Make your own miracles

Over the past couple of months, I’ve really been feeling like my life has been constantly focused on the future. It has been a continued anticipation of working towards something – a lifting meet, finals, and a little vacation. Although it could be worse, it is not the way I prefer to live my life. I want to appreciate the present and live in the moment… But sometimes things don’t work out that way.

Let me start with a recap of the USAPL Southside Winter Classic from December 7th (2013):

SQ: 325-pounds/147.5-kg (a meet PR by 25 pounds in 3 months)

BP: 187-pounds/85-kg

DL: 336-pounds/152.5-kg

Total: 847-pounds/384-kg (meet PR by 23-pounds)

In Powerlifting, the most important element is your Total and I cannot complain about a 23 pound PR for my Total. I was quite content with my performance on a personal level, and it feels phenomenal to look back to one year ago (my first Powerlifting meet) to look at the progress I’ve made.

Let me give you some perspective – here were my lifts from last year (2012) at the USAPL Southside Winter Classic:

SQ: 248-pounds/112.5-kg

BP: 165-pounds/75-kg

DL: 303-pounds/137.5-kg

Total: 717-pounds/325-kg

Here’s the 303/137.5 DL from a year ago:

And while I am reminiscing, here is a handful of SQ attempts at 303 from late-June 2013:

To be perfectly honest, just now was the first time I’ve actually looked at those numbers and it put a smile on my face.

It really is all about the small victories.. The little steps you take in the grand scheme of things. I took most of this week off to deload, recuperate, and reset myself physically and mentally before a 11-week cycle leading up to the Arnold. However, I was feeling good yesterday, so I decided to work up to a heavy SQ double and just let my body dictate things. I managed to squat 305 for 2 reps (previously, the most I had ever squatted for a double was 300 a couple weeks ago) and then hit 315 for a solid single. Seems as though 315 is now an “any day of the week” kind of lift. Little victory, but oh-so sweet.

My athletes (Courtney, Paige, Megan, & Dylan) were a group of stud muffins at the meet last weekend. The group of 4 went 30/36, which means they MADE 83% of their lifts with 9 PRs total! I could not be more happy with their performance. The only scary moment as a coach was when Dylan got caught up watching the women’s flight of SQs and forgot to start his warm-up. He went out and NAILED his SQ opener of 314-pounds/142.5-kg after only doing 5 warm-up reps at 132-pounds/60-kg. WHOOPS! But he pulled off a solid day regardless.

I come out of every single meet a stronger athlete and so very motivated, no matter how I feel I performed. I learned so many lessons last weekend about myself as a competitor. My support system is full of die-hards and I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am. So, to all of you, THANK YOU and I hope you’ll stick with me because this is just beginning.

“Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger [people]. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be the miracle.” Phillips Brooks

Ready to rock

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“To uncover your true potential you must first find your own limits and then you have to have the courage to blow past them.” – Picabo Street

Tomorrow I will be competing in the USA Powerlifting Southside Winter Classic alongside some people that I am extremely proud of. Six weeks ago, I rallied the troops from my CrossFit gym to spend the next month and a half getting strong with me with the ultimate goal of stepping onto the platform tomorrow to show off some serious dedication. We started with a crew of 8 and over time, the crew was whittled down to 6 (I’m considering Megan an honorary CF Alaska member, since that’s where she started). Over the last 6 weeks I have been tasked with taking a deeper look at this strength sport I have decided to devote countless hours to, not only as an athlete, but also as a coach. It has given me a new appreciation for the numbers that my coach churns out the week before a meet, because I know those numbers really do have meaning (not that I had any doubts in Matt’s attempt selection before this)… It was an interesting situation that I found myself in, considering these athletes were (and still are) infants (or even newborns) in their strength training lives. They stepped outside of their comfort zones joining me in this short journey and, if nothing else, I hope they have learned at least one thing new about their own character. Never would I have predicted the gains that some of them achieved in 6 weeks and I can’t wait to see it all come together tomorrow morning.

