Someone emailed me and asked if I would write about how my former sport of Olympic weightlifting translated into me becoming an endurance athlete later in life.
Simply put: No translation. Lost in Translation. Apples and Oranges.
But that is not completely true.
Many don’t know the whole story of my previous-life athletic feats (and non-feats).
I guess I have much to write about this topic.
Also, turns out that much is connected between weightlifting and endurance sports—and I don’t mean on a do-your-strength-training level. It goes deeper.
As I dug into this topic, I realized that this will be a multi-part blog series.
So here goes.
Over this series, I will share five things that I learned and perfected in weightlifting that have translated into the sport of triathlon (and life) for that matter.
But first, here’s the history and why I am even talking about weightlifting at this point.
I was a semi-fat kid. But I was one of those husky, strong specimens.
“Give the bat to Meredith, she’ll hit a home run,” my dad would tell the softball coach.
I would put down my doughnut on the bench and proceed to bat… striking out usually under the pressure, but that’s another story for another day.
The truth of the matter: I really was strong.
I was big and strong and I hated it.
As a teenager I had a teenager pot belly, but overall I was fit and I worked hard at my sport of the time, Olympic weightlifting.
I could hoist 220 pounds over my head and squat 300 pounds for sets. That had to count for something. Right? It should have.
But like any dumb seventeen-year old girl, I spent entirely too much energy and time bemoaning my fatness, when hindsight shows me that I wasted years and years of absolutely perfectly good cuteness (and not fatness).
During this weightlifting time of my life (age 14-19), I trained 5-6 days a week, and what I thought at the time was hard. I did work hard, most of the time. I did have some great success in the sport.
Looking back, I am not haunted by regrets in weightlifting really—except a few: the way I allowed pressure to get to me, my sense of sportsmanship and mentally how I quit–especially in my last national competition, when it mattered most.
My dad still tells me, “I could tell if you were going to make or miss a lift by the way you walked up to the bar.”
[That sort of commentary was not especially helpful to me as a teenager, though.]
Some of my highlights were actually off the competition stage… but my national and International highlights, just for legitness-sake:
- 1st place – Jr. Nationals 1995
- 2nd place – Copa de Guatemala 1996
- 4th place – Jr. and Sr. Nationals 1996
- 5th place – American Open 1996 / Sr. Nationals 1997
- 7th place – Jr. World Championships, Cape Town, South Africa 1997
I would have been a (very) dark horse for the 2000 US Olympic team, but I was in the stable.*
The problem with this logic is that (much like me still in the sport of triathlon), I was a training hero—and competition zero.
I can say all day long that I would’ve done this and that, but the truth of the matter is that on “game day,” I often chumped out.
I quit the sport of weightlifting in 1999.
The chumping was a wave that started quietly. I could feel it coming from miles away, though. I coincided my weightlifting quit with the escape from home and into college, and wanting to become my own person.
When this announcement came through about the Jr. World Championships, I knew I would tank. I knew it right then:
- Coach… expects athletes to make the U.S. World Team– Oscar, Jim, Anthony, Michael, Cheryl, Rachael and Meredith. “I don’t expect any problems,” Cohen said. “We’ve got the cream of the crop. They’re in shape and they’re ready to break records.”
And he was right, on the surface.
I was right there and I was a easy make for my second world team. I went to the qualifying event and smashed open all three of the first lifts.
The only thing I had to do was make one out of the three remaining lift… at a weight I had done 50 times.
And I tanked it.
On purpose. Just quit.
Looked into the audience. Looked at my father, looked at my grandparents, my coach. Knew they were “counting” on me. [I remember not looking at my mother, because I knew she was the one who would not be disappointed in me.]
There was a buzzing sense in my head in that moment that I was so very tired of people counting on me, expecting so much from me. Maybe I was tired of myself–in all ways too.
I had cut 16 pounds in 2 weeks to “make weight” for the event. I was tired. My friends were drinking beer at parties on the weekends, and I was all “serious” about weightlifting. I was over it.
And in that moment in the competition, as I walked up to the bar for lift four, then five, then six–I held zero expectation of myself. I was done. I did not hold myself accountable for the hard work I had put in. I just wanted out.
I tanked the jerk three times with 92.5 kgs (203 lbs).
It wasn’t just a baby tank. It was a massive tank.
[My personal best was 33 pounds over that weight.]
After that, I cleaned out my locker. I hung up the weightlifting belt and shoes in exchange for beer, wine, pizza, Chinese food and complete sloth-dom.
I graduated from college, married the Expert, and when I realized that I didn’t want to keep making eyeglasses for a living, I decided, I guess I’ll go to law school.
Fast forward a few years later, I had a law job I hated, two kids under the age of two, and I was about 250 pounds (on a good day) with a massive anxiety, debt, anger, food rage and addiction, general un-health and drinking problem (which I did not get straight until almost seven years later).
Gratefully, however, during all of this I found the sport of triathlon.
Training and races started to bring back that competition feeling. I started to feel the old, yet new, feeling of doing something hard. The feeling of getting better, even if in small increments.
The beautiful thing about triathlon is that right out of the gate, I sucked.
I was completely talentless at triathlon. [Yes, I know “talentless” is not really a word. But I like it.]
And on a scale of “success” in triathlon by the numbers, I am still downright talentless. I am not ranked. I am never gonna KQ or BQ. I am slow. My best IRONMAN is 14:59. Blah Blah Blah.
And I don’t care.
Why? Because I am proud of what I have done.
And because I have been an elite athlete before in my life. I know what that takes, what toll it takes on the body, minds, relationships. How health is lost in the fight of competition.
Even if I wasn’t talentless at triathlon, I wouldn’t do that all over again in a new sport.
On the first day at the weightlifting gym in 1994, I lifted 120 pounds over my head at age thirteen—which was a big deal. There was expectations of me, my “talent” from the outset.
Oh she’s going to be great! Our new star!
When really, I was a thirteen-year old girl who was always told she was strong. I didn’t know what in the hell I was getting myself into with weightlifting.
And by the time I was in so deep at the international level, the only way to extricate myself was to fail. And so that’s what I did. I failed on purpose to get out.
Which, sometimes… I think is my way to escape most things. (Also another story for another day.)
In triathlon, there were no expectations… I came at triathlon completely devoid of any hopes or aspirations—except secretly wanting to be an IRONMAN.
Interestingly though, I found that swimming, biking and running caused a revival and redemption of sorts.
Through the grit and no quit of triathlon, I have laid the weightlifting ghosts to rest. I didn’t really know they were there. But they were.
I had a regret. A sense of “what if,” and a quiet voice of “you failed.” And I knew it.
With triathlon, I have been able to let go of those regrets and figure out so many new things about myself in sport.
Even more funny is that I go to the gym about twice a month and do Olympic lifts. I feel strong and powerful, even though I can’t even squat much below parallel. My PRs now are about 120 pounds less than my prior in both lifts.
I am officially now talentless in weightlifting. 🙂
But I lift weights now because I want to.
Because I am a different person. Because every day is an opportunity to be good at something we are “talentless” at.
That’s the good stuff.
Until next time,
* I had training PRs of 97.5 kg (214.5lbs) in the snatch, and 110 kg (247.5 lbs) in the clean & jerk, I was about 10 kgs (22 pounds) away from the alternate slot on the 2000 Olympic team.