Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Peer Pressure

Ed. note: I'm going to drop a lot of names, some ages, some scores and ranks. All of this info is publicly available on the web if you Google any meet I've ever attended. There is no suggestion of superiority or inferiority, no invasion of privacy intended, just some thoughts that have recently come to me. Enjoy.

The recent build-up to US Nationals in New York was exciting to follow. All these friends of mine -- some virtual, some actual -- griping about their shoulder and running off the last pound in Central Park before weigh-in. There were Juniors who won medals in the Adult brackets. There was a tiebreaker decided by weigh-in. There were newly-minted Masters of Sport. I wish I could have been there, but there really wasn't any reason for me to compete at Nationals. I knew that, and I was okay with it.

I have watched with pride as my young countrymen climbed the ranks. Jason Sanchez, Josh Dunn, Douglas Seamans, and Steve Mathews have moved up 3 bell sizes in the time I've known them. The Ice Chamber KB Girls rose to the challenge of 24kg Snatch, when the rest of the world said the idea was crazy, posting several scores in the eighties and led by Melissa Swanson's 120 for Master of Sport.

As for myself, I've spoken plainly and at length: my entire 2014 season has been a reboot, and a painful one at times. However, I've added 10% to my 16kg LC record, and I was on pace to add 10% to my 20kg LC record when my palm tore at the 7:00 mark. My foundations are better. I may or may not make 24kg before the Autumn competitions, and I've accepted that. But, this condition reminds me of a some other lifters I know.

Mike Sherman, arguably the most experienced and most active American lifter at a spry 56, was stepped down by his coach from 28kg to 20kg and 16kg bells to rebuild his technique. His next few competitions presented dominating scores with 24kg bells. It intrigues me that he started about a decade ago, so at about my current age, and he is still improving.

John Sansone competes Long Cycle against me in the Georgia meets most years. His birthdate is on Facebook, and you wouldn't guess from meeting him that he's 60. I've seen him lift 16kg, 20kg, then 16kg again, all with solid technique and good scores.

Michael Long, here in my hometown, served in the USAF from 1971, so he's pushing 60 now. I've seen him lift 16kg and 20kg a few times, with continually improving scores.

What came to me recently is my idea of my circle of peers. My friends in each new home have been age 20-40, even as we have approached 50. So, I've considered all these 25-year-old lifters my friends, and by casual extension, my peers, which has led to these cycles of motivation and frustration. My real peers are Sherman, Sansone, and Long. I like Seamans and Dunn, but I know better than call myself their "peer" in any measure of sport.

I never thought of myself as Masters Class, but I will qualify for Masters class soon, whether I compete Open or not. It was really never about whether I make MS or whether I make Team USA. I'd have been up against Tashlanov, and someone please just shoot me now. No, it's about whether I can avoid wasting another 3 months on recovery or starting over from scratch. It's about the balance between sport and fitness and the too-regular conversation I have about why I do this.

I'm not the only one, either. There's a YouTube clip online called "10 minutes with a girevik", all in Russian, by a young student interviewing his coach, Sergey Merkulin. (I should be so lucky.) When asked what goes through his mind during minute 10, Merkulin's answer was "Why the hell do I do this to myself?!" Merkulin, fluid and effortless at only 70kg, questions his motivation at minute 10. He and I are the same age.

Sergey Rudnev was, I believe, a gymnast before he got into GS. He's 2 years older than me, almost exactly my size and weight, and he moves his body effortlessly. The bells look heavy on him, but he does muscle-ups and bridges and handstands and can push-press three 16kg bells with one hand. He's wiry as a cat, but he's the picture of health. What have I seen Rudnev do in the last year? He's teaching KB clinics, doing gymnastics stunts, and once in awhile competing with 24kg.

These guys are my role models now. Forty-something pushing fifty, still honest about the masochistic element of this sport, still in the peak of overall health off the platform, where it really matters. They have nothing left to prove on the platform. Either one could so easily retire to a cottage in Siberia and teach P.E. at some Russian university, but they still enjoy the sport. There's being the best at 25, and there's being the best at 60. I only have one of those milestones left to me, but I'm in some really, really great company.

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