Thursday, August 28, 2014

Weight-Lifting Takes Guts

Success is terrifying. 

It’s a weird thing to say or write, but it’s true. Success is exposing. It’s standing on stage naked and facing the crowd. It’s allowing the world to feel the weight of who you are. It’s accepting that failure could come at any moment.

I’ve spent most of life afraid of success for this reason. I was afraid that my true identity might be revealed, and that I might not be much of a man. So sometime around my freshman year of high school I discovered self deprecation. Rather than face the risk of being laughed at, I could beat them to the punch and laugh at myself first. I’m not sure that I even realized it happened, but I became the funny guy.

This works well at parties. It does not work well in the gym.

I finally realized this on my fifth day of the LSU Shreveport lifting program. We’d just finished our first week of ten rep sets, and I was fired up to lift heavy snatch and clean and jerk singles. I was feeling swol. Real swol.

Except that didn’t happen.

My lifts actually went backward. I could barely lift 30 pounds less than where I was the week before. I felt so defeated. I did the walk of shame, trading my heavy plates for lighter ones. I went for a big boy challenge and got crushed, like a little kid not picked for the team. 

So I went back to my old habits. I made lame jokes about Kryptonite and that I was on “reverse Shreveport”. I was my 15 year old self trying to not get picked on in Algebra class. When I walked to my wife (whose doing the program with me) to get a laugh out of her, she instead called me out. 

“You need to take yourself more seriously.”

She was spot on. Lifting takes courage. Not because it’s hard to put your body weight over your head (which it is), but because lifting forces you to accept yourself as is. I can’t pretend to be someone I’m not when pulling the bar off the ground. In that moment, I was a man who could snatch 115 pounds and I felt like a failure. My jokes were a place to hide. 

Success in the gym isn’t measured in lifting more than everyone else, and it’s not measured in lifting more than you did last week. It’s in the daily practice of doing something hard. In accepting where you are today and then challenging those limits.

Not in PR’s. Not in competing. Not in winning.

I don't make jokes about my lifts anymore. Not because they're not funny (although sometimes they are) and not because I stopped being myself, but because I don't want to hide. I have to accept where I am today and challenge that limit. Tomorrow that may be different, but that's how I will determine success today.

Today, I will do something hard.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

What I've Learned Through CrossFit

My clean and jerk max is 175 lbs.
My snatch max is 150.
My dead lift max is 350.
My back squat max is 315.
My best Fran time is 7:15.

None of these figures actually matter. They’re not all that impressive compared to Olympic lifters and CrossFitters. I’m not getting paid to improve my lifts. (It’s actually the opposite). But those numbers represent the greater story of my life over the last year and a half. 

My story is one of learning to hide. As a chubby, awkward teenager that grew into an awkward, slender adult, I became a master at hiding my true self. I just wanted to make everyone happy, so I became whatever the particular crowd I was with wanted me to be. So rather than pursue my own dreams I lived thorough my friends accomplishments, and I avoided conflict like the plague. I saw myself as helpless and weak.

I understood the Gospel in that Jesus loved me, but I didn’t understand how that made me into a powerful man of a God. In my eyes, Jesus loved me but I had to convince everyone else. My Young Life leader in high school told me I was a chameleon, changing my stripes to fit whichever crowd I was, but I saw it as self preservation. If they saw who I really was, there was no way they’d like me or accept me.

This way of life worked for a while. I was popular in high school. I made close friends and had amazing experiences in college. I fell in love and married an amazing woman.

After a few years, however, the charade had worn thin. Working to make everyone happy no longer worked, and my wife grew tired of living with a shell. I was a 29 year old man with no spine, no conviction, and no heart. I was the accumulation of years of becoming what everyone wanted. My Young Life leader’s words finally made sense. I was a chameleon who was no longer fooling anyone.

It was at this low point that my wife encouraged me to start going to CrossFit. (And by encouraged I mean she yelled at me to go out and do something.) I was terrified to walk into a room of strangers so exposed. I’d been scared of weights for a long time. Most of my life actually. On the surface, I’d tell you it was because I didn’t know anything about how to use them and that I didn’t care about being some muscle bound dude. But in reality, weights intimidated me. They only know truth. I could either lift them or I couldn’t, regardless of what I wanted people to think of me. I was going to be exposed. 

To my surprise, however, no one kicked me out. The weights exposed me and I was brought into the open, but to my surprise no one abandoned me. Instead, I realized how much I was holding back.

Progressively, my daily reconstructive process worked its way into other parts of my life. I stopped believing the lie that I was weak and started knowing that I was strong. I stopped believing the lie that I was inadequate and started knowing that I was capable. I started living my life knowing that God had made me into a man that had what it takes. 