One year ago, this is the meet that I competed in as my first Powerlifting meet… I stepped out of my comfort zone because I wanted to become a more well-rounded CrossFit athlete. I have competed in 4 full meets and 1 push/pull meet in the last 12 months… That’s still toddler-status compared to where I hope to be someday as a Powerlifter. This is also the 3rd in a series of three tightly scheduled meets (mid-September, late-October, early-December) that I planned on competing in after Raw Nationals last July to gain competition experience.

It’s just about game time. Time to execute and leave it all on the platform.

“Do you know what my favorite part of the game is? The opportunity to play.” –Mike Singletary

So much gratitude

It’s that time of year again, where we all talk about what we are grateful for. Personally, I think it should be a year-round practice… Always show gratitude and appreciation to those that help, support, and lift you up. It is the least you can do.

I am thankful for my family. They are the ones who have shaped me into the woman I am becoming. Not one single day goes by where I don’t think about how incredibly blessed I am to be encouraged and pushed by my family to pursue my dreams, no matter how risky. We all know things often don’t turn out the way we expect them to… My family has always been there to help me up, dust me off, and keep me moving down the road.

I am thankful for my Powerlifting & CrossFit communities. Each of the communities provide unwavering support, inspiration, and acceptance. Within the communities, individuals are the ones making this journey with me… Namely my guardian angel, Rob, and my coach, Matt. These two men have taken me under their wings and have enabled me to tap into a side of myself that I truly did not know existed. There really is a fire inside of me and it is not going to be put out. If I could give everyone in the world two things, it would be to feel the same passion about something that I feel on a daily basis, and to know what it feels like to have people believe in you, sometimes more than you believe in yourself. So thank you to my support system, because without you this would be impossible.

Last, but definitely not least, I am thankful for my friends. It’s really wonderful to have the best friends that I have. Despite my slight (maybe an understatement?) obsession, leaving parties early, sometimes choosing training over socializing, etc., they are there for me at the drop of a hat to cheer me up or bring me back to Earth, depending on the circumstances… Just like best friends.

Friday, Nov. 22nd marked the day that is exactly 4 months before my 24th birthday. Maybe you don’t know the significance of me turning another year older… I’ll explain. The Powerlifting world recognizes a “Junior” age category that is from 20-23 years old. I hold American Records in that age category and once I turn 24, I can never touch those records again. Know what that means? It means that I have until March 22, 2014 to defend my American Records and then after that, I graduate to the “Open” class which includes EVERYONE (yikes!) and my Junior American Records are anyones for the taking. Records can only be set in sanctioned (official) meets, so I basically have 2 opportunities – the Southside Winter Classic on December 7th, and the Arnold in February.

This week is my favorite week of every cycle. It’s two weeks out from the December 7th meet here in Anchorage and I get to lift some nice and heavy weights this week. The excitement (for me, at least) started last Friday when I got to Squat 300-pounds for a double (video below). Then today I did two Deadlifts at 340-pounds (video also below). My body is feeling really good lately – I’m recovering well and feeling stronger every day.

This is a really lengthy post, but I guess that’s what I get for a 2-week long dry spell. I ordered the first round of Cannonball shirts for my Arnold 2014 fundraiser. They will be arriving December 3rd and I can’t WAIT to distribute them! Here’s a peek at what they’ll look like (this is men’s fit.. There are also ladies’ fit shirts coming):

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That’s all I can handle writing for now. I promise to NOT go 2 weeks without writing ever again. You all are the best and I can’t THANK YOU enough.

I’m now an official AMRAP Nutrition sponsored athlete – check out their delicious Refuel bars: http://www.amrapnutrition.com/products/

“The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.” – Chinese Proverb

 

A heart full of pride

This evening I am feeling overwhelmed with pride. CrossFit is what led me to this Powerlifting journey that I am embarking on and today, my two favorite worlds came together. Athletes that I coach on a daily basis at CrossFit Alaska attended (en masse, might I add) a Powerlifting seminar that was hosted by CrossFit Anchorage, led by Rob Schmidt and myself.

