the shingles are back. Will call the doctor as soon as they are open. Text Aaron that the shingles are back and we all agree to pull back on the training yet again. Aaron also increases my calories in an effort to get past this. Second round of meds on deck. I should finish them with a week to spare. Just in time to taper!

I finish the meds and am super paranoid they are going to come back. I keep looking in the mirror. I can't tell if I'm just being paranoid or if my face just itches like a normal itch??? I get a refill on the meds just in case. Then we head out of town for the meet!

Trust the Process. I actually really had to trust the process here. This was the blindest I have ever gone into a meet in regards to third attempts. I entertained the idea of lowering my squat opener. Instead, I watched training video after training video of me hitting 165kg over and over and over. So I stick with the plan. I can hit 165kgs with shingles. I can certainly hit it without them.

At a heavier body weight, I knew my wilks was going to take a hit. I knew going in that I would have to be aggressive on 3rds and have to make them not just to win, but to even place in the top two. I was so anxious to get to warm ups so I could have an idea of where I was at strength wise.

On to warm ups. The unracks feel like trash but the weight is moving. Last warm up, I unrack it and it still feels so heavy on my back. However, it floated and I knew we were in the money. First attempt is no problem. Always such a relief to get that first attempt in. Go to the planned second attempt, 175kg, the weight I missed at Nationals for a 3rd and it moves fine. Not the fastest I've moved that weight but no real issues. I let Wade and Aaron just make the call for the 3rd. They call 180kgs. We had planned a 180-185kg range for the third. From here, I knew I needed to actually make the lift, and I was confident I would, however I also knew we had our work cut out for us to place with only 180kg going into bench. Lift is good. 3/3 on squat. Also, PR on not making any sketchy walk outs!

Bench! So pumped to bench because I am so pumped to NOT bench 100kgs. Weight cuts and random shoulder issues have had me hovering at 100kgs for what feels like a lifetime. I was so excited when I finally hit it in a meet but I was ready for more. Warm up for bench feels pretty good. I keep touching too high but know I just need to find the groove with touch point and it will be fine.

Opener, 97.5kg, touch too high, but good. Second, 102.5, touch too high AGAIN and it shows but good lift. Buh bye 100kgs! We had planned 105-107.5kg for the 3rd on bench. I don't say anything to Wade and Aaron and again let them make the call. They call 105kg and justifiably so. DAMMIT! I am so mad at myself for making 102.5 look harder than it should. I refuse to make the same mistake on the 3rd. And I didn't. 105 looked better than 102.5 and I'm pissed at myself because I know I am short 2.5 very important kilos in my subtotal.

I am not exactly sure where Jen and Marisa are as far as total or made attempts. I had done enough calculating before the meet to know at this point I might be fighting for 2nd place but it was still going to be really tough without those 2.5-5kgs from my previous 6 attempts.

Deadlift warm ups feel AHHHmazing. Opener 177.5kg floated like a delicate butterfly. I walk off the platform and Wade, Aaron and myself all know we might have something in the dead. Went to 187.5kg on the 2nd and it felt good but truthfully not quite as snappy as I would liked only because I knew I needed a HUGE 3rd to place for a cash prize. 

Wade asks me if I want to go for it on the 3rd. He says he's gonna have to be really aggressive for 2nd place. I said load it. Why not? Deads are feeling good and maybe, just maybe I can make it happen. 200kgs. The first time it's ever been loaded in front of me. I broke it off the floor and was quite surprised! Couldn't get it past my knees. 3rd place it is. I'd be lying if I said I weren't disappointed in my placing. However, I hit some solid pr's, went 8/9, and all in all had a great meet!

22.5kgs on my total from the 2017 Arnold. 472.5kg total puts me in the top 5 for the 63kg weight class. That is nothing to be mad at. Looking back, everything was much the same, but this year, we were better. MUCH better. In hindsight, I wish I would have communicated with Wade and Aaron a little better either before the meet or during the meet about taking bigger risks on the thirds to build that subtotal.

