A Well Deserved Win

This was a long awaited meet for Becci, myself, and the whole PrettySTRONG team this past weekend in Savannah, GA. I went in with the least amount of nerves I have ever encountered before meet day. Usually I’m shaken with butterflies for a solid 2 weeks prior to a meet, which usually helps me drop some weight, but not this time. Nope, no time for butterflies. I spent the weekend before in New Orleans with my family, hometown friends, and fiance’s family. We were given a beautiful wedding shower, and then my mother and I finished up the last of the wedding planning. Planning this wedding has been fun, but while in school, it has been a challenge. Needless to say, I have hardly been focusing on meet preparation.

In late August, I strained my back doing a four inch deficit deadlift with 295lbs. I pulled the weight fairly fast, didn’t have any sort of pain during the lift, but when I put the weight down I walked away with an intense feeling of neurological fatigue. I called it there for the day. I woke up the next day and could not get out of bed without help. I couldn’t sit, I couldn’t bend over, I couldn’t even breathe deeply or laugh without pain. Oh no! Everyone’s worse nightmare about lifting just sprung itself upon me, when I didn’t even believe this could happen. I watched the video of the lift OVER and OVER again, to see what I had done to inflict this response. I concluded that my back wasn’t TIGHT enough at the start (probably because the deficit was too great), the bar got away from my shins, and therefore my back rounded through the pull. Here is a video of that very pull… watch for yourself the minute flexion in the spine that reaped so much havoc on my sanity from the last quarter of 2013.

Plenty people round their backs when they lift. NOT ME! I never have had any flexion in my spine when deadlifting. “Light as a feather, stiff as a board.” My scoliosis has always served me well, when it came to lifting, but not with a flexed spine. Lesson learned. I took 2 months off from squatting and deadlifting completely. Just getting dressed and sitting were a challenge. Pain is a huge motivator. I wasn’t going to push the issue. The next 2 months, I started to get back under the barbell. THAT’S IT, THE BARBELL, nothing more! Adding weight seemed like a huge hurdle way off in the distance, but a few workouts in I was feeling better moving again, so I increased the bar weight.

I had good days and bad days in training… Who doesn’t? But the bad days seemed ever so daunting because the health of my spine was my biggest concern. This injury took me into a deep dark place, where I had trouble focusing in class, taking tests, and interacting with people. My comfy couch was not comfortable, neither was my bed, or the school desk chairs. I felt like I was losing my positive attitude quickly and drifting back into the shadows. Depression. Yes. I don’t know how Dave stuck through it with me. For this, I am forever grateful. Weekly, I would have breakdowns, crying fits, glued to the bed, drowning in my own tears and snot. He’d lay there holding me and sometimes crying with me, trying to come up with solutions that I more than often rejected. This became about so much more than my injured back.

January rolled around and I was feeling about 70% physically better. I had just come back from holiday break with family (who I had kept the extent of the injury from), and my father, as usual, was asking about UPCOMING competitions. I said the focus was on school these days. In most ways that wasn’t a complete fib, and I knew he would really like that answer. Soon, I decided it was time to compete again, even though I knew I wasn’t going to be lifting anywhere near the loads of early August. I needed to get back on the platform. I contemplated quitting most days and going back to dancing (I will forever be a dancer first). I just needed to get back in FRONT of people! Training took it’s course. I was ready for a return.

Becci “The Hulk” Holcomb, our “ringer” to say the least, was ready to make her USAPL debut. She had competed in a USPA Deadlift Only meet in December, pulling 402 pounds with a hitch, but she still received three white lights. I knew that would never fly again in my, nor the USAPL’s rulebook. We worked on that for the next three months constantly. She was very patient and trusting of her coaches; an easy athlete to coach. I knew she would shine on meet day, as she does every day in training. Some lifters are good in the gym, some are good on the platform; she is both when she is focused.

I don’t think Becci or I slept more than 6 hours collectively the night before this meet. I never sleep well the night before a meet. I always blame it on the hotel, but I had slept well the night before; this is when the nerves set in. I had decided not to cut weight early in the week, when mom came home with a 25 pound bag of crawfish and the Tybee Island seafood came with a fist sized boil of butter for dipping. I was on VACATION, I was going to ENJOY IT, and enjoy it I did!

The meet started with a bang, obviously, because David Bell was on the mic. He’s only the best powerlifting announcer that ever lived. He also lifts on Becci “The Hulk” Holcomlb’s rack in practice. Small world. We begin warming up. All the women were in the first flight. There were not that many women, but Savannah isn’t really “local” either. Becci and I were both feeling good, strong, and ready to go! 1st attempts: nailed them, smooth, and fast. 2nd attempts: also smooth and fast…

… But this time it nailed me. POP! L4/L5 disk, erector, QL, psoas, shit! I don’t know what exactly popped! All I knew was it hurt. I scratched my 3rd squat to play it safe. My chiropractor and my own innate intelligence were thankful I passed on it.