Challenging WOD’s still makes me nervous, in the same way talking to people I admire turns me into a ball of nerves. But the difference I’ve learned through CrossFit is that I can accept who I am because at my core I’m capable enough to meet a challenge. The numbers I wrote in the beginning are more than records to impress other people. They tell the story of God building me into a man.

I’ve grown over the last year and half from an awkward, slender adult into an awkward, muscular man. 

And I wouldn’t have it any other way...

Saturday, August 9, 2014

David Wilson and the Defining Moment of My Childhood

I was pushed back to the worst day of my childhood Thursday.

I say worst because that’s the sort of thing a teenager feels in the moment their small world comes crashing in. I had to quit football when I was 14 for the same reason David Wilson announced on Thursday. Like Wilson, burners (or stingers as my doctor called them) indicated a neck injury that made it too dangerous to play football. Like Wilson, both our playing careers ended before they really had a chance to begin.

As a middle schooler obsessed with football, all I wanted to play for my high school team. My older sister was a cheerleader, so my parents took me to every game. To a pre-teen from a small town, the how-ever-many-thousand seat stadium at Sevier County High School was awe-inspiring. I lived for the moments where I could stand close enough to the sideline to hear the players cuss and see the sweat under their face masks. They were god-like to me.

But like Wilson, just weeks before my dream of playing high school football began, it all ended. After having seven stingers the season before, I got my eighth during preseason camp with the freshman team. We were doing a typical, “show how tough you are drill”, and I was out to impress my coaches and teammates. I lined up against a bigger teammate, hit him with my right shoulder, and it was done. I knew my fate as soon as it happened. My doctor (who was a former team doctor with the Steelers) told me I had to quit or risk permanent damage. My mom cried. I just stared at the floor.

So when I heard Wilson’s story and watched his retirement announcement, I relived sitting in the doctor’s office 16 years ago. It was so devastating at the time, but as a 30 year old husband and father I see that moment so differently. That was the moment God pulled away what defined me and began creating a path to bring me to Himself. It was transformed from being the worst day of my childhood into the day I began becoming who I am today.

I hope Thursday becomes the same day for David Wilson that my day was when I was 14. His gleaming optimism makes me think it will.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Was it Worth it, Big Blue? The Risk of Hiring John Calipari

When Kentucky hired John Calipari in 2009, Pat Forde wrote for ESPN, “They want their winner and they want him now, and they’re not worried about what happened at his previous place of employment.”

Kentucky got its winner, and the wins came in a big way, fast. Final Fours. A National Title. Lottery picks. Cal won elite recruits over with his hip arrogance.

Today, that arrogance has become blame. For the school. For the media exposure. For the players. This is what Kentucky signed up for when it got its winner. A man who says of his players, “The program almost got hijacked,” or “They’re counting on me too much.”

Was it worth it? The Kentucky brass knew the man they was getting into bed with. They knew the bridges he burned and the ashes he left at every other stop in his career. This should come as a surprise to no one. 

It should also be a very sobering thought for anyone clamoring for their school to hire a new coach. We should all ask ourselves, “What do we want and what are we willing to give up to get it?” Winning is amazing, but is it worth what Kentucky is going through now? We forget that we're building our school pride and identity around 18 and 19 year old students, using their talents and abilities as long as they are useful to satisfy what it is we're coming to sports for. Cal has been a master at manipulating this to his own advantages.

Forde concluded his 2009 article with the assumption that Memphis fans probably didn't care about what happened at Cal’s previous place of employment when they hired him ten years earlier.

“Ask them how they feel today.”

Big Blue Nation needs to take a long look at whether or not this is what they want from their program going forward.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Jeronne Maymon Deserves Our Appreciation Saturday

Remember Jeronne Maymon’s 32 and 20 game against Memphis in Maui?

It was all anyone could talk about for weeks concerning Tennessee basketball. Pearl had just been fired. No one knew how to spell Cuonzo. Stokes hadn’t yet joined the team. Maymon’s epic performance was the bright spot that gave everyone hope that all was not lost. 

It’s difficult to watch Maymon play now. He looks like he’s in constant pain during every game, and his knee seems like it could fail him at any moment. He doesn’t look at all like the guy he was two years ago. His stats are similar, with a slight dip in PPG (12.7 in 2011-12 to 10.4 this season), but he seems more like a guy keeping his fingers crossed he can make it down this home stretch.

I’ve always liked him as the heart of the team. I don’t know if he is or isn’t in the locker room, but he embodied Martin’s tough style and gritty attitude. When Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson left, Maymon stepped in as the face of Tennessee basketball when it needed it most.

Saturday is senior night. It’s been overshadowed by all the talk swirling about making the tournament or Martin’s future with Tennessee, but it will be the final home game for Maymon and Jordan McRae. McRae clearly has a future as either a role player off the bench in the NBA or playing overseas, but Maymon’s playing days are likely drawing to a close. Speculation about the future of the program sucks me in as much as anyone else, but lets not let Saturday come and go without appreciating who Maymon was to the program and who he was to us as fans. He gave his all for Tennessee.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

I was Expecting to Grow Antennas When I Turned 30...

