Stuart Jamieson was born with spina bifida, scoliosis, kyphosis, and diastematomyelia. He was not expected to live past his second birthday. Doctors did not even expect him to sit up as a child. The thought of him living an active life as an adult was not even considered.
Over twenty years later, Stuart is now a British Classic Powerlifting champion. Highlights from one of his recent meets can be seen below. You will see him pull 225kg while weighing in at just 59kg. If you aren’t quick with math, that’s a few pounds short of 500 at a bodyweight of approximately 130 pounds.
Stuart provides a powerful example of an individual who was determined to write his own destiny. His early doctors were entitled to an opinion, but Stuart and his family did everything they could to prevent that opinion from becoming a reality. To suggest that they defied the odds is an understatement.
Fortunately, you do not need to have endured Stuart’s early struggles to learn from his example. At some point, I’m sure we have all been told by an authority figure what we could or could not achieve. Whether it was a doctor, teacher, coach, or family member, there is a good chance that someone could not resist sharing their opinion of your future.
Ultimately, it is up to you whether you’ll accept such opinions as fact or instead find out for yourself. Stuart and his family obviously chose the latter.
In fact, Stuart shared the following wisdom in a recent interview:
Despite my conditions, I have had an incredible life. I have experienced the best and worst that life has to offer but I have not allowed my disability to define my quality of life… Life was never destined to be a smooth ride for me, but it has given me the strength of character to live a fulfilling life and chase my passions.
I want to show that regardless of what we may be labeled as – disability, age, race, gender – we all control what life we lead and what we can achieve.
In summary, if there is something you wish to achieve, you owe it to yourself to take a chance and find out. Ironically, hard work and self-belief are both invaluable, yet also freely available. Rather than wasting time worrying about the opinion of others, invest that time in yourself. When you truly do work hard and refuse to give up, you will not only surprise those around you, but also yourself.
Potential will always be an opinion. No one knows exactly what can be achieved until it has happened. Find out for yourself. Regardless of the outcome, the journey will be much more rewarding.
The art of living lies less in eliminating our troubles than in growing with them. – Bernard M. Baruch2 comments
Throughout this blog’s history, I have featured athletes from all corners of the world who have thrived despite living and training amidst poverty. I have highlighted athletes from countries such as Myanmar, Russia, Ghana, Brazil, Uganda, Cuba, and Thailand. Many of these athletes know nothing of each other, yet share in their quest to fight for survival and hopes of a better life.
And while not every fighter is fortunate enough to escape the harsh reality that surrounds them, there have been countless world champions who have risen from poverty. They have thrived despite growing up poor and training with little or nothing. These fighters never had access to fancy equipment, seminars, quality foods, or any of the other so-called necessities that are hyped by the industry today. All that they’ve ever had was the desire to someday escape the world around them.
Such harsh environments are not always located on the other side of the world however. It is one thing to read about fighters in distant lands such as Myanmar, but often times there are others struggling in the city or town next door to you. You do not need to live in a poor country to live in a harsh environment. One such example can be seen in the video below. Antoine Douglas has been fighting since day one despite being born in our nation’s capital of Washington D.C.
As for his harsh upbringing, Antoine wouldn’t have it any other way. When asked about his childhood, here is how he responded in a recent interview:
I don’t regret any of it because it made me into the person that I am today. Actually, I appreciate it more than anything. If it wasn’t for all of that,I don’t know where my mind would be at right now. Because of that I am so grateful to be where I am now… That’s why I am pushing so hard to be as successful as I can.
Antoine is not the only Douglas fighting hard for a better life though. His sister Tyrieshia is also an unbeaten professional boxer. She recently improved to 5-0 while Antoine will put his unbeaten record (14-0) on the line on July 25th. His upcoming bout will be broadcast on Showtime’s ShoBox series.
In summary, where you start does not matter as much as where you finish. So the next time you panic because you’ve run out of protein powder, remember that it could be worse. There are other athletes in the world who don’t even know when their next meal will come. They aren’t just hungry for food however. They are also hungry to compete and improve. Once you understand and appreciate these athletes, you tend to have a better understanding of what really matters when considering athletic development. At some point, it always comes back to how bad you want it and how hard you are willing to work.
We acquire the strength we have overcome. – Ralph Waldo Emerson1 comment
In my last entry, I shared a quote from NFL football player J.J. Watts. He spoke of his desire to make the most of his playing career. He has no time for distractions and is 100 percent focused on continuous improvement.
To no surprise, you will hear similar wisdom shared by Bernard Hopkins in the video below.
And while some may label his advice as common sense, I can say that it is everything but common. I have seen countless athletes who only abide by such advice when it is convenient or forced upon them. Many athletes simply do not have the discipline to follow such a lifestyle year after year.
As a result, the longevity displayed by Hopkins is rarely seen in any sport. He began fighting professionally in 1988. That was over 25 years ago. In other words, he has critics today that were not even alive when he was already fighting professionally. Hopkins is currently 49 years old and is the oldest boxer to ever win a world championship.
