Monday, April 30, 2018

Coaching, Competing, And Crowing

This weekend (April 28th, 2018) , my current team of Olympic Lifters and I competed in a large meet in Olympia at Fortis Sports. The meet included teams from Canada, and it was announced that there were scouts present recruiting for every division (weight class, gender, Masters, Senior, Youth, etc) for the US National team. Um - wow...

After some registration snarffles, we were all ready to go.

To sum up - I feel incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by this amazing team of lifters.

And not just because they all showed up.

But they actually showed up.
(And I am not just referring for our PR parties - but there were plenty of those!)

Let's start with the ladies -

 In the first session, my 2 lifters were listed as 2nd and 3rd to begin their lifts. The first person to lift was a 9 year old girl from Canada. She had a bit of a rough patch in the warm up room, and by the time it became her turn to lift, it was clear her nerves had gotten the better of her. Who could blame her?! She was the youngest competitor by a few years, and here she was in a different country lifting FIRST! That's pretty nerve wracking! As she cried with her mom seated next to her, Dorene and Kira both took a moment to chat with her and encourage her. 

I think I got a little teary here.

They get it.

My lifters GET IT!
That is what this sport is all about.

It's not about the personal records on the platform (though those are nice when they happen). It's not about the medals (though those are really nice).  Okay - so it has to do with those things, but bear with me here.

Lifters genuinely want their competitors and team mates to do their best.

I find myself cheering for other lifters to make their lifts and come out with the bar overhead and 3 white lights indicating that a lift is good.  I want to see every lifter (not just mine) have a good day.

Weightlifting isn't actually about the weight on the bar, well, not entirely. It's about being better than yesterday. Better in technique. Better in score (hopefully). Better in movement quality. Better in focus.
Sure, there is a LOT of form and technique work. Not every lift is technically beautiful. (Some championship lifts are down right ugly.) But all of the lifters are fighting the same fight. No matter age or what is on the end of the bar, each lifter is doing scary and amazing at the same time.

Before they even took the platform, these women made me proud.

That's exactly the kind of character I want on my team.

Everything else that happened on the platform was gravy.

As they took the platform, everyone performed well, coming home with personal victories.

And now for the fella - 
Unfortunately my awesome photographer had to leave before Emmet's turn came up, but I'm equally proud of him. Emmet has only been lifting for about 6-8 weeks, but has really put his heart into the work. As a transgender man, I was curious if I'd have to run any interference on him competing, but I'm very glad to say that the event treated him with equality and made it a non-issue.
  Coaching the guys is always a fun, and different experience. I'm usually the only woman in the warm up room. It isn't until at least the first set is done that I'm reminded of how few female coaches there are in this sport. I've always found working with men just as much fun as working with my own gender, but it's moments like these that I'm reminded of how the stereotypes about lifting heavy things is still alive and well, even in this day and age.

And me -
When it came time for my lifts, my team was there to cheer me on, and I'm pretty happy with my performance as well. It had been a rough month of training, with my daughter being sick for a while, and a few niggling injuries. But maybe the rest was just what I needed as I was able to set a new record for my Clean and Jerk at a meet, and fell just a little shorter on my snatch than I'd like. I went 5/6 on my lifts though, and I'm very happy about that.

I also got to perform the last lift of the session. THAT was interesting. (For those new to weightlifting, that means I was attempting the heaviest lift of the session.) I don't think I've ever fallen that high on the totem pole before.Usually there is some other ultra heavy weight ahead of me.

While I'm going to focus my own training this summer on shaving some weight so I can compete in a lower weight class this fall/winter, it was awesome to be a heavy lifting ultra heavyweight Masters lifter in this meet. Out of both sessions, I was the only one of my class attending. Being heavier than I'm accustomed to (and as busy as I can possibly be) has given me a lot of time to really develop a deeper understanding of body image and how much we let it rule our lives (men or women). But what if we just focused on what we could do? What if we turned all that energy and time into effort on becoming better at the things we love?

If you could do the things you wanted (like move well and feel good) would it be easier to accept the skin you're in, no matter what the scale says? Now, I'm not advocating becoming really good at eating Oreos, for example, but if you're reading this and struggle with body image, take a moment, get a little zen, and picture what it would be like to actually love your body unconditionally.

