Friday, March 7, 2014

My Journey Begins

To say I am a sporadic blogger is being generous.  I went back to see the last few posts I had written and was appalled to see only five entries since 2010. Oops.  I also realized that three of those five posts are about kettlebell, and pretty sure they all sound the same to the general reader.  Then again, writing for me is therapy; it’s a way for me to remember the emotions of the day, the journey and the people I meet along the way, the hits I take, the triumphs I rejoice, the gifts of knowledge I receive and the difficult lessons I’ve learned, and then I put it on a document and decide whether or not to share it with you.  It’s pretty much all about me ;-).

Although I say I write for myself, I try to write with an air of respect and professionalism, knowing that any of my friends, family, colleagues, co-workers, supervisors, employers, haters or enemies (yes I have those) can/may/will read my posts.  I have had trolls attack me on my YouTube channel; I have been slandered by colleagues, and I have been bullied and harassed at various workplaces throughout my life.  I still don’t understand why. What did I do to those people to make them turn on me?  But, and I firmly believe this is 100% my mother’s influence on me, I have always taken the high road and not responded at their level.  Meaning I try my best to live a life of integrity, choose the right path, and let karma take care of the rest.  I can’t let negatives occupy my thoughts and actions as my energy is finite, and what I do have I prefer to spend on positive things during the 24 hours I have in each day. 

But I am human, and sometimes the negative “whys” keeps nagging at me.  This post will be more about the background of what I went through the year before my platform performance on February 23, 2014. Because really, it’s all documented if you really want to see it.  What you don’t see is the preparation, the angst, the self-doubt, and the emotional demons that often make me think I want to succeed in this sport because my training, my diet, my discipline, my motivation… these things I can control, and whatever I reap, no one will be able to take away from me.  For instance, forgetting to do up my suspenders. (Huh? Read my “The Fire's Out for Now...” blog post).

In the context of my personal kettlebell sport (GS) training, this was about dealing with many physical and mental setbacks during the past year since the first Cali Open.  After that meet I began a year-long battle with various skin ailments, from athlete’s foot leading to an “auto-eczematization ID reaction” (itchy, red hives on the palms of my hands), to finally being diagnosed with Atopic Dermatitis (eczema) nearly a year later.  I also have ugly, twisted hands and fingers, my knuckle joints gnarled from arthritis, and apart from the unpleasant aesthetic, weakening grip strength is something I have also had to deal with.  I lost at least four months of training, and while my physical training took a huge hit, my drive and motivation suffered even more.  It was never-ending… I would get a cut or split on one hand, wait a week for it to heal, then it would happen again in a different place.  I couldn’t even do GPP like pushups because I could not even position my hands to a place where the skin wouldn’t crack and split open.  Photos would horrify you.  So after bumbling through training and spending more time on the motorcycle than under the bells, I had (not surprisingly) mediocre lifting results.  But I went to these competitions not for the sport, but to really, take in the energy from fellow gireviks and hope to light that competitive fire once again.

(I was going to put pics of my hands here but they are so gross to look at I think some people might have thrown up)

Working 4-on, 4-off, 12-hour rotating shifts makes it hard to stick to a consistent training schedule, and add to that I teach fitness and KB classes, and learn and perform Polynesian dance.  It was often impossible to get to the gym where my GS bells were located for a solid training session, so I skipped or rescheduled many workouts.  Eventually, no thanks to a grouchy, power-hungry VP of my condo Strata Council, I was no longer permitted to store my training equipment beside my truck in my secure underground parking – something I’ve done for oh, at least six or seven years. I had nowhere else to put it all, so now my balcony houses much of my heavy training equipment and I had to renovate my den/office/solarium and turn it into a Kettle Cave. I’m actually quite proud of my one-person training room, but being a creature of ritualistic habit when it comes to preparation for my GS training, it took me a while before I got into a semi-comfortable groove.  I am especially annoyed that I cannot be as liberal with the chalk as I was before when I was at the gym, lest I get it everywhere in my living room and kitchen, both adjacent to the Kettle Cave.

If I felt isolated before, training GS by myself at the gym, it was ten times harder now because I didn’t have the energy from other gym patrons (or entertainment from some of the “SMH” things we see from their, ahem, “interpretations” of exercise technique).  There are very few people in Canada that train and compete in GS, let alone in BC, or Vancouver.  That’s where video and social media help immensely.  By being able to connect long-distance with my coaches (Tom and Misha are based in Seattle, WA) and network with fellow lifters throughout the WORLD, I maintain a sense of belonging to a community. 