His most recent titles were not his first however. Previously, Hopkins reigned as the middleweight champion for over a decade. He had 20 consecutive world title defenses during that time. And while his middleweight reign seems like a distant memory, there were critics who had already counted him out in his mid thirties. I vividly recall when Hopkins was preparing to fight Felix Trinidad in 2001. Trinidad entered the bout at 40-0. He was fresh off a brutal knockout over William Joppy and many expected him to do the same to the older Hopkins. Bernard had different plans. I was fortunate to sit ringside as he put on a boxing clinic and dominated Trinidad before stopping him in the final round.
Much of the boxing world was shocked to see such a performance from a 36 year old fighter. I was not surprised at all. It was a few months prior to that fight when I was fortunate to run a 5K race with Hopkins. At that time, he adamantly proclaimed that he was going to be around for a LONG time.
Thirteen years later, we have come to expect nothing less from this ageless warrior. I won’t be surprised if Hopkins wins another title as a 50 year old man. I will not count him out until he is down and out.
In summary, if you are a young and aspiring athlete, you will be hard pressed to find better advice than the wisdom he shares above. Athletes do not last that long by accident. Hopkins takes discipline to a level that most cannot endure. I have heard of many fighters who have literally packed up and left his training camps in the middle of the night. The discipline and work ethic that he demands is more than most can handle. Once again, it all boils down to how much you are willing to sacrifice to become the best that you can be. And while not everyone is up to the challenge, at least recognize and appreciate the uniqueness of his accomplishments.
It takes no effort to be ordinary. Ordinary is not even a challenge. You can do nothing and be ordinary. – Bernard Hopkins5 comments
If you are a fan of NFL football, there is a good chance that you have seen J.J. Watt make some tremendous plays on the field. In just three seasons, he has already been selected to two Pro Bowls and been named the Defensive Player of the Year. He is undoubtedly one of the most feared defensive players in the game. The video below offers a brief glimpse into his dominance.
Yet despite the introduction to this entry, I am not writing to highlight J.J. Watt’s football career. Yes, there is no denying his talent. What is more important however is the wisdom he recently shared when asked about his extreme dedication. Take a look at what is written below.
Promising athletes from all sports can learn from this simple advice. If there is something you wish to achieve, it is up to you to determine how hard you are willing to work for it. And when you begin to make sacrifices, there will always people who question why you work as hard as you do. Certain people in this world will never understand. That’s okay. It is not your job to explain the passion you have to someone who does not share it.
As a boxing coach, a big part of my job is convincing fighters to make sacrifices outside of the gym. A fighter may train hard for 2 hours a day, but that does not give him a free pass to ignore the remaining 22. What happens outside is often just as important as what happens inside. I couldn’t tell you how many athletes I have seen who essentially threw away their careers by making the wrong decisions in life.
I know there are several fighters who read this blog so it is my hope that they pay attention to what is written above. You don’t need to be a football player to follow the example set forth by J.J. Watt. Focus on your goals and don’t be distracted by those who do not understand. Never forget that the clock is always ticking so do not take any day for granted.
Make the most of the present if you wish to create a future that is worth living.
Effort is between you, and you, and nobody else. – Ray Lewis9 comments
Following my recent entry about lethwei fighters in Myanmar (see here), I was contacted by filmmaker Vincent Giordano. The timing could not have been better as he was recently in Myanmar capturing footage for a new documentary. If you are not familiar with Vincent Giordano, you may wish to visit the link below which includes outtakes from one of his previous documentaries.
Fortunately, he is also releasing outtakes from the more recent lethwei documentary. Below you can see one example that highlights the training of the fighters.
Additional footage will eventually be posted to the following page:
As you will see, the training footage takes place outdoors in a makeshift gym that was created in an alleyway between two living quarters. Such a gym reminds me of a previous entry where I featured boxers from Kampala, Uganda (see here). The Rhino Boxing Club in Kampala consists of nothing but a space between two buildings in a crowded neighborhood.
Ironically, although the lethwei fighters in Myanmar and the boxers in Uganda know nothing about each other, they both train in a similar fashion. These are fighters who make the most of the hand they have been dealt. You will not find athletes who complain about inadequate facilities. Instead, you will find hard working, humble fighters who have never known any other way.
And as I’ve said before, I do not share these entries to suggest that you must train in poverty to excel. I share these stories to eliminate all excuses that exist regarding training facilities and equipment. The fitness industry is notorious for complicating the training process. Training recommendations are rarely based solely on effectiveness. On the contrary, what is popular is often what carries the greatest revenue potential for those involved. You will be hard pressed to find any fitness guru who markets the potential of training in an alleyway between buildings.
Fortunately, filmmakers such as Vincent Giordano have provided a sneak peek into the real life and training of these high level fighters. Watching an athlete who is literally fighting for his life and well being is naturally free of the marketing nonsense that is more commonly found online. These fighters aren’t training to sell you anything or impress you. They are training solely to prepare for the brutality of their challenging sport.
In summary, when watching these fighters train, it is wise to heed the advice of Bruce Lee. Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, and add what is uniquely your own. Plenty can be learned by watching fighters who thrive physically despite living and training amidst poverty. There’s no fancy equipment, designer supplements, or complex programming. All that you will find is hard work, consistency, effort, and eventual success. Fortunately, you don’t need to live in Myanmar to uncover and use these freely available attributes. It is solely up to the individual.
How bad do you want it?
Life is not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well. – Jack London2 comments