Although I see these people basically every day, the number of hands that went up when asked “How many have been barbell training for less than a year?” made me proud. These athletes are at the infant stage of their training lives, but they are still stepping out of their comfort zone to learn more about the niche sport that is Powerlifting. Throughout the seminar, I observed eyes and ears eager to absorb all the knowledge we had to offer. It didn’t surprise me, though. I’m surrounded by these inquisitive minds all the time and it keeps me on my toes as both a coach and an athlete.

My training is done primarily on my own, or I jump around from training partner to training partner, depending on the day, workout, facility, etc. As of now, I have never had a problem with being self-motivated. However, when you spend so many hours working toward something, it helps to know you have a support system, people rooting for you. My support system is incredible and it makes my world go ’round. During the seminar, I worked up to a 1 rep max Squat, which happened to be a 5-pound PR (325-lbs/147.5-kg). All the hooting and hollering usually doesn’t have much of an effect on me, but today was different – these were MY people and I could feel their presence. If those who attended the seminar got ONE THING out of their afternoon, I hope it’s inspiration and the realization that you can do anything you put your mind to as long as you consistently work hard and keep your mental game in-check. Set a goal, make a plan, and get to work.

A little lesson on theory, application in CrossFit, and the background of Powerlifting:

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Warming up on my way to 325-pounds/147.5-kg:

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“The secret of happiness is freedom, and the secret of freedom is courage.” – Thucydides 

Thank you to everyone who attended & to those who have donated to help me pay for my trip to the Arnold in February 2014 (http://cannonballfitness.com/support-natalie/).

Time to get STRONG

Got out of my advising appointment a lot quicker than I had anticipated, so I figured instead of spending my precious time on homework with due dates, I would grace your eyes/ears with more of my ramblings. I do wish I had headphones because the conversations I am eavesdropping on are killing my brain cells… But I just can’t stop listening.

Ok, back to fitness.

Last Friday we hosted a Halloween party and post-Whole Life Challenge celebration at CrossFit Alaska, complete with beer pong, lots of ridiculous costumes, and a drinking WOD. I’ve never been a fan of Halloween, but after this year I found myself inspired for H-ween 2014. Oh, maybe I should tell you what I was for Halloween this year… It’s kind of a “you have to be there” on a daily basis type of costume.. So if you’re totally confused, that’s ok. Don’t worry about it:

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On Sunday, I taught a little Bench and Deadlift clinic during Open Gym at CrossFit Alaska to 6 athletes and I saw some average bench pressers turn into BENCH PRESSERS right before my eyes. In the session, I briefly explained the significance of an arch, and showed a way to set your arch without a huge backbend. However, one of the athletes, Dillon, really wanted to implement a full-on backbend bench press set-up (similar to mine, if you’ve ever seen it). First, I was impressed by the flexibility of his spine! It seems like most men don’t have as flexible spines as females.. Secondly, he maintained that same exact set-up throughout the entire clinic and worked up to a 1 rep max of 265-lbs (easily, with commands) at a bodyweight of 165. For a CrossFitter, that’s good! And he’s only going to improve now that he has proper technique. Another moment of success was getting Karen to actually push with her legs while pressing. Not only did she learn to push with her legs, she thrusted her hips so high in the air that we probably could have stacked 2 AbMats under her butt… So, a little much, but now we can work to find a happy medium of driving with her legs, but keeping her butt on the bench 🙂 I can’t wait to have this crew compete at the USA Powerlifting Southside Winter Classic on December 7th. We are going to have a ball.

This weekend (Saturday), I’m assisting Rob in putting on a Powerlifting 101 Clinic at CrossFit Anchorage. We are going to teach CrossFitters in Alaska how to get real strong so that they can: do 1,000 Wallballs without stopping, never get stuck in the bottom of a Clean, and so many other cool things. Wouldn’t it be cool if you were so strong that RX-ing the weight in a workout was never a concern? We are going to tell you how to get THAT strong. (Hint: it may involve creatine and squats)

Hold tight, because I will have CANNONBALL t-shirts for sale soon as a fundraiser so that I do not starve to death before going to the Arnold in February.

