Falling From The Top
I was living through some of the most successful years of my powerlifting career. I was at the top. Back in 2018 I made my first debut in the iconic Animal Cage, where I became the first woman to ever deadlift over four times her body weight. I felt strong, powerful, invincible. After a solid performance in front of hundreds, I thought to myself “the only way we can go is up,” and boy was I wrong. I came to understand that the road to discovering your full potential is paved with obstacles and difficulties. During conversations with veterans of the sport, they would warn me that we all get hurt at some point. They said, “enjoy your glory days while they last.” I believed them, but I didn’t think I’d become part of that statistic. That’s something that happens to other people, not me.
The following year was a struggle, something I don’t talk openly about often… until recently. The pressure to show up and bring a stronger, more technically proficient package every single time I stepped on the platform felt suffocating, yet exciting. I knew that every year that went by, progress would be slower and more arduous, and that is precisely why I love competing in this sport: the lessons learned from the slow, painful grind, from failing, from coming short on your goals. We glorify success and demonize suffering—I don’t think it should be this polarizing. We should welcome both success and suffering, happiness and sadness, with open arms, and thank them for shaping us into who we are today.
I’m known for my work ethic, consistency, and discipline in and out of the gym. I’m passionate and flat out love my sport. It is who I am. Then, the unthinkable happened. It seemed to have snuck up on me. It wasn’t a major incident or anything. No pop, crack or break, which in my opinion might have been a lot easier and more straightforward to deal with.
After my ’18 cage performance, shit hit the fan and I started noticing some pain and tenderness in my lower back. “No problem,” I thought, I’ve dealt with this stuff before. The next day in training I noticed my back still felt sore and tight. “No big deal,” I thought to myself as I popped one more ibuprofen to get through the session. I got in my car and drove thirty minutes to my house. When I got out of the car my back was throbbing and I was stiff as a board. Oops, I might have been a little careless there and shouldn’t have forced myself to work through the pain.
Training Through Pain
Even though deep down I knew I should take a break, my competitive instinct would override any rational thought process I had. So I kept training. The days the back pain was worse, I’d slap my belt on earlier, take more ibuprofen, and grind. I could not bear the thought of my competition outworking me as I sat out and sipped back on my cold beer from home. “They can beat me, but they cannot outwork me” was my mantra. So I kept being stubborn and ignoring every signal my body sent me begging me to stop. Pain is like a light on the dashboard telling you to check the engine, but I didn’t check mine, and boy did my engine need an oil change.
Another year of training went by and I had been able to continue making progress, but at what price? I didn’t take a break because of some odd sense of pride. Sure enough, I ended up paying for it. I spent two years going from therapist to therapist, asking the most qualified in the game about my injury. Not once did I get the same response twice. At best I was dealing with a “muscle spasm” and at worst I had multiple herniated discs, a vertebral fracture, and degenerative disc disease. It all sounded awful. And the cause? I got everything from people telling me I needed to fix my technique or my posture, or I had weak glutes, weak back, lack of stability, leg length discrepancy, and pelvic floor issues. All overly simplistic explanations to a multifactorial problem.
Taking Matters into My Own Hands
I took matters into my own hands and read every book, every research article, every blog post that was ever written about back pain and wrote a book titled “Back in Motion: Overcoming Setbacks Through Resistance” where I talk in-depth about this experience and share the stories of other elite-level athletes. I take you five hundred years back in time so you can fully understand the history of back pain and make sense of how we got to the point of utmost confusion about this topic; we break down the science and debunk myths. But that’s not what this article is about. This article is about a story with a lesson I wish someone had taught me earlier in my career.
Breaking Up With Powerlifting
After years of battling this thing out, showing up to every single national and international competition, beating my body up, and not being able to train as hard as I needed and would want to, I decided to break up with powerlifting—for now. I was depressed. I felt like I lost my identity because I thought strength was measured by numbers, but I was wrong.
Though I was no longer able to deadlift four and a half times my body weight, I was there to hold my best friend when she needed me most. I couldn’t squat five hundred pounds, but I found the courage to start a new business in the middle of a recession. That wasn’t apparent to me when I first made this choice. Without my sport, I suddenly had a vacuum in my sense of self that I had to try to fill. My self-esteem was crushed, I questioned my self-worth, and I lost my sense of invincibility. Ok, I’m done making you guys depressed.
Blessing in Disguise
One of my favorite quotes is “every crisis is an opportunity in disguise.” Even though I couldn’t see it at first, taking time away from training was the best decision I could’ve made. In the last six months, I not only survived but I continued to grow through the worst economic climate of my adult life. I learned to play the drums, got into fashion designing, learned how to sew, made new friends, took a genetic editing course from Harvard, got into bodybuilding, and started boxing. Not training 5 hours per day allowed me to discover new passions and interests, but most importantly it’s given me my happiness back.
My mood isn’t determined by my performance in training, my self worth doesn’t depend on my ranking, and I finally realized that my health is my biggest priority. I learned so much throughout this crazy journey. I’m grateful for every nagging ache and pain, good and bad sessions, medals, and failed lifts. I hope my story resonates with you and that you can always remember that It’s not about how quickly you can get strong, but about how long you can stay healthy and injury-free.