I turned 30 today. 30 years old. I thought there would be more to it. It sounds like such an ominous number. 30. If I was an athlete, analysts would have conversations about if I’d lost a step or if my body would hold up much longer. It’s the number that hangs over youth, waiting to pounce with the yolk of adulthood.

My life looks very different than I envisioned the day I turned 20. Back then, you might have heard me say words like “stoked” or a sentence like, “Lawn Boy is Phish’s sell out album”. You might’ve heard me say something about my strong opinions concerning the war in Iraq, or my plans to move out west, or that I didn’t go to Wal-Mart because they were “corporate”. Really, you would’ve just heard me say whatever I thought might make me look cool.

I was this way because the only thing I’ve ever aspired for was to be liked. For other people to believe I was strong. Capable. Significant. That my words carried weight. That I was important. 

I worked very hard at this. So much so that I created versions of myself to fit any possible setting to gain the affirmation I wanted. In college, I bought books simply because they would impress girls who saw them on my bookshelf. I once had a conversation with a girl about our favorite Ernest Hemingway novels, having not read a single word of an Ernest Hemingway novel. I once bought a Sigur Ros album, and lit candles while I listened to it in my apartment. I even majored in English.

This need to create an image has hung with me throughout my twenties. After college, I was ashamed to tell people I worked in my dad’s business because I didn’t want them to think I wasn’t capable of having my own career. I wanted so badly to have grand achievements that left people awestruck, and we could talk about how much the (insert cool career field) world was changing.

So much wasted time.

Now jump ahead to today...

Today, on my thirtieth birthday, my wife threw me a party. So many people that I love were there. I spent the rest of the day with five of my closest friends, who don’t give a damn about my acheivments or the books I’ve read. At this moment, I’m sitting at my dining room table. My daughters are asleep in their rooms. My dog is curled up in her spot. My wife is asleep in our bed. My entire world is under my roof, and they don’t give a damn about my achievements either.

While I was trying so hard to make people believe I was something I wasn’t, God gave me a life full of people who love me deeply and profoundly for the man I am. No image necessary.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Cuonzo Martin, Perspective, and Why I Stopped Caring Who Our Coach Is

I have two ways of feeling about Cuonzo Martin.

Feeling 1: Cuonzo Martin is boring. His style is boring. The games are boring. The players are boring. I miss Bruce Pearl. I miss his sweaty orange jacket. I miss his veiled trash talk. I miss how badly I wanted to be his friend. I wish Dave Hart would make UT the rebellious school that told Mark Emmert to f*** off and hire back our coach that got screwed over because the NCAA wanted to make an example of him.

Feeling 2: We are delusional and acting entitled if we want Cuonzo gone. If not Martin, then who? Who are we, Tennessee, going to lure away to our mediocre basketball program? Some other mid-major guy looking for a pay raise? Are we really going to roll the dice on someone else, hoping for Bruce Pearl again? This really shouldn’t matter so much.

Fans are impossible to please. We come to sports as an unapologetic consumer, devouring everything our athletes and coaches throw out at us. The more wins, the more we gorge ourselves. When those wins don’t come, then the we’re up in arms because our plate is not quite as full as it once was.

Such is the state of Tennessee basketball. Bruce Pearl gave me something. I want it back.

I go back and forth on this like a teenage girl picking out clothes for a first date. Feeling number two, however, made a strong push Tuesday night against Florida. I sat in the 300 section with my 20-month-old daughter, Ayda, in my lap. This was her second game at Thompson-Boling, but her first men’s game with the arena at a near sell out. Normally, she’s firecracker who rarely stops moving, but the game action and crowd noise had her wide-eyed in stimulation overload. She barely made a sound, or even moved. She got restless only when someone in front of her stood up and she couldn’t see.

In that moment, I stopped caring who our coach was, and started caring that she would be entertained enough to make it at least through the first half. I started caring about laying the foundation that we’ll enjoy sports together as she grows older. That going to games will, at the very least, be something that we share together. Everything else about the game was extra.

A family of Florida fans were sitting behind us (I say it like they’re a species being observed in National Geographic), and their two boys, not older than seven or eight, kept telling their dad who their favorite players were. I’m pretty sure this changed as the game went on because they probably named off six different numbers. (They didn’t know their names.) They yelled basketball terms they didn’t understand, like, “Pressure! Pressure!” and asked questions about nearly every aspect of the game.

That kind of interaction is all I want from UT basketball. I want her to be that excited to tell me who her favorite player is as those little boys were about Scottie Wilbekin. Excuse me, I mean number five. If you want an argument for or against Cuonzo, has a great post comparing him to previous, non Pearl coaches at Tennessee. But for me, it just doesn't seem that important anymore.