In my case, I had a clear choice -
 I could walk up to the bar and cower or try to make myself appear smaller in my bright blue bargain singlet while scouts planted all over the audience judged me. That would, however cause me to be distracted from my mission.
I could walk up to the bar, attempt a weight I've never tried in competition before, stomp the platform, and lead the bar in our iron dance.

I chose the latter.

Kinda freeing idea, isn't it?

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Health at Every Size - Revelation

When it comes to personal trainers, I'm not the smallest woman you'll meet. Even at my leanest, I've never been a petite woman. I've often joked about being a 'broad'. I have broad shoulders, stand about 5'8" and even at my leanest, I'm not petite.

I was recently invited to a photo shoot with some of the other trainers I work with at the YMCA.  And I won't lie, I was a bit nervous. So nervous, I bought every woman's best friend - Spanx.

Deadlift 245lbs
I wore them in the morning as I prepared around the house. I knew I wouldn't have much time to change when I got there.

I got to the gym and stopped at the bathroom quickly before heading into the shoot.

And in that moment's pause, I stopped and decided something.

Truth in marketing.

It was a piece of advice a friend of mine once gave me when I was struggling to get into the world of coaching. When I doubted myself and my abilities to bring quality to the table for my athletes. After all, weight lifting is a man's world, right? She encouraged me to trust my truth would win the day.

And you know what? It did. Eventually I worked hard and that dream came true. Being able to share in the empowerment of others is the most fulfilling thing I've ever done professionally.

So, if that advice served me well then, why would sell a lie now?

Am I at my leanest? No. But how can I honestly encourage my clients to embrace their journey, if I'm ashamed of mine?!

Deadlift 230lbs

I took off the Spanx. I went into the photo shoot as I appear every day at the gym.

Because, here's the thing -
 Life is a journey.
Wellness is a remarkably
significant part of that journey.
Everyone wants to stand
on their own legs as long as possible.
Everyone wants to feel good
no matter their age, size, or circumstance.

And if I'm going to market myself - it's not going to be some perfect facade.
My clients and athletes get me.
The real me.

 And this is what the photographer captured. The woman I am, as I am, where I am on my journey -
 being the kind of coach I want to be - on the level in the trenches with my people. No matter what size they are. We're all working towards building the healthiest, maintainable life we can. 

As an athlete, I look forward to continuing to drop a weight class eventually, and keep my lifting strong.

Like they say - it's not the destination, but the journey.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Lift by Lift...

This long neglected blog is well deserving of an update.  What else do lifting moms of infants do at 1am other than indulge in a thousand humbling Hookgrip videos?!

I'm slowly looking at competitions and settling on a training plan. It's been challenging as it's rare that I can make it through a full Olympic lifting workout without being interupted by a need from my daughter, and the added expense of another person has left my coaching budget completely tapped.

Not exactly the recipe for success I'd hoped for, but it is the testament to a fabulous community of lifters. They are always happy to help with encouragment or critiques.

Now, it's true what they say... 80% of the 'new baby' work falls on mothers. My Sailor is a fabulous help, but sometimes (daily) she just needs some Mom. It's like magic to her, so I'm balancing work, military spousehood, and my newest role as Mom as well- and my training has suffered a bit.

But that's okay. I'm actually lifting between 85 and 90% of my lifetime maxes in my Snatch (90%), and Clean & Jerk (86%). When I do get the spare change, I throw it at grabbing a coaching lesson here or there.

Right now, I'm deciding between the ambitious Kara's 9 weeks of heaven Catalyst program, or the 13 week OTM program... i know I'd love to do Kara's program,  but it requires one thing that is at a premium at the moment- time in the gym. I don't want to set myself up to fail, though I know I saw serious physical changes when trying that program before. In fact, it arguably got me to Nationals last year... but the OTM is less time intensive, frustrating lacks the full lifts, but has also been functional in the past.

At this point, anything I can stick to will make me stronger....

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Qualifying for Masters Nationals - Twice - While Pregnant, and Lessons Learned.