The encouragement – whether through training posts, silly thoughts, funny stories, witty insults, heartbreaking failures or fist-pump victories – keeps us going. We share the madness.  We sympathize over having to cut weight and we trade strategies on how to do so.  We torture each other with photos of delicious food and treats for Stage 5 debauchery, and we gross each other out by posting photos of types of singlets the boys should consider wearing on the platform.  We welcome new lifters and help them navigate through this crazy sport.  We debate the politics of it all, but realize that more politics means the sport is growing, so we tolerate it. 

We also try to learn as much Russian as possible.  Because, hey, Horror Show!  And the amount of insider jokes, sub-groups, and even imaginary networks (C-book, hahaha!) we create to maintain the camaraderie… well, it just makes me all fuzzy inside.  But at the end of the day, we gotta do the thing we are training for and lift.  So we get together in person at competitions and cheer the hell out of each other, and everybody else.  Because at a kettlebell event, you have only friends, or friends you haven’t met yet. Maybe that’s cliché, but it’s completely true (which I suppose is why it’s cliché). 

Dolby's House Party Crew!
The best roommates travelling gireviks could possibly
ask for.  Love you guys!!  DAAADD!! Are we there yet?
I also want to mention the generosity of the kettlebell community.  This is a cash-poor sport and what sponsorships exist are usually in-kind or for continued education and training.  Athletes don’t choose kettlebell sport for the lucrative deals; kettlebell sport chooses them!  And then it becomes all-consuming.  My dream of competing at a World Championship in the motherland of Russia anytime soon will be a distant one as an individual, unsponsored athlete. Perhaps one day it will come true.  But my dream aside, altruism is at its best amongst gireviks.  From Jason Dolby’s One-Hour Long-Cycle for Charity event (with a different recipient every year) to Christina Danos’ Kettlebells 4 Autism; from small kickstarter campaigns to help offset costs of promising new gireviks coming to a far-away competition to prove their mettle, to simply letting a ragtag bunch of non-locals crash at your house to save on hotel costs… kettlebell people are by far the biggest-hearted group of athletes I have ever met.  Even decorated World Champions are generous with their time, knowledge, and appreciation of us common athletes.  They are so genuine, warm, with nary a snotty attitude in the bunch.

My appreciation doesn’t even take into account the multitudes of thoughtful gestures each day I witnessed amongst us. It’s also the norm that no one thinks it’s a big deal.  But I want to put it on the record that I noticed, whether it was buying a coffee or doughnut for one person or a group, I am so proud to call you my friends, and want to thank all gireviks for being such great ambassadors for the sport.  On a personal note, I also want to express gratitude to Johnny “Danger” Harshman who noticed that I did not book a one-on-one training session with any of the World Champions.  Although I knew it was an incredible opportunity, I had to be fiscally responsible given the upcoming events on my calendar for which I had to maintain a realistic budget. In other words, I couldn’t afford it.  Well Johnny Danger, while still allowing me to have some dignity, offered to give me his session with the great Serguei Merkulin. He said he’d already trained with another the day before… he said he really didn’t feel like training that morning… and he said that I would really benefit from the session and he wanted me to take it.  My first instinct was refusal, because in general I don’t like BEING the charity case… but I knew Danger, he has a heart of gold, and knew he was absolutely sincere in his offer to me.  I graciously accepted and was able to glean an amazing amount of information and knowledge from “Merk”, who coincidentally was the crazy Russian coach who decided to scream and pantomime coaching tips to me during the last few minutes of my MS performance days earlier during the competition.  Harshman, I am completely honoured and so very thankful to have had that opportunity… Thank you. Sniff. 

Coach Merkulin... Mad respect for this man!!
So I guess I should say a few words about my actual competition performance.  I’ll keep it digestible, as much as I can.

My Event: One Arm Long Cycle (Clean & Jerk)
Time: 10 minutes, one hand switch
Kettlebell Size: 20kg
Bodyweight Class: <63kg p="">
My Goal: Master of Sport Rank
Required reps for MS Rank: 100 (10rpm)
The secret number of desired reps I wanted but dared not tell my coach: 110 (11rpm)

My Flight, with Serguei Rachinshkiy judging me, Serguei Merkulin and Denis Vasilev coaching me from the audience, and OKC President JOhn Wild Buckley overlooking it all.
Although I wrestle with insecurity and self-doubt during training, I possess a remarkable ability to perform under pressure.  I thrive from it.  Sometimes I’ll put even more pressure on myself by saying thing like, “Look at how much time, money, vacation, energy, and sacrifice you have put into this!  Don’t fuck it up!”  Other times I’ll be blasé with myself… “Eh. You got this. You hit nearly these numbers in training, with a minute to spare.  Now you are going to do it for real in front of a bunch of people, and they have cameras. Don’t do the kettle-face.” 

