Choose Your Own Adventure

Last week our team was in Vegas for “Nationals Week,” and we had 3 Barbarians representing in the Under 25 (2) and Senior Nationals (1).  It is the most prestigious National meet of the year, and you cannot go wrong by hosting it in Vegas either!  It was a little bit of everything and then some.  As always, I am proud of our lifters’ performances and happy that they were able to bring home a few medals. 

I figured I will have more opportunities to write about our mighty team on another post, but I wanted to share a question that really got my thinking about what the sport means to me.

While making my way around the venue I was stopped by a fellow weightlifter who is opening his own gym and he asked me if I had any advice for new gym owner/coaches.  I mentioned “culture” and how important it is to develop and cultivate to have a successful team.  But of course, there is so much more than that.  However, his query really got me thinking about where I am right now, and how I got here because coaching or even owning a gym was not in my plans.

I found the sport at a youngish age of eighteen and certainly never imagined that I would still be involved after 26 years.  When I started, I just wanted to get stronger for shot put and discus since I am barely 5’5” (5’ 4 ¾”, but who’s counting).   Weightlifting got me strong enough to earn a D2 scholarship for Track & Field, but I saw that I had more potential for lifting and after 1 year (and against my parent’s wishes) I gave up my scholarship to pursue weightlifting full-time.  And, about a month later I broke my arm trying to clean 100 kgs for the first time.  The parents were not pleased.  But I was undeterred and maintained my focus on being a better lifter.  A year later I was offered an opportunity to be a resident athlete at the Olympic Training Center.  And from that point on, I was fortunate to have been a resident athlete at both OTC and Northern Michigan University until my retirement from sport at 30 years of age. 

I spent all my twenties as an elite athlete, dedicated to the sport and not much else so I felt behind compared to peers in my age group.  I wanted to move away from the sport to start a new chapter in my life as I got into my thirties, but weightlifting called again and this time I was wearing a different hat as a referee, but most importantly representing our athletes on the Board of Directors for 8 years.  During those lean times on the Board, I learned a lot about business, leadership, compromise, cooperation and rebuilding bridges, skills that I find useful in my own business today.

For those old enough to know about the “choose your own adventure” books, you can appreciate that sometimes the adventure chooses you and that is what this sport has been to me.  As I head into my mid-40s I have come to accept that I am a “lifer” and while I did not think I would be involved in the sport this long, frankly I would not imagine it any other way now.

Good luck to all new upcoming coaches/gym owners…this is a bumpy, but fun ride!