L: Snatching 95lbs @ Paramount Barbell Club Open, Feb. 2015, 15 weeks pregnant.
R: Snatching 101lbs @Roach Strength, May 2015, 6 months pregnant.
About a month ago, I discovered I had qualified for Master's Nationals at my first open meet.

Competing 15 weeks pregnant and being my own coach made that meet something of a fun landmark for me. It was my 2nd meet (my first Open) and I honestly just went for fun. Since I found out about The Bean, I've approached competing from a "have fun and stay sharp" mentality.  Meets are little more than a heavy training day and a chance to get used to performing on the platform in front of an audience. Each time, it's less and less nerve wracking and more and more fun to show 'em what I've got.

Posted by Nicole Napier-Kurdelski on Saturday, May 9, 2015

This time, I attracted a fair amount of attention. Despite not having to wear a singlet, it is pretty much impossible to hid my passenger - and I made no attempt to try.

After my session, a vendor a the meet came up to me after my session and said, "You're really pregnant!" Yup. She wasn't wrong. So I've learned a few tips and tricks that help me along the way.

I can no longer wear a weight belt. The increase intrabdominal pressure provided by the belt is a bit too much for The Bean, so my husband and I devised a different way of gently supporting my muscles, without creating any additional pressure. While it's not terribly graceful, we came up with a KT Tape configuration that proved helpful. (I'm happy to share what works for me - just comment if you're a lifter - or a coach - looking to help out an athlete.) I also need to give myself PLENTY of time to warm up, roll out, and stretch.

I got to talking with someone I recognized from the Clean and Jerk clinic I attended the week prior  (they already knew that I am pregnant) and the coach was intrigued to hear that I don't believe that successful Olympic lifting is only achievable by those with flat stomachs. (After all, just look at some of the super heavy weight champion lifters! There are PLENTY of ultra heavy weights with significant midsections.)

His observation is the same as many others I've read on the net: "Having a bigger midsection means you have to swing the bar away from you, so women should refrain from Olympic Weightlifting while pregnant so that they don't develop this habit." As far as I'm concerned, that's generally BS.

I'm no more, or less 'out front' with the bar now than I was before I was pregnant. Keeping the bar close is always a challenge. Truth is, when I'm lifting, I have zero concerns about hitting my belly. In fact, I never has.

Posted by Nicole Napier-Kurdelski on Saturday, May 9, 2015
This was my first experience really seeing someone (outside of my team) watching me like a hawk in the warm up room. Positioned across from me, and just one platform down, they stopped lifting and honed in on my immediately when I picked up the bar to do my first few warm up lifts. I did my best to ignore the eyes on me, and took it as 'practice' for the platform.

On the Platform at the Roach Invitational.
After a rough week when it came to snatching, I felt like I was a little uncertain of the outcome. I was just determined to have fun. I ended up lifting a 101lb Snatch, and a 130lb Clean and Jerk when it came to the heaviest, all of which felt really good. I missed one lift in each category and got one lift DQ'd (slight press out in the Jerk, but it didn't really matter - I got a heavier one in the next lift anyway).

Now, those are not lifetime Personal Records, but the Snatch is the heaviest snatch I've succeeded at since my first Trimester.  Even so, my lifts are an average of 10-15lbs from my maxes, comfortably. The strategy was to have fun and make my lifts. Turns out, I beat my last meet score by a Kilo, giving me confidence that I'll qualify for Master's Nationals next year as well (with one extra cheerleader in the audience, rather than on the platform with me).

So, what' next?

Though I qualified and was invitied to compete in Master's competitions this year, they are too close to my due date to really ensure any kind of performance, so this year, I'm passing on further competitions (as an athlete).

The goal is seeing my athletes through their competitions this year, while staying strong and sharp myself.

I can't thank my support crew enough for coming out to the meet and watch me play.

All my fellow Athletes after our session at Roach Strength's first Invitational Meet!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Being a Coachable Athlete, A Teachable Coach, And, Well, Pregnant

It's pretty interesting being a woman in the weight room.