As far as weight classes go, I am making my way back to 57kg for Worlds in June. I've been having this internal debate on when/if I should go up for a long time. The debate lives on. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

A Goal Achieved

It’s 7:38 pm Saturday, February 24th. We’ve been at a meet all day where the lil hawt tamale, Melissa or Missy totaled Pro/Elite . Yay, yes, I know. It is a big deal. She’s resting now in our bedroom next to my office, watching basketball. She’s a fan, especially of Duke and I chuckle quite often as she is one of those that yells at the refs and players while she watches. It is indeed, quite entertaining. But, there is more and I want to share this with you. I coach Missy. I live and share a home with her and our 4 dogs and our team of Ogres, if you will. But, a story is not told so quickly so, I have to rewind a bit to explain.
April 13th, 2013 I was in Cincy at the Women’s pro/am. This is where I met Missy. I remember vividly the stark look she had. There was something that was just unique and I thought, that is someone I’d like to get to know. We spoke briefly and we became pals on social media and would talk and chat. As we got to know each other a little bit, she knew I coached lifters and would ask questions and just chat training, etc. She even asked me once, “if I was one of your lifters, what would you have me do?” I told her I would have her put on weight and learn to cut. That she was so lean and long that with some muscle and body weight, her leverages would be dramatically improved. Now, she was not keen on the idea, especially when I said 180-185 lbs. She was about 155 when I met her. AS time went on, we got to the point where we chatted daily and spoke on the phone often. There was clearly chemistry but, she lived in Charleston, SC and I in Mt Juliet, TN.  Later in the year, she was going to be back in Cincy interviewing for a job and it was the same weekend of the North of the Border meet and I would be judging. We agreed to spend a couple of days together and see, if this was something, was it a cool thing, could she and I be an item. The morning of December 6th, 2013 was a training day. I deadlifted that morning, jumped in my Kia with my packed bag, and headed north. I literally got 20 minutes from home, in the rain, snow was coming and I was hoping to beat it. But, at minute 21, my alternator went out. I limped to a parts store, ordered the parts, called my son Wes to pick me up, and take me home and I started my little Ranger pick up with 265,000 miles on it and drove back to my Kia, picked up my bag and off I went. It was now 11 am and had been a 3 hour turn around from the first time I tried to leave.
It takes about 3 hours to get just outside of Louisville, Ky.  Wes called and said yes, you will run into some snow but, you could beat it. I got on the bypass in Louisville and it was snowing and parking lot. I got to Louisville in 3 hours but, it would take another 6 hours to get to Cincy. I got there, Missy had ordered food, I had brought a bottle of wine, we ate and spent a couple of days together. I knew at that moment, she was something special. I knew I wanted to get to know her more and see where this would take us.
Melissa got the job and was going to move over the New Year Holiday week. I had some time off and went up to help her move in. She had emptied all the boxes by the time I got there and had returned her vehicle trailer. So, she and I, in the cold and again, awaiting snow, emptied her truck. We had a great dinner and spent the holiday together and the rest is history.
So, how does this tie in to today and her amazing feat of power? Melissa and I have shared and lived so much in our time together. She told me early on that when she and her training partner back at Low Country Strength, Shannon, that she wanted to eventually total elite. That was in 2012. I remember her training and competing the following year at the women’s pro/am and squatting and pulling 300+ and benching 135 which, she thought she’d never hit. The following month, Melissa had landed a job in Nashville, I flew up and we packed up and she came to Mt Juliet with me. Then the flowing month, as she had always wanted to try Olympic weightlifting, she competed in her first meet, totaled 100kg and qualified for master’s nationals. This had little impact initially on powerlifting. Missy and I would have training dates where we’d go to either the Sweat Shop or the Oly gym and train. October/November of that year, she got a bronze at the American masters and then a couple few weeks later, she hit an 800 total in powerlifting. She was 55 away from elite. I made a picture and framed when she moved in and hung it in the office where is still hangs showing what her goals would be for 2014 and what she needed for elite.
2015 became the year of weightlifting over powerlifting. There was great success. A bronze at nationals, a silver at Pan-ams and a bronze at the world cup.  It was later that year, she decided to come back to powerlifting. She also wanted to try her hand at strongman. 2016 she went up in weight. She finally decided that the weight would help. Competed and hit some big pr’s and then later that year, made the cut back to 165, totaled 830-fell short 25. 