Not quite kettle-face, but the"thousand-yard stare"
is something most  gireviks can relate to.

But the reality is, I love the energy from the competition atmosphere.  It’s a crazy cacophony of people and noise, and the cheering is electric.  So when it was time for my flight and I walked onto Platform 1, I was excited, maybe a bit nervous, but not terribly so.  It also helped that I didn’t widely advertise the fact that I was going for an MS Rank attempt, and that I was just another affable and friendly Canadian aboot to do some kettlebelling.  It was nice I didn’t have this burden of accountability weighing down on me.  I was sad that half of my coaching team (Tom Corrigan) wasn’t able to make it, but the other half, Misha Marshak, took care of me and made sure I was completely prepped, right down to chalking my bell and having it ready for the platform.

I got this. I hope. 
Serguei Rachinskiy, aka Honoured Master of Sport, Honoured Coach of Russia, Master of Sport International Class, 9-time World Champion, 12-time Champion of Russia, was my judge.  If any of you read my “Five More Reps” blog post, he is coach that said “Horror Show” to my technique, leaving me with both scars to my ego and the funniest KB-mangled-Russian-translation story ever to be re-told. Rachinskiy is The Ultimate Girevik, the epitome of professional judge, and I knew he would make me earn each rep.  I was very happy to get zero no-counts from him as I really paid attention to form and fixation.

My set went well. I didn’t get The Claw as I have in previous competitions, which was a huge relief.  I did, however, make a rookie mistake by trying something in competition that I hadn’t tried in practice: lifting with a brand-new belt.  I purchased a beautiful new professional Russian kettlebell lifting belt, and I did a few lifts with it the day before.  It felt good, so I decided to use it.  However, it was not broken in, and during the last 3 minutes of my set, it started to ride up my torso and twist with each movement.  I tried not to overthink this, because if I lost focus, I would drop the bell or slow my pace.  I ended up having to rack on TOP of the belt, which is about when I noticed that Denis Vasilev and Serguei Merkulin were both cheering and coaching me from the audience.  WHAT AN HONOUR!!!  Denis was motioning for me to push my belt down, and Merkulin was making grand charade-like gestures in order for me to tweak my waning technique to make the last 2 minutes of my set more efficient.  Ahhhh…. BACKSWING!!!   Ohhhhh… bigger undersquat!!  I get it! Yes, look, he’s nodding and smiling, and making universal “Good!” gestures to me!!  This is incredible!  Spasibo!!!

I had no idea what was happening on the other platforms.  I just realized there were a helluva lot of people in the crowd and they are all cheering… It doesn’t matter for whom, although I can vaguely hear my name and CANADA being screamed here and there.  Throughout it all, the distractions, the coaching, the cheering… I have been paying close attention to the clock, my reps, and, well, trying not to lose my shit and just keep cool.  After I got the “Uh oh, my belt’s riding up” thing under control, I knew I had about 20 more reps to go before I hit the Magic 100.   Then 10. Then 5.  As I got closer, I said to myself, “Don’t get excited!  You’re not there yet!  You could still lose it all if you drop the bell!  Hold it together!”

So I did.  96.





Yes, I did, I raised my arms in a cheesy victory stance because I knew I had hit my number, and I could hear the cheering get louder, presumably because they knew I hit my number too.  Whoo hoo!  But I still had time and energy to spare, so I kept going.  Even though it would be tough to hit my secret-desired number of 110 reps, I wasn’t about to stop just because I met my lower goal. 

101.  102.        103.                 104.                                    105….



The last few reps were ugly but solid.  Actually, the reps were good, it was my face that was ugly.  Yes, the dreaded kettle-face when you hope someone doesn’t take a picture at THAT EXACT MOMENT and post it all over Facebook.  Hahaha! 

I did the very undignified thing and collapsed on the platform, and wiped my face from all the sweat while Misha came in to pick me up like I was a toddler who had just face-planted after running too fast for my own good.  My moment of glory!  Oh dear… then people came to hug me, RACHINSKIY too, and I staggered off the platform area.  Merkulin congratulated me, but told me next time don’t crawl off the platfom.  I still hang my head in shame at the thought of it, ahhh, so sorry!!

Well, I did it.  Master of Sport.  Honestly, what this means to me, much like a black belt in judo or ju-jitsu, is that I have mastered the basics enough to really start learning in earnest. 

So as I reflect upon that day, that moment of triumph, and I see that beautiful gold OKC medal, it serves as a reminder that my GS journey has only really just begun.


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