A Journey Into Powerlifting
Whether it was soccer or horseback riding, I've been in sports or athletics for as long as I can remember. Before you click away because you can't relate, let me assure that I look nothing like the person you're probably picturing when you read that statement. Tall, lean, and graceful I am not. Well, I am 5'8'' but that's where the resemblance stops. I'm here to take you on a little guided tour of how I ended up at DS in the world of powerlifting and, hopefully, allow you to reflect on your own path through sports, fitness, athletics, health, whatever you choose to call it.
From the time I was 6, I ate up every form of activity I could get my hands on with the exception of running. I always hated running with no ball to chase or to keep away from someone, and I still do. I even, as a 10 year old, started asking my parents to give me extra time at the YMCA after swim lessons to use the gym, completely unprompted. I touched my first dumbbell before I was even in middle school, without any appreciation of the bliss of moving your body and getting stronger for no one's sake but your own.
After pee-wee soccer, I continued discovering athletics all through middle school and high school - adding field hockey, lacrosse, dance, yoga, and pilates along the way. I also contended with being the big kid; my love of sports and athletics was either never taken seriously or, more often, was gleefully regarded as a means to an end. Always the same end: get smaller. For all the time I spent in sports as a kid, I should be overflowing with inspiring coach stories but I can count them on one hand.
When I left for college I left behind sports requirements and any real focus on consistently moving my body. New Orleans was all cheap booze, new people, and constant music. I worked out occasionally and managed to uncover one new treasure, the rowing machine, but I wasn't really looking. It wasn't until graduate school when I started to get that itch to move again, really move.
So, I found Crossfit. I’ve never been more terrified than that first day there, and I’ve never come so close to throwing up in a gym. Crossfit gets a bad rap (most of it deserved) but I was lucky enough to come away with solid basics. I learned how to squat for the first time (though it wouldn’t be until Joe that I learned how to have a barbell on my back) and I marveled at what my body could do. No one had ever looked at me, at my body, and said “I bet you can.” Especially not some jacked-beyond-measure fitness demons like the guys who worked at that gym (shoutout to Crossfit Central London!). And sure, there were things I couldn’t, and still can't, do (hi pull-ups! Hi proper push-ups!), but I realized it was the first time that I’d tested my limits since I'd ridden horses competitively. I eventually realized Crossfit wasn't my crowd but I left feeling empowered and knowing my body better.
Fast forward to 2016, I’d just moved to DC after a grueling job search and a year of leaning on my mother’s indefatigable support and hospitality. I started to get that itch again, and so I shopped around. At first, it was just messing around in my apartment building’s gym. On trips to New Jersey to visit my mom, I would work with my mom’s trainer. Deb gave me the gift of boxing, and again I was amazed at what my body could do. I could move with agility (well, some agility), throw a strong punch, and slide into a sense of calm after the round was over and I caught my breath. I joined a boxing gym in NoMA, all crumbling concrete, sweaty communal gloves, and a grizzled old coach directly out of a Rocky movie. I was in heaven for a while, but something wasn't fully clicking. One night, I heard the coach and another boxer talking about setting up spars for the coming weekend when I instantly thought to myself "Hard pass. I am never getting in a ring with someone who's intentionally trying to punch me in the face."
After that, what I was looking for immediately came into focus. A sport where I could:
1. Feasibly compete, without having to be an expert, so that I could have tangible goals;
2. Do at any age and in any place, with some scaling and;
3. Meet like-minded people and make friends.
Once I clarified those criteria - and got some much needed encouragement and inspiration from Deb - I Googled my way to DS. I met Joe, Angie, and a completely raucous, wonderful band of powerlifting weirdos; and have not looked back one moment since. Once I started powerlifting I found that everything I love about it draws on all those earlier stops on my athletic journey. I get to use the power I gained from lacrosse and boxing; the body awareness from dance and yoga; and the grit and focus from horseback riding.
Don't mistake all of this effusiveness for the promise of an easy road. Powerlifting has thrown me plenty of curveballs these past two years and getting back into things in the midst of quarantine is humbling at the best of times. But it has given me the confidence to come back, look at my body, and say "I bet I can."