2017 Missy competed in 3 strongman events. Winning 2 and then getting 3rd as master’s nationals. She also went back to the weightlifting platform and hit some state records. She stayed in the 181’s and hit a big total pr and lifetime meet pr’s in all lifts. It was then she decided that training 3 sports was too much. The focus would be strongman for 2018 but, she wanted to make the cut to 165 once more and take a shot at elite as her lifts at her last meet would have been more than enough,. Sounds so simple, yes? But, it’s not easy. In the midst of training and this weight cut to 165, she would need to do a qualifier for strongman masters nationals. Training was hard. The early hours, did I mention we get up at 4 am Monday through Friday because of her job and it’s the only way she can get the training in? Missy did well and qualified easily at the strongman comp and then a few weeks to finish training. The training cycle was horrendous. Lots of struggles, lots of missed lifts and lots of frustration and tears. I was dreading the meet. I knew she would be devastated if this didn’t go well and she had even said as much. I was very excited for our team but, Melissa just struggled and even with adjustments, less volume and less weight, it seemingly got worse. There were days that both of us were so frustrated that it was just difficult to get through the day. As it always works, meet week comes. She’s easily going to make weight and then, boom, she is sick. It’s a cold but, she is sick and coughing. I spent the rest of the week preparing myself for how I was going to handle it if she missed this shot. Keep in mind, Melissa is a master’s lifter, life time drug free and turned 45 last year. We both know, with the wear and tear of training multiple strength sports, the window was narrowing and with the way the training cycle had gone and how she’d struggled in past cycles with the heart breaking oh so close results, I was worried to say the least.
And so, this morning, here we were. I got up super early, fed the dogs, and trained some light aux and coached Carolyn through her session and off we went. We drove to Murfreesboro and warm ups seemed pretty decent. I decided to have her wrap on her last 2 warm ups and hoped it would give her a boost and make the lifts easier and give her confidence. Opener was 305. We knew she had to have 330 to have a shot. 305 goes up and she’s in the meet. I was going to go conservative but, she wanted the 330. I was pretty nervous. I didn’t’ think 305 went in a manner that a 25 lb jump would be good but, she wanted it. To her credit, she dug in and hit the lift. She hadn’t been this heavy all cycle. I went to 335. I knew we’d need some extra pounds as the weight cut seemed to effect her bench the most. Again, she had to grind but, where she had failed in the past, she dug in and keep the weight where she needed it to finish the lift and earn a lifetime pr of 335. On to bench, her warm ups were fine and I was hopeful. I knew if we could at least get 150, she had a 370 pull. She always pulls well on meet day. Opener of 140 goes solid. On to 150 where she has to grind it a bit and so I call for 155. It’s our only option. She’s tired and misses the lift. In situations like this, all you can ask for is an opportunity to be successful, just a shot or a fighting chance. While not her best lifts, she had a sub-total that if she could pull 370, she’d hit pro/elite and finally hit her goal that started all the way back in 2012. She warmed up to 275 and lifted well. I was starting to believe it could happen. She opened at 315 and was solid. On to her 2nd was 345. It was slower of the floor and it would be a fight but 25 more would give her a 370 pull and the 855 total that has been so elusive. I called for 370 and she set up, loaded and the pull started and the weight did not want to move but, she would not quit and finally, the weight pulled away from the ground, grinded up the shins and then finally broken the knee where she finished the lift quickly. And there you have it. 6 years of training, 3 sports, at that moment, she had achieved her goal.
This is our story, our life. We get up early, have 4 girl dogs to take care of and our team both home and all over. These people are our family. We have traveled all over, judged meets, helped at meets and competed everywhere. Each week, we plan and try to find ways to get better and for Missy, she has to fight and earn every pound of strength. Our week and weekends are packed with activity as the gym runs with a morning and evening crew and a Saturday morning crew. I program mainly on the weekend and she runs the girls. I grill on the weekend to prep for the week and she’s doing laundry. It is truly a crazy schedule and pace of life. It’s just the way it is. We have to tag team the house hold things each day and week just to get through the days and weeks. It is now 9:38 pm. She is now, fast asleep and rest that is well earned. I am a proud coach. It is my honor to coach her. She gets up 6 days a week and leaves me laying there to get ready and once she is dressed to head down to the gym, I get up and she gets the girls fed. I have an old pal that asked me one time during a difficult time, how do you eat an elephant? A bite at a time. When you build it, it’s brick by brick and you have to show up every day. You have to show up when you don’t feel good because, the feelings don’t matter. You have to show up when you are tired because being elite means you do it when others won’t. And, she did that. She did it every day and as a coach, you have to love to prepare and I am so proud of her willingness to keep laying it on the line day in and day out. Elite is forever. I am also her ultra proud man. I have shared the moments of triumph and wiped away many tears. I know the road traveled to do this very well and the price you pay and for Missy, this road has been difficult but, all in one moment, she arrived and now, is forever, an elite level lifter. I am beaming, and everytime I see the video of her last pull and her jumping in elation, I tear up. I could just bust and love her excitement. For me, there is nothing sweeter than to see a dream achieved and a goal met. It’s even a cooler thing to see what someone once thought not only was improbable but likely impossible become a reality. You did it my lil hawt tamale, you did it!

And now, strongman…

And, the journey continues…stay tuned

And until then, Lift Heavy, Train Smart & Eat More Pizza!!!!