Here is my heavy Bench session from this week:

Oh and this article really sums up how I feel about Sumo Deadlift High Pulls: http://breakingmuscle.com/crossfit/the-sumo-deadlift-high-pull-is-stupid

“When nothing is sure, everything is possible.” – Margaret Drabble

Game-time decisions

Being a CrossFit coach, I hear from clients all too often, “I want to Squat 3 plates” or “My goal is to Bench 300-pounds”. My first response to these aspirations is for the athlete to stop chasing numbers. Chase progress, personal growth. Occasionally we need to take the time to step back and look at our personal starting point, how far we have come, and think about why we are putting in the hours every day, every week. If the reason an athlete wants to Bench 300-pounds is to sound like a bad ass to others, I can’t help.. Sorry.

My gym PR for Bench Press with a pause is 195-lbs, my meet PR is 193-lbs, but that doesn’t mean much to me right now, considering my circumstances. At Raw Nationals, I missed my 2nd and 3rd Bench Press attempts (186-lbs or so) after I had hit all my training lifts leading up to the meet. Same thing happened in September at the Top of the World Meet in Fairbanks… I nailed all my lifts in training and then when it was game time, I stuck with my plan even though it might have been smarter to take a more conservative approach. Sure, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and want that PR so bad that you can taste it… But is that PR worth a miss? Missed attempts come with all kinds of mental baggage for many athletes (myself included).

This past weekend at AFX, I had my attempt plan set at 77.5-kg/170-lbs – 82.5-kg/181-lbs – 87.5-kg/193-lbs. My first attempt felt great, but I noticed that our “Press” command (the pause) was delayed. Going into my 2nd attempt, that’s all I was thinking about… When I realized 82.5-kg/181-lbs wasn’t as smooth as it normally is, I made my first big game-time decision. Instead of taking 87.5-kg/193-lbs as my third attempt, I swallowed my pride and went for 85-kg/187-lbs. A less experienced Natalie would have likely stuck with the original plan. The intent of my participation in so many meets this Fall was to gain competition experience in my new sport. I am proud to say that the decision I made on the stage, under the spotlights, with hundreds of people watching at AFX was a showcase of my mental growth as a Powerlifter.

I went 6 for 6 in the Bench & Deadlift Invitational at AFX and I set a lifetime Deadlift PR of 157.5-kg/347-lbs. It was exactly what I needed to launch me into the Southside Winter Classic on December 7th.

 

Hangin’ with the legendary Brad Gillingham, who was a side-judge, after the meet:

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See it to believe it

Wrapping up an awesome weekend in the Twin Cities, posting from MSP Airport. As I mentioned in my previous post, thanks to my brother I was able to train in the state-of-the-art U of M athletes’ weight room on Friday and again this morning before heading to the airport. That opportunity in itself was really cool, but it doesn’t compare to my training on Saturday.

Fortunately, I have a mentor who takes incredible care of me. When I mentioned to Rob that I would be in Minnesota over this weekend, he contacted Nick Tylutki to find out if we could train together. For those who are not familiar with the powerlifting phenom, Nick made the world team at the age of 19 (hopefully I get all this correct, I’m writing from memory) and then several times after that. This was when powerlifting was primarily (or all) geared. I read somewhere that at one point, he had a geared total over 2000-lbs (best squat + best bench + best deadlift = total) at a bodyweight of 100-kg/220-lbs. Unreal. In recent years, Raw Powerlifting (that’s what I do – just knee sleeves, wrist wraps, and a belt) became its own recognized sport and many formerly geared lifters switched over, including Nick. As a 2-time Raw National Champion, he qualified for Worlds in Russia this year and South Africa for 2014. In the past few months, I’ve trained with some seriously strong men.. There’s something about seeing it in person, informally, that gives you an entirely different appreciation. Prior to this weekend, I had a rough idea of Nick’s strength, but watching him load the bar with over 500 pounds and then do multiple reps was incredible:

Similar to all the other strong people I have had the opportunity to lift with, I can’t really wrap my mind around it until it is right in front of me. I made a joke the other day about how  I don’t do much besides lift when I train with these guys, and it remains true. 45-pound plates get tossed around like they are plastic toys no matter if you’re in Alaska or Minnesota. And if any of you guys are reading this, wishing I WOULD help more, just tell me 🙂

I’m on my way back to Alaska feeling inspired and so very fortunate. I can’t thank my support system enough. Everyone I have met thus far on my journey has helped fuel my fire.

