The Hardest Thing You’ll Ever Love

I started Olympic lifting in March 2015. It has forever changed my life for the better.

I wrote this reflection for myself and for my coach this past summer. My technique and PRs continue to change and improve but the sentiment remains:

I was never an athlete. I have never considered myself athletic. I was a “smart kid.” I was the six year old who came from ballet to soccer and ran on her tiptoes to the chagrin of her coach. I was the Middle Schooler who occasionally made the team but was usually on the B or C team, because they couldn’t cut anyone. I had the muscles to sprint during soccer and field hockey games, but never the endurance. My mile time was never close to 7 minutes. In high school when I finally made the field hockey team sophomore year I ended tryouts in tears because I had over trained and had stress fractured both shins.

This left me without a sport and in need of the athletic credits required to graduate. So I found myself in the weight room our school’s version of PE. I learned to bench press and squat, to use the machines and free weights, but that was just considered conditioning for athletics. When your school is a female athletic powerhouse, weightlifting is a means to an end not a sport in and of itself. Nonetheless, I was happy being part of the weight room crowd. I was friendly with the strength coaches, hung out with my guy friends who were training in the off season for football, and when I got to college I knew how to lift free weights downstairs where girls were often scarce.

Junior year of college I discovered the student personal trainer program and began taking the class to qualify. I passed the class, the certification exam and my interview. I was hired by the Rec Center to be a trainer for my senior year. I was thrilled! I programmed my own workouts, worked with my “clients” (mostly other students) and ran the Rec Staff’s Education committee.

When I moved home in 2009 I joined The Energy Club the August after I graduated. I realized it would be too difficult to use the Upper School weight room during Alumni hours, and chose Energy because I liked the feeling I got from the staff and members. A few years later I asked for sessions with a trainer for Christmas to add some variety to my workouts. It reaffirmed I was strong and in relatively good shape, but I was never truly pushed out of my comfort zone. My trainer left the gym, and my workouts became inconsistent and less frequent.

In February of 2015 a sign at the front desk caught my eye. “Join Energy Barbell Club.” I had NO idea what that was but it sounded interesting. I knew needed a new challenge, and I liked the idea of a club where I could meet new people and have a group to exercise with. I signed up assuming I would take the class for a month and have a new workout plan to get me back into a consistent gym routine, after all I had always enjoyed lifting. I had no idea what I was getting myself into…

Over the last year and 4 months since I began Olympic lifting my life has changed drastically, and I couldn’t be happier. I am so much stronger at 29 than my 15 year old self could have ever imagined. There is a sense of accomplishment that comes with lifting heavier and heavier weight all while improving and refining my technique. I have learned to look forward to the brief moment when I stand up from a heavy snatch or squat up from a clean I’ve never been able to make before. I know my hard work has paid off, and I immediately begin to look towards the next goal. There is no such thing as an easy workout in Olympic lifting, and that is part of why it appeals to me. Each time I perform a lift, it requires both mental and physical strength as well as focus to complete it. Each time I hit my goal, there is always heavier weight to aim for and technique errors to correct. My work is never done. As someone with deeply ingrained perfectionist tendencies this aspect of the sport can be incredibly frustrating but is also incredibly motivating. However, in constantly looking forward to new goals, it can be easy to forget how far I have come in less than a year and a half.

I went from practicing the lifts and positions with a plastic dowel to a current snatch PR of 108lbs/49kg and clean and jerk PR of 138lbs/63kg not to mention my back squat at 235lbs, a far cry from the 95lbs of my high school days. Since last March I have dropped almost 25 pounds and with the help of a nutrition coach, who is also a competitive weightlifter, I have continued to lose weight as well as body fat. I am currently at the lowest weight I have been since college, and I have done it all without any diet pills or supplements. I have drastically changed the way I eat, but I know I am healthier and my body performs better as a result.

In addition to my body composition and gym accomplishments, I have competed in weightlifting 3 times since last October, each competition improving my total weight and working to control my nerves on the platform. Competition brings with it another sense of purpose in the sport. It forces me out of my comfort zone, it challenges me on a level that I cannot achieve inside the gym, and it provides me with an opportunity to share my accomplishments in the sport with friends, family and my students.

I love that my class, especially my female students, can watch my competition videos and see that women can be strong, that when they look to my co-teacher and me they see two different types of athletes, body types and role models. It’s no surprise that I picked a sport with blatantly feminist undertones, where physically and mentally strong women are celebrated and the ideal feminine body type flouted. I was raised by parents who constantly reinforced that women could do whatever they wanted to do. My father learned to French braid my hair for ballet, but took my sister and me rock climbing, mountain biking and hiking. I know he would be proud of what I have accomplished so far.

Finally, the world of Olympic lifting has introduced me to a new group of people, many of whom I now count as my friends. Our small barbell club has become a source of support, laughter and something I look forward to every Monday and Wednesday. I probably talk to my coach more during the week than my sister or my mom. I have begun to meet people in the area through volunteering at local meets and look forward to helping the program grow at our gym. Weightlifting is very much an individual sport when you stand in front of the bar on the platform, but up until that moment it is all about the community and the people that support you along the way.

In short, over the course of a year how I spend my free time, what I eat, what my body looks like, and how I define myself have all changed, and changed for the better. I now consider myself an athlete and a competitor as well as a teacher, a daughter and sister. I look forward to my 30th year being my strongest and healthiest yet, and I couldn’t be happier I finally found a sport that makes me feel confident, happy and strong, that pushes me to be a better version of my self.