Becci destroyed 402 on her 3rd attempt, tying the USAPL GA State Record. Video below…

Moving along to the portion of the meet where we all lay on our backs to lift, because we are tired and lazy slackers. Bench press. We both went for lifts we had previously made in the gym. I have found that PR’s rarely happen for me on the platform, in BENCH. There are just so many things that could go wrong or different I usually don’t chance a missed lift on bench. Squat and deadlift are my total builders anyway. I hit slightly under bodyweight (132) on my third and Becci finished with 198 on her second attempt. Her third was a miss because Becci is Becci when it comes to benching; more for both of us to work on. She is very close to breaking the GA State record! hehehehehe. Soon. :)

NOW IT’S GO TIME! The meet doesn’t start till the bar hits the floor, right? EXACTLY! Both of us are strong pullers. All day long Becci was saying, “I just can’t wait to deadlift!” And so was everyone in that room. We were all waiting to see Becci pull some monstrous HULKY weight. I had Becci rack pulling for a few weeks to peak and to get use to heavy weight at the top of the lift. She was strong enough to pull anything off the ground, but to do it without a hitch was the goal. She hadn’t hitched a DL in the gym in weeks, and the bar weight was increasing. I , on the other hand, was playing the NUMBERS GAME. For some reason, I was in the lead. There was one girl with a bigger opening pull than me, but I only needed a 198 opener to stay in the game. I had planned a 242 opener, but with my back the way it was form squatting, I decided to drop the opener to 226, ensuring a steady lead. We were ready to MAKE LIFTS. First attempt: grip, rip, up, down, white lights. Becci: same. The competition made their lifts too. I took our usual jumps for second attempts and both of us were successful. Me: 242, Becci: 457. I then had to watch the 148er who was sneaking up on me during her second attempt to see the effort it took out of her. She had significant difficulty with the lockout. I knew she didn’t have much more; maybe 7.5 kilos, probably only 5, but I had a feeling she wouldn’t be going for a smart number. I put in ALL THAT I KNEW I HAD for my third, knowing I had the option to change it, but doubt I could lift more safely. My third attempt was 259.

With the tightest back I could muster, and the cleanest form I could manage, I finished the lift with only some discomfort in my back. I came off the platform knowing that THAT was ALL THAT I HAD, TODAY! Much to my surprise, the girl I was trying to beat only put in a small jump for her third attempt until the meet director pointed out to her “coach” that she needed a 320 pull to beat me. 320 lbs was a 15kg jump up from 2nd to 3rd attempt. The coach THANKED the meet director for pointing that out, and changed her lifter’s attempt. At this point, I had two things going through my head, “There’s no way this chick is going to pull another 15kilos after that second attempt. What is her coach thinking?” buuuuuut, “If she does, she deserves to win!” …. She pulled it (I was surprised it left the floor, really)…. On the way up, my heart came in to my mouth…. Once it got to her knees, it stopped. She was stalled there with a flexed spine, bar at the knees, in the sumo position. I knew I had made the right decision, and I actually won, broken at that. I hope her back is ok. I would never wish this pain upon anyone. She didn’t stick around to get her medal, which was a shame because I wanted to talk to her. I wanted to be the “doctor, doctor.” We didn’t say a word to each other the whole day. I doubt she even knew I was hurt, or that I was watching her every chess move. Maybe we’ll meet again. Powerlifting is like that.

Becci, on the other hand broke the GA state record on her first attempt! The second attempt was just butter on top; easy…

Now, I knew Becci was going to have to fight for a CLEAN lockout on her third. We had done everything we could in the amount of time that we had in training… Here is was 479 on the bar…. Ready to fly….

Maaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!!! That was a good fight, and she nearly had it. Did you see my face? LOL. The hitch was so slight. Hitched, none the less, yet still waited for the judges call, because you never know who blinked. Even though she hitched her third attempt, and it didn’t count, she has improved her hitching tendencies dramatically since December. I was proud of her. We all know what she has to work on for Nationals. I doubt she will ever hitch a deadlift again. Now its time to break some NATIONAL RECORDS.

