“You may now approach the platform.”
This command prompts a stone-faced athlete to nod in understanding as he steps towards the judge. He looks down and places his feet thoughtfully underneath the rusted cast iron bar loaded with three times his body weight. There is a tightness wound up in his chest, a laser-like focus in his eyes, and a fire burning hot within his soul.
This is it, the third and final attempt on the last lift of the competition. One clean pull from the floor and the athlete will set four state records and clinch the title of the strongest man in the Midwest.
The crowd livens into a low rumble of support at the judge’s command. There is unity inside this old gymnasium. The shouts only stoke the flames within the athlete.
Too many hours went into preparing for this moment to fail. Too much blood was spilt to go home empty handed. Too many sacrifices made to fall short of the goal.
The athlete pushes his hips back and lowers his hands to the bar. The chalky left hand locks in first, with a pronated grip. The right hand follows, supinated. Air is drawn through the nostrils deep into his lungs and then exhaled fully. He takes the slack out of the bar and follows with another deep inhale in which he begins to draw tension into his core.
At the peak of this inhalation he holds, and everything else stops. The crowd disappears, the walls of the gym fade away – the athlete finds himself isolated over the bar atop the platform.
In another instant the scapulae lock together, the erector spinae fire to stabilize the spine, and the gluteus maximus powerfully begins to move the hips into extension.
The massive load begins to leave the ground, pulled by this machine of a man. The movement is slow and labored and the athlete’s face begins to glow red. His feet drive into the earth as he tries with might to lift his head towards the sky. With the lift in progress the crowd explodes; they shout, clap, and whistle, their faces turning as red as the competitor’s.
As the bar elevates to the athlete’s knees, progress all but comes to a halt. The dreaded sticking point will prove to be a formidable opponent beckoning the doom and demise of the attempt. He has come too far to release his grip. His body begins to spasm, the neural load of the attempt sending his central nervous system into fits. The bar edges through the sticking point, though, and now slides up the front of the athlete’s bulky quadriceps.
The tight ball in his chest releases; he knows success is imminent. His hips finally reach full extension; his scapulae retract, revealing a wide chest. At the lockout, he bellows out a demonstrative roar as the crowd echoes in admiration.
Amid the fervor, the judge raises his hand and growls, “Good lift!” The athlete then releases the bar and it crashes back down to the earth. The crowd stands in cheer. With the tension of the fight between man and gravity behind him, the athlete’s face once again returns to a stone cold glare and he humbly nods to the crowd as he turns and walks back behind the platform.
The goal has been actualized. Years of dedication have culminated in this single event. The athlete has displayed true strength and a noble attitude of determination.
Our competitor defined his purpose, shouldered the yoke of his intent, and traveled towards his goal with passion and grit. He knows that a life worth living involves discomfort. He knows he must face adversity with courage, and step into the arena anyway. He knows that he must be relentless in the pursuit of his dreams, just as we all should be.