Discovering life beyond the barbell / by Dana McMahan

Somebody that I used to know

That was then: ice packs after every workout, kinesiotape on multiple body parts, ice baths at home.

Sometimes people compare themselves to others, measuring their success or abilities against that of stars in their sport. I don’t. My measuring stick is what I used to be able to do, back when, you know, I was a competitive powerlifter. A record-breaking one (that’s for you Ryan, if you’re reading ; ) Despite spending most of 2012 and 2013 dealing with or recovering from one injury or another, the constant refrain in my head was that I used to be able to do more. Heavier bench, more push-ups – whatever I can do now, I used to do more.

Then, recently, I guess I had a bit of an epiphany. I was doing floor presses after spending a week eating all the things in Portland, Oregon (where I’d been on assignment).  No joke, I had to have consumed a good two to three times more than my usual daily calories every day I was there. I’d forgotten what a huge spike in strength that used to give me, and there I was doing floor presses for  the first time in ages. I wasn’t trying to go for a max — I don’t do that anymore — but I couldn’t resist when I found how easily the bar was moving.  So I maxed out.

“That’s only 15 pounds less than when I was at my strongest!” I raved to my husband, who was spotting me. “Like, my broken-down strongest,” I said for emphasis. As in the max (for two, technically) I hit just before my sports doctor told me I was out of powerlifting for good and would be going under the knife to try to repair the damage I’d wrought on my body. I could barely walk that day, it was all I could do to not scream in pain going from sitting to standing and vice versa, but there I was on the floor — because that’s where I could still lift a weight — hitting a new max. (My theme song in those days? My Body by Young the Giant: My body tells me no, but I won’t quit I cause I want more) And I didn’t see anything wrong with that picture. A little after the fact, maybe, but I do now.

Still, even with that said, ordinarily I’d have been inconsolable that I’m not still that strong, that I had it so briefly. When I missed a final attempt on that recent lift with 5 more pounds, before now I’d have cussed or cried or maybe pounded on my heavy bag. At minimum I’d have been in a foul mood. But I found myself laughing. “It was worth a try,” I said, grinning that I could even still be even this strong considering how little actual heavy lifting I’ve done in the past year, considering I was in the hospital for nine days in January and unable to lift *anything* for the first couple of months after release, considering I don’t work to the point of breaking down anymore. I’m still pretty fucking strong, and I’m glad to have what I have.

This is now: happy to be able to do cool things like go rock climbing. (Thanks to Van Brinson of World TEAM Sports for the photo)

This is now: happy to be able to do cool things like go rock climbing. (Thanks to Van Brinson of World TEAM Sports for the photo)

Why the change in heart? I’d like to say it’s that I’m growing up, or getting wiser or something  that means I can claim credit. But I can’t. I would defy anyone to meet the athletes I met at the adaptive adventure race I went to last month and come home unchanged. Were the people with prosthetic limbs or in wheelchairs or facing other “inconveniences” (as my new friend Duane called them) whining about what they *used* to be able to do?

No. Hell no. They were just out there climbing and biking and rafting and rappelling and living their lives with passion and joy.

And after seeing everything they accomplished and witnessing their attitudes, only someone who is incapable of learning and changing could still cry about not being strong like they used to be. In fact, I feel like a pretty huge jerk for all my complaints over the last couple of years. Will I ever be as strong as I was? Nope. But for the first  time, I am ok with that. And I’m happy to have found that new kind of strength.

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3 responses

  1. Curlykat

    Dana,

    I needed to see this today. My situation is no where near as extreme as yours, but after 15 months of tendonitis, bursitis, and chronic inflammation with worsening pain, I had shoulder surgery 2.5 weeks ago. Fortunately there were no rotator cuff tears, but I look at where I am today (barely able to put my hair in a pony tail) and where I was two years ago (probably the best shape of my life), and it’s challenging. But, you’re right. We can’t judge ourselves by past accomplishments. All we can do is decide whether we’re doing the very best we can today. Like you, I expect that I will look to things beyond weight lifting and yoga once I’m rehabilitated, and that’s part of the journey.

    October 17, 2013 at 10:38 am

    • Thanks for your comment. I hope your recovery is speedy and that you learn more quickly than I did how to look forward instead of back :)

      October 17, 2013 at 12:53 pm

  2. You’ve come so far and I love it. Injuries or not every athlete comes to a point where they can’t do what they used to do. Acceptance is a tough road to travel. Enjoy what you can do and find new things to try. Great read, thanks.

    October 17, 2013 at 6:45 pm

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