A month ago I woke up with a sore throat and terrible aches. I felt stiff and when I got out of bed everything spun. I laid back down and texted all of my personal training clients. I was calling out. I was to compete in the hardest competition of my year-long Strongwoman career (and my ninth to date) in 5 days and I felt weak and terrified.
“Kumite,” means “freestyle fight,” as in, a brutal showdown with few rules. The 2016 Kumite Classic Strongman competition, hosted in Monroeville PA at the martial arts and health expo of the same name, was hardly a murder-fest, but it was a high-level 2 day Strongman competition that had attracted some of the best people in the sport. And it was a fight.
I left that competition with a new concept of what strength sports and competition mean to me. I left humbled. I left uplifted.
I knew it would be hard and I was about as prepared as I could be. I had obsessed over it. I visualized my events constantly. I whittled down my already sparse social life to devote more time to training and recovery. I felt a sense of urgency to accelerate my progress- I would be competing against some of the strongest women in the country and I did not want to look like a fool.
I wanted to belong there.
Getting sick the week of my deload (that’s pre-competition “rest week”) was rough. I decided the only way to think about my sickness, was to believe it was a mental challenge sent by some trickster god to test my willpower. Not my willpower to get better, my willpower to not let a few days of feeling under the weather shake my confidence.
Wednesday I lost my voice completely. I was not doing great. Another test, I told myself. I had to believe I would be better. But what if I wasn’t? What if I had worked my ass for months only to have it count for nothing?
The drive to Pittsburgh on Thursday was blessedly quick thanks to my great travel buddies, but I felt the doubt whispering,
“You feel too weak. Where’s your power? You couldn’t even hit your 80% right now. You’re going to be miserable.”
These thoughts all popped into my head, but I blessedly succeeded in not indulging them. There was enough excitement and good company to distract myself.
Friday morning, the first day of the competition, I felt better, but not 100%. I did everything I could to feel better, warm up and mentally prepare. Stretching, foam rolling, meditation, chanting, noise making. Everything I could think of.
I performed well. I hit personal bests. But my own experience paled in many ways to the experience of watching my teammates both fail and succeed. Their outcomes didn’t matter to me; I was blind to winning or losing by the end of it. All I saw was their effort. All I saw was people focusing every ounce of mental, physical and spiritual willpower into what they were doing. I saw things that seemed a result of magic – atheltes reaching a miracle-inducing state that occurs when they have nothing in them but their task. Their desire.
I realized, it didn’t matter if I had been sick. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t in peak form. It didn’t matter if I was. Because I was already in the process of success. I had showed up. I had showed up in training, I had showed up in recovery. I had showed up for my desire. I had strived.
That weekend, I saw brilliance, fear, courage, desperation, joy and heartbreak. I saw and had personal bests that were a happy byproduct of a ferocious love of the fight. Flowers grow because of the rain, but that’s not why it rains. The rain has no agenda but TO rain. Of course we are people, not elements, and we have agendas, goals. But it seems to me more and more that when we release the need for those goals and focus simply on striving, or “raining” that those goals, like the flowers, grow.
We pick our goals to be galvanizing, to be worthy of our hard effort. But it is in the effort where we surpass ourselves. That is where we become greater versions of ourselves. That is where we learn to become more, to expand, to grow. It’s where we discover that we are so much more than our limited idea of ourselves. I believe that people who are really good at what they do have, purposefully or not, cultivated the ability to focus so intently on their desire, that their commitment to the process outshines their doubts and their self-limiting inhibitions. Their dedication is so great that it becomes about more than their egos.
Striving without hesitation. With all of one’s focus. With every ounce of willpower.
Many of my friends came close to, but fell short of, technical victory. If they never compete again, I will still consider them Olympian in their efforts, and consider myself blessed to have witnessed other human beings reaching for such Icarian heights. They tried.
What if I had gotten too sick to compete? Would the grueling work and discipline and sacrifice have been worth it, only to show up on Judgement day and be unable to rise to the challenge?
Regardless of how I ended up competing, at the Kumite, I realized that I have been learning how to strive. How to better myself through utter devotion to my goals. To show up day after day after day. And in cultivating that discipline, mental toughness, and emotional endurance, I have given myself a gift that will only continue to help my existence expand.
I believe that even simple tasks can be opportunities for personal growth, that the very simple can be transcendental, and that even something as rough-around-the-edges and DIY as Strongman can be an opportunity for spiritual evolution.
To see someone truly strive, even just for a moment, whether they fall short of success, is one of the greatest things I have ever witnessed. It is one of the greatest things I have ever experienced. It is touching God’s fingertip. It is tasting love. It is hearing the world’s heartbeat. Whether you win or not does not matter. Obstacles do not matter. Failure does not matter. People’s opinions do not matter. Mastery of myself matters.
Being present matters.
The fight matters. The fight to devote yourself to going beyond yourself. That fight is always within and the only fight that never ends. And you get to choose to try to win it every day, in everything you do.
It didn’t matter if I was ready or not. It didn’t matter if I was outclassed or not. By aiming to compete amongst the best, I took myself by the hand and dragged myself one step closer. To being the best, but also to being someone who knows how to commit to their desires. Who knows how to bite down and not let go.
On my best event that weekend, I promised myself going into it “You will not stop until something else forces you too.” I finished the keg-carry-for-distance with 512 feet and won that event. That was the only event where I believed in and desired my goal so intensely and so hopefully that doubt was silenced.
Do you want something? Do you want to become more? Show up. Strive. Un-apologetically, joyfully, hungrily. Strive.