It’s been much longer since my last post than I’d planned. Or would like.
Anyone in the powerlifting world probably knows why.
For those who don’t swim in those particular waters, tremendous upheaval has rocked one of our federations here in the U.S., the one with which I was, until recently, affiliated. (If you’re an American powerlifter you’re almost certainly already aware of it. If you’re not, you probably have no reason to care—but if you do, here’s a quick synopsis here as well as my own commentary.)
Bottom line: I could no longer in good conscience remain affiliated with this federation, so a couple of weeks ago I resigned my positions as a state official and a National referee. Barring a complete change in ownership and management, I’ve decided not to compete under its banner again. I’ll still compete, just not in this fed.
Having to step away from the official side of the sport makes me incredibly sad. I love refereeing and helping people get involved in and succeed in powerlifting, and I will miss those things a great deal.
At the same time, I’m not ready to become an official with a different federation. I can’t tie my integrity and reputation to an organization I don’t control, whose owners I don’t know and for whom I therefore can’t vouch.
All existing federations are privately-held businesses. In my experience, whenever a small group of people stand to gain or lose from a venture, profits threaten to take precedence over principles.
Should a new model emerge for powerlifting federations in which the interests of lifters actually drive every decision the organizations make, I will enthusiastically jump back in with both feet.
Until then, I’ll evaluate the existing federations and decide whether the risk of officially representing one of them is worth the reward.
But what I really want to talk about is how this affects me as a lifter. Oddly, the impact is both modest and quite profound.
Playing the field
Cosmetically, logistically, making a federation change won’t be particularly significant, although it will mean I have to travel more to compete. I’ve competed in a total of four different feds since I started powerlifting (although most of my meets have been in two). Switching will mean changing some of my technique and the equipment I use. But I’ve done that before, and I can do it again.
For the time being, I’ll go back to playing the field, so to speak. I’ll experiment, and I’ll compete where I can, when it suits me.
The bigger issue has been the emotional toll of all of this. For a little while, I found it really difficult even to enjoy my time in the gym.
Training usually feels pure and true. This all made it feel… complicated. And contaminated.
(Re)finding my footing
When the earth shakes and starts cracking wide open under your feet, you immediately just react and scramble to find safety. Once the dust settles, though, it’s time to take stock and figure out what really roots you. (I realize I’m slightly mixing my metaphors here, but they all feel right so I don’t care.)
You need to find both the really fertile soil and the bedrock.
I’ve always said that for me, powerlifting has never really been about the competitions, but in the past that idea seemed somewhat theoretical.
Now I find it staring me right in the face, so I need to examine it and dig a little deeper.
In one sense, of course powerlifting is about the competition. It’s a sport. Those of us who participate in this sport work ourselves to the bone day in and day out, pointing all of our efforts in one direction that will crescendo, eventually, in a few minutes of performance on a platform.
Some of us prevail as the best in that particular meet, or our state, or all of our federation—and, for a very rarified few, in the entire world.
For most of us, though, a meet is simply our moment to do our very best, under pressure and the scrutiny of judges. It’s a chance to show the fruits of our labors to our friends and family, to our coach or trainer, and most of all to ourselves.
Whether we’re at the pinnacle of the sport or just an ordinary lifter (like me), the truth remains that most of us who compete spend countless hours training and working on our nutrition and our recovery.
We don’t just compete in lifting. We LIVE it.
Remembering my why
Training is a lifestyle. It’s a way of viewing the world and approaching our days that ultimately transcends anything we could ever do in the gym or on a platform.
First and foremost, we have to love the process. No one who didn’t love it would spend the amount of time we do on training and related activities.
That doesn’t mean we don’t also hate it sometimes; perhaps quite often. I’d argue you can’t deeply love anything that doesn’t also occasionally make you furious, because passion is a double-edged sword. If you care enough to love something, you’re bound to get exceedingly frustrated with it from time to time.
But at the end of the day, if you don’t profoundly love the experience of training, you won’t stick around for very long.
Second, if we’re doing it sensibly, this lifting gig can confer tremendous benefits to our health and our longevity. The older we get, the more important those benefits become.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about that. If I never competed again, those benefits alone would be reason enough to continue training.
Last, but maybe most important of all, I think the majority of lifters (whether or not they’ve consciously thought about or verbalized it) would agree that training and competing teach us truly profound lessons about how to live our lives and do hard things.
One example I especially love is how the squat serves as a metaphor for coping with obstacles and grinding through struggle. Two very strong people I respect tremendously have put this idea into words better than I ever could:
“If you look at the squat for example—you can use that as a pretty direct parallel for some sort of issue of adversity, hardship in life. That moment on your way up with a heavy squat where there’s that split-second and the bar just stops—everything stops dead—and it’s like time stops for a second and you have this incredibly quick little discussion with yourself about whether or not you’re going to keep going—whether or not you CAN keep going—and whether or not you’re gonna be able to stand back up with this squat with this weight on your back.
You can train yourself to win that discussion in your life… when you have those things hold you up and stop you dead in your tracks and you wonder “Holy crap, can I do this, can I beat this, can I stand up?”Bryce Krawczyk, in The Powerlifter
It didn’t matter the weight on the bar—it has never mattered the weight on the bar—it is simply completing the task at hand. You have to stand up with it. No matter what it takes.Stacy burr
I could write a whole post about a list of lessons like this. Maybe someday I will.
My point for today, though, is all of THAT is my why.
Not the federation.
Not the medals.
Not even the platform, not really—except to the degree that competing (as distinct from training) poses its own set of unique lessons and challenges that, like lifting itself, force self-examination, change, and growth.
I said earlier how much I’ll miss refereeing and helping to grow and sustain the sport in an official capacity. I do expect to come back to these things at some point.
But for now, I can still help to grow and sustain what I think MATTERS about lifting.
We can ALL do that. Competition or not, we can all keep lifting, and we can all keep challenging ourselves to be the very best possible version of ourselves.
And we could do that even if every powerlifting federation suddenly evaporated and the sport completely disappeared.
It won’t. It shouldn’t. Most of the people in powerlifting—including those in the federation I’ve left—are great people who love the sport and are trying to do the right thing.
Leadership matters, and I hope THAT gets better, across the board. That’s where change needs to start. Culture flows from the top. But even with stellar leadership, the hard truth is that whenever people get together in groups of any kind, drama of some kind or other will ensue. Of that you can be certain. That’s what people do. It’s in our nature. It’s not always toxic or catastrophic, but friction of some kind will always present itself at some point.
When that happens—be it on your team, in your gym, with your coach, in your federation, in the sport of powerlifting, politically or otherwise: don’t let that bullshit steal your joy.
Don’t forget the “why” that sits rock solid and unbreakable under your feet.
As I wrote in one of my Instagram captions at the height of this whole debacle: “The iron will still be there. Gravity isn’t going anywhere.”