It's very clear that the typical attitude toward the weight room (and Weightlifting as a sport) is that it's a place for men - or women who look like or aspire to be more masculine. It's a nasty stereotype. It has been a really great experience to earn my stripes in both the training room and the platform, and it has really reminded me what a gift it is to have, and to be, a coachable athlete.

As an athlete, it's about being teachable, open to suggestions, tweaks, and drills that often seem either terrible or ridiculous - and trusting that each of these will, in some way (big or small) make you better at what you love to do.

As a coach, the learning never stops either. At least, in my humble opinion, it shouldn't. Each weight lifter is different. From obvious physical differences (height, weight, femur-to-torso ratio, flexibility impairments, coordination challenges...) to psychological differences, to more subtle emotional challenges due to some situation in their personal life. As a coach, you get all of it. Each athlete is a different package. It's up to the coach to get inside that and help foster that potential -and share what we've learned with other coaches. (Yes, sometimes it's through drills that feel ridiculous or terribly difficult.)

This week, I've been able to talk with a couple coaches and athletes, fascinated  (and excited) about the idea of a pregnant Olympic Weightlifter. Since I've been cleared (by 3 doctors) to lift as long as it's comfortable, I'm able to continue my training with very little modification. (Trust me, it's not only comfortable, on most days, it's my sanity!)

I get their fascination. The (ridiculous) controversy of pregnant women working out (especially lifting heavy weights) drives many into silence, or pressures others to spend 9 months living in a bubble of fear and "what if".

 So, when asked how I lift around an ever-changing center of balance (and a belly that grows by the day), I tried several times to explain it... and failed miserably. I needed a little more 'show' and a lot less 'tell'. So I did something I NEVER do...

I stripped off my shirt and turned on the camera. Here are the results...

 Including a slow motion snatch complete with narration by yours truly.

I think I'm actually going to make these videos periodically - call it a weightlifter's version of the weekly pregnancy progression photos. It's really interesting working with a body that, in some places, is already about twice the size it used to be. Even though I used to be much heavier a few years back, the weight acts differently and is distributed differently now... and I still have all that strength that I didn't have when I was 220 and fighting the scale.

I may not be setting any new PRs, but it's a great time to work technique. And - it's working.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

An Insight Into Jerks, Snatches, Cleans, and Speed Bumps

Yesterday, I had a solo workout planned. So I got my programming and ducked into Rain City Crossfit and had at it.

Now, my evening lifting is always a bit of a push to get through. I'm glad Jerks were on the menu. With none of my usual lifting partners keeping me company, it was helpful to do something I really enjoy. (Jerks are my favorite movement to drill - right next to overhead squats. Badassery factor is high in those movements.) Not to mention, it's always a little more 'interesting' to lift in the evening - since that's when the Bean is most obvious and I have to focus on my balance a bit more. (In case you didn't know, I'm about 17 weeks pregnant.)

Turns out, focusing on balance and core stability paid off. My handstands are more stable than ever and I was able to discover a few handstand walking steps!
That turned out to be the highlight of a bit of a grueling sloggfest of a workout. The workout included Jerks to a Max for the Day. That was fun, but took about 30 minutes to get through. Still, I nearly got a new Personal Record! Elbows dropped a little early... which is a bad habit for when I get nervous about a weight.
But, while I was disappointed, in hindsight, it's largely unfounded. SO many women in my position can't do what I'm doing right now, so when I hit my current PR weight well (see below) I ended that bit of the workout, assured at what I need to work on, and where I currently stand.

Every day is a different. Less than 12 hrs later, I was back at it doing some Overhead squats and Snatch work with my coach at Narrows Crossfit. 

I ended the session with a 2 position Snatches...
And Cleans.
 If I look frustrated, I was. I was running short on time and had to cut the workout short, even though I had the juice to finish my programming, well, sometimes life gets in the way.

(Yes, the irony of 'life gets in the way' when I literally have a bump that changes my day to day life. That said, I wouldn't exactly call it 'in the way'. Just a new adventure. I get to walk the unique path very few women before - but more and more women are now - walking.)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Paramount Winter Open 2015 in Review

Paramount Barbell Club, Shoreline, WA

Today was the Paramount Winter Open 2015 in Shoreline, Washington. I ranked in the ultra heavy weights (no surprise there), weighing in at 88 kilos (193lbs-ish).  While I didn't set any new records, I had a blast, learned a few valuable lessons, and thoroughly enjoyed my first Open.

