Remember that scene in Bring It On? The one where Eliza Dushku and Kirsten Dunst walk into Regionals and Eliza is slowly processing everything in front of her? The groups of cheerleaders huddled around their teammates, others primping their hair, organizers yelling time schedules? Walking into the 2016 OKC California Open was just like that. Except instead of perky cheerleaders with curls in their hair it was lifters with high buns and massive arms. Instead of steady mists of hairspray it was clouds of chalk wafting throughout the warmup area. I walked into Innovative Results in Costa Mesa, CA, admiring the larger banner that was going up behind the platforms, scanning the room and recognizing some faces of lifters that I had only seen in YouTube videos (When Kimberly Fox walked by me I managed to smile and whimpered a "Hello" and distinctly remember feeling like this) and even taking a moment to squish the astro turf between my toes when I took my shoes off for weigh in that night.
Let’s rewind a few months to when I started training for this competition. My coach Nikolai and I were just finishing up an early morning Sport class. I mentioned I was ready to commit to California and we looked at the ranking charts. If I was going to aim for the 63kg weight category, I would need to have my Biathalon numbers—10 minute Jerk and Snatch—at 175 points. I cringed at the thought. Nikolai thought it was reachable, but all I could think of was my shoulder, which wasn’t at 100% yet from a injury from the previous year and the fact that Jerk was now doubles instead of a single bell.
We started with getting my pace for the Jerk to be 10 rpm and Snatch at 20 rpm. It was rough. I felt like a weakling. I was having a hard time getting through some of the sets and I still couldn’t even finish a 10 minute glove set with an 8kg. It wasn’t until the ranking tables were updated a few weeks later where a cloud had been lifted. The updated charts were now more attainable. I would need 110 points in the 63kg weight category for Rank 1. BRING IT ON.
We had our 10 minute test sets in January. I was mentally prepping myself that day to just make it to 7 minutes. Now that my pace only needed to be around 8rpm for Jerk and 16rpm for Snatch, it felt within reach. I ended up not finishing both sets, but I did stay on pace. My point total? 135. I was good to go. Except at the end of January, I had been neglecting rest and mobility, so I end up tweaking my neck and am unable to turn my head all the way for a week straight. There is nothing more terrifying than an injury leading up to a competition. Will I have time to recover? Will my training suffer when I have to take time off?
Luckily, it gave me a hard reset and forced myself to rest. I was still looking good with my numbers so I needed to not stress about it. It reminded my of my derby days, when leading up to the bout I would stop worrying about doing the work and just get my mind in the right place. I spent the week sitting on the bike trainer and mentally going through what I had to do. I started reading My Hour by Bradley Wiggins. He recalled what he went through as he tried to break the record for best distance in a velodrome. The best part of the book is when he is in his final ten minutes. The brutality that his body was feeling while it was breaking down and the mental exhaustion was as real as it gets. He spoke of those final minutes being the worst time to lose focus. I needed to think of my final minutes, the ones I had never been in while training. I needed to prepare myself for the dark side of the moon. The unknown.
Doing a little inspirational reading about Bradley Wiggins' attempt at breaking the record for "The Hour" while putting in an hour on the trainer. "Once you're able to acknowledge it's hurting, then you can start fighting it, admitting, 'It's the hardest thing I've ever done.' Once you get past halfway you've got permission to hurt." #biking #inspirationalreads
Morning of. Think Fight Club. When Brad Pitt’s character non-chalantly says, “Calm as a Hindu cow…” That was me. I often went into this mode before bouts. I wouldn’t talk much, I wouldn’t try to burn off energy by bouncing around. I would just sit or stand silently and mentally center myself. Both of my sets were before lunch, so I was happy to be getting it over with right off the bat. My Jerk set would be the 3rd flight and my Snatch set in the 11th. In a last minute bit of nervousness, I try to get a hold of my boyfriend back home but fail. My teammate Christeine is in the flight right before me, and I can’t even really pay attention or cheer because all of a sudden my mouth has gone dry and my hindu cow moment is fleeting. It’s about to get real.
My teammate Allison is on the platform right next to me. It is a comfort to know we’ll be right next to each other and I won’t feel like I’m standing up there all alone. We are both doing Biathlon with the 12kg. She is a beast, so I try to channel her powers as I get ready to pick up my bells. (Later, I learn from my judge that I picked them up a split second too early in anticipation, but he let it slide.) Since I am standing on Platform 1, I am on the side of the room that isn’t roped off. So my teammates are hovering as close as possible. In my first competition, I looked directly at my judge’s shoes the entire time. I watched him tap his toe every time I completed a rep. I refused to look at anyone. But this time I was all over the place. I looked at the clock, my reps, the hair ties I put on the floor before I stepped on the platform. My teammates. My coach. The little kids climbing on the pull up bars behind everyone watching. It wasn’t until 3 minutes had passed I quit messing around and concentrated on what I was actually doing. I’m terrible at keeping track of my pace, so it was more distracting to look at the clock because I would try to calculate my pace according to reps counted. I was started to get quite a few no counts after 6 minutes and I was starting to lose all confidence in minute 7. My judge wasn’t calling out my no-counts, but I went 4 reps in a row without seeing the counter change. I paused in the rack position. My mind is racing. Then, from the corner of my eye, I see my teammate Adrian lean in a bit and loudly remind me, “It’s just another Saturday morning.”
JUST ANOTHER SATURDAY MORNING. Saturday mornings are when most of the team trains together. Adrian nicknamed Saturday morning the “Executive Suite” one day because we were all there and pushing each other to the max. Some Saturdays, after class, a few of us would stay after and do a little Olympic lifting. Other Saturdays, we would do a little core work. It became routine on Saturday mornings to show up and stay after for extra credit. So there, in minute 8, where I was crossing into the dark side, where my mind had no way to brace itself, Adrian said it. Minute 8, in the dark. Even though I was flying blind, before every rep, I said to myself “Just another Saturday morning.”
Minute 9. I’m shaking all over. My left shoulder is giving out and I can’t get my knees to straighten right away after I return to the rack position. Next to me, Allison is about to break 100. My entire team is yelling for her as she pushes into the upper 90s. I want to cheer for her but I am clearly in no place to just turn and watch. But I’m watching her clock more than mine at that point. 30 seconds left. If she can break 100 then I can finish this Goddamn 10 minutes. I push just past 70 as she hits 100. It isn’t until later that I learn she blew everyone out of the water in the 63kg weight category. Last few reps are a complete blur. I clock in 75 reps and finish the 10 minutes. Compared to October, I did the 12kg with one arm for 5 minutes and got 71.
Stay tuned for Part Two of the Biathlon - The Snatch.