Five days until AFX and I can hardly wait!!

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Roaming powerlifter

After doing some slight rearranging last week, I got to do my last heavy bench before AFX with the big dawgs, Rob and Baller. One is an American Record holder and the other is a self-proclaimed contender for GQ’s “Sexiest Man Alive”:

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They dwarf the weight I lift. Also, I don’t have to do much of anything besides lift my weight because what purpose would I serve handing off, spotting, or even loading red plate after red plate when these two are around? I worked up to 2 singles at 191-lbs/82.5-kg, so I did get to play with the big reds.

Following this training session in Rob’s little slice of heaven of a basement, I packed up my suitcase and got on a plane at 5 the next morning headed for Minneapolis. This weekend was the best option for a quick weekend trip to visit my brother. He will be in-season for the rest of the year, pretty much… Not that that has stopped me from visiting before. Anyway, because he as an athlete for the University of Minnesota, I have a fortunate hook-up: the U of M athletic complex weight room. Yes puh-leeeease.

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Yesterday I benched several sets of triples at 145-lbs alongside female throwers for the Track & Field team.. Mostly big, tall human beings. I throw like a girl and I’m short, otherwise I would ponder my potential in the sport.

Last night my brother’s roommate made breakfast for dinner (read: pancakes from scratch). Yes, I’ll deduct my Whole Life Challenge points.

Training today is going to be going down somewhere even COOLER than the photo above. Hang tight!

“The only thing standing between what you are and what you want to be is what you do.”

Deadlift battle

At the Alaska State Powerlifting Meet in April of this year, my final Deadlift was 336-lbs/152.5-kg and at the time, it was a PR by 13-pounds, but it was clear that I had more in me. Leading up to Raw Nationals, I trained off that 336-pound Deadlift and in competition in Orlando I missed it on my 2nd attempt, but made it on my 3rd. By this point, I didn’t realize I was about to be at war with a barbell that was twice my bodyweight. In training leading up to the Top of the World Powerlifting Meet, my plan for a couple weeks out from the meet was to hit 335-lbs for 2 singles. I made it the first lift and missed it on my 2nd.

Natalie: 3

335-pound barbell: 2

In September, at the Top of the World meet in Fairbanks, I missed 335-lbs/152.5-kg on both my SECOND and THIRD attempts. That’s right, now the score was 3 (Natalie) to 4 (335-pound barbell). Talk about discouraging.

However, yesterday I regained the lead. And as far as I’m concerned, the battle is over. You can watch this video and decide for yourself:

Onward and upward.

Conquer

How is it already mid-October? We still have only had one substantial snowfall in Anchorage, but I know a full season of the white stuff is coming soon! Another good week of training in the books and another week closer to Alaska Fitness Expo (AFX) Bench and Deadlift Invitational where I will be sharing the stage with about half a dozen of STUDS, including Brad Gillingham. There is going to be a lot of  iron moved on that stage and it will be a sight to see!

My heavy Bench session on Wednesday consisted of me working up to 2 singles at 185-lbs, which is 100% of my training max and 95% of my all-time max. And then on Friday, I knocked out a 7×2 (that’s FOURTEEN reps) at 275-lbs, which has been my opener at the last 3 meets I’ve competed in: Alaska State Championship in April, Raw Nationals in July, and the Top of the World PL Challenge in September. Talk about a confidence boost!

I’ve made a few additions to my website tonight. First, I can now be found at http://www.cannonballfitness.com. Second, I added a tab to the top menu called “Support Natalie” where you’ll find a PayPal donation button. As most readers probably know, I am a student at the University of Alaska Anchorage and I coach CrossFit about 10 hours a week.. My point? Being a competitive amateur athlete is more than I can cover on my own. I will be selling t-shirts soon that will be designed by House 8 Graphics to help raise money for my trip to Columbus for the Arnold Sports Festival in February.

Happy training this week!

“Give a girl the right shoes and she will conquer the world.” – MM