My coach couldn't make it to this one. (A little secret about coaching, we'd love to attend every single Meet/Event of every single lifter/athlete - but we need time too, so it's not always possible.) Being my own coach was a bit chaotic, but fun at the same time. Don't forget, technically, I'm an "unaffiliated" lifter, so no one knows what to expect when I take the platform. - especially when they realize that I don't have a coach on hand. That means I either know what I'm doing enough to stand on my own - or I'm a complete idiot. I'm pretty sure my coach wouldn't set me up to fail (hasn't yet!) so I'll assume it's the former. It's fun to be the surprise platform - and show up. While I'm sure my affiliation will change someday, for now, it's fun to surprise folks when they ask where I train, and I say, "Mainly out of YMCAs."
Standing with my heavy weights down the end at Introductions.
This was my first time appearing in an Open Competition, meaning the competitors were more experienced and (generally) stiffer competition than the novice world. There were more than a few lifters from the home club (Paramount Barbell) who were fantastic to watch.

When it all came down to it, though I just about matched my previous meet score, I'm actually happy with the way it went. My snatches were more solid than last time (and over the triple digit mark, which was NICE), and, though my cleans weren't consistent enough to allow me a new PR, I discovered a couple areas of technique I can still work on. My new set up isn't quite 2nd nature yet, and it showed as the lifts got heavier.

Although you'd think I'd want to see a significant increase from my November Trident meet (and it would have been nice) I am very satisfied with my performance. This time, I had a few unique challenges that it's safe to say none of the other lifters were battling. I was very much in control of everything (literally), from my warm up (and where I choose to make changes to it), to which weight was next and making sure I was on the platform on time. The event was really well set up and I look forward to doing it again some other year - and having my athletes discover the same amazing experience.

Unlike my experience at the Trident Open in November of 2014, this was much more intimate. With 3 platforms in the warm up area and 2 rows of chairs for spectators (with the warm up and the spectators only separated by a hanging tarp) - this didn't appear to be a well thought-out venue at first blush. After all, Trident had bleachers and 6 warm up platforms in the BACK- away from the action! But the intimate space made for great (unavoidable) interactions with other lifters and coaches. Being a coach and a lifter myself, it made for a more fun experience. Befriending a lifter from Oregon, I shared warm up space with her.

It's fascinating to watch lifters mobilize (stretch) and warm up. There is no 'right' way to do either. It all depends on the lifter, his/her challenges and his/her goals. Other than some minor back stiffness (and vaguely expected trouble getting up from deep squats) I was actually feeling pretty good overall - which showed hitting my first 2 snatches. The 3rd would have been a PR and I'm okay with missing a PR attempt.

My cleans suffered largely from an inability to adequately warm up. The order of lifters continued to change, which took my warm up time from 15 minutes, down to about 5-6. With that in mind it was a little but hard to get my head in the event - which showed as I hit my first lift with ease (fighting the squat a bit), but lost the next 2 in the Clean due to technical errors in set up (and a slight challenge with my balance on the last one).

All in all, it was a good meet though. Glad I went. Glad I pushed through the challenges (some simple - like being without a coach en tow, sniffling through some nasty allergies, suffering from lack of sleep since my wake up call for an 8am weigh in was 5:30am, still recovering from a previous hospitalization which lead to a huge dump of IV fluids to get me back on my feet, and one other unique situation - which I'll discuss at a later date on the blogosphere) and glad I came home with 2nd in my class. I found that especially heart warming as I lost to woman who's daughter was watching her. Whether she realized it or not, she was teaching her daughter that strength and power aren't necessarily masculine traits.
  Me? I came home to the dogs (as seen here) having earned a new T-shirt (awards only given out for top 3 Sinclair lifters - something just about every heavy weight in the world suffers from), and having an Open score on the books. Can't wait to see what 2016 has to offer.