All in all it was a great day! I may have walked away with an exacerbated injury, but it healed my soul dramatically to get back on the platform. My back is feeling much better now, a few days later. Becci’s dad and two of her siblings drove 12 hours in the pouring rain from OHIO to see her compete at her first powerlifting meet. They even kept it a surprise that they were coming. It was incredible! They were surely proud and very impressed of her BEST OVERALL LIFTER plaque. Becci is only a novice, yet has so much potential, and the eye of a tiger. The WORLD is at her doorstep in this sport.

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I couldn’t get all the way to the end of this article without a few thank you’s. Thank you, Dave, for keeping my head above water during the rough times of healing. Thank you, Darrell, for spotting the whole team’s hotel fees for the weekend and for showing us around the cool spots of Tybee Island and Savannah! It was a great vacation above and beyond competition day. Thank you, Stephanie, for helping me crunch the numbers during crunch time! Thank you, Amanda, for running that warmup room like you owned the place. Did you own the place? Oh, I thought you did! Thank you, William, for catching all the attempts on film. And thank you ALL for the constant support and positive vibes across the inter-webs and in person. I love you all!

Until next time…. Keep it PrettySTRONG!

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Stephanie Mahan

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Stephanie has qualified for the USA Junior (age 20-23) Team for the 2014 IPF World Championships in Johannesburg, South Africa. Stephanie has been training with team PrettySTRONG for just over one year, and is currently a Life University student studying to become a Doctor of Chiropractic.

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Stephanie’s best lifts in competition are 292 squat, 154 bench, and 330 deadlift. She is currently training for the World Championship but needs some help getting there!  Please consider donating to Stephanie’s journey.

Donate here: Send Stephanie to IPF Worlds in South Africa

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Meet Video Update

Amanda Shumate Carroll – Team Player

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What better way to get back into the swing of blogging than introducing you to one of my favorite new lifters and teammates, Amanda Carroll! Before getting to the bit Amanda wrote about herself for this post, I have to share with you how much this woman inspires me and drives me to be the best coach I can be. I have never met a more passionate person. If there was ever a woman I would trust with my life, it would be her! As powerlifters, we all know “trust with my life” means the person you want to back-spot your max-effort squat, while ramping up your sympathetics with some loud yelling in your ear. Well she does just that…

“THIS IS WHAT YOU CAME TO DO!”

“THIS IS WHY WE TRAIN!”

“LET’S GO! YOU GOT THIS!”

“UUUUUUUUUUUPPPPPPPPPPPPPP!!!!!”

She’s the best TEAM PLAYER in a teamless sport. When it’s just you against the barbell, she manages to help you lift that weight in some transcendent way. Everyone likes to have that kind of person around during a training session… Am I right?

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When Amanda walks into the gym, EVERYONE knows it’s business time! Amanda may seem like fun and games, but trust me, she’s been dreaming about getting her lift on all day, every day! She always comes to do work with trigger point focus and determination, and she came to make sure YOU DO WORK, too! Team PrettySTRONG wouldn’t be the same without her. It’s athletes like Amanda that make coaching my favorite thing to do. She may not be aware of this, but she pushes me to improve my skills and knowledge of everything STRENGTH, to make sure my athlete’s skills are always progressing. It’s a journey I thank her for taking with me. For some reason she trusts me, and I can’t let her down! :)

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The Brief History of Amanda Carroll…

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I was born and raised in Baconton, GA (a small town just outside of Albany).  I moved to the big city of Atlanta to attend GA Tech where I received my B.S. in Chemical Engineering in 2004.  I worked out off and on at the big globo gyms, but it never seemed to fulfill me.  I drove by Crossfit on the Square in Marietta one day in July 2012 and decided to stop in and see what it was all about.  After talking to Ivy Perkins, the owner, it sounded like something I might be interested in.  I happened to start at the beginning of their Olympic Lifting training cycle and the more I performed the Clean and Snatch the more I realized this was something I loved.  I loved lifting heavy!  I decided to take a Powerlifting workshop that was being taught by Vanessa Gale and David Bell.  A light bulb went off and I had my “Aha” moment.  This is what I am passionate about, and this is what I was born to do.  Soon after the workshop, CFSQ add Strength classes to the schedule that were taught by Vanessa and Dave and of course I immediately signed up.  I was hooked from day one.  I decided to do my first competition (USAPL) in March of 2013 and it was one of the best experiences of my life.  I now have three competitions under my belt and have signed up for two more.   I train 3 to 4 times a week and I am proud to say I am a part of Team PrettySTRONG!

Competition Weight Classes: 165/181

Squat: 281

Bench: 155

Deadlift: 336

More to come! Stay tuned for future Personal Records!

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Team PrettySTRONG at Raw Nationals 2013
Left to right:
Shelley Toth, Amanda Carroll, Sara Cichorek, Stephanie Mahan, Vanessa Gale