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The Price of Competition

I recently read an article from the elitefts.com website that highlighted the lives of several former powerlifters. And while I have no personal interest in powerlifting, I thoroughly enjoyed their journalistic piece. Before I explain my reasoning, you may wish to first read the article at the following link:

Price of the Platform

As you will see throughout, many of these lifters sacrificed their lives for the sport that they loved. They essentially put aside work, health, and personal relationships in pursuit of their passion. Now, several years later, many of these lifters continue to pay the price. Several suffer from past injuries and are addicted to pain medications. Their quality of life has forever been changed based on the decisions that they made as young lifters.

Consequences

Was it worth it?

After reading such an article, it is human nature to ponder whether such sacrifices were worthwhile in the end. In fact, after sharing the elitefts story on Facebook, I had several readers ask me that exact question. Many young athletes wanted to know how much they should sacrifice. How much is too much? I heard from football players, boxers, mixed martial artists, lifters, and more.

Unfortunately, I did not have a worthwhile response for any of them. It is not my place to decide how much an athlete should give to his sport. Each individual must be comfortable with the sacrifices that he makes in pursuit of his goals. You need to decide for yourself, and there is no right or wrong answer. The correct answer for you is one that you are comfortable making once you understand the risks that accompany such a decision.

Speaking as a boxing coach, I enjoyed the powerlifting article primarily because the journalists did not hold anything back. There was no sugarcoating of facts. They laid out what the lifters did and the price that they have paid as a result of their actions. The reader is then encouraged to make his own decisions. Once again, you need to decide for yourself, but let’s not pretend that real risks do not exist.

Instead, we need to let more athletes know exactly what they are up against. I am no powerlifter, but I do train fighters for a living. When speaking with fighters, I am as honest as they come when discussing the risks faced in our sport. More fighters need to be aware of the risks. Stepping inside the ring or cage is dangerous. Whether you realize it or not, you put your life on the line each time that you fight.

I tell everyone that it is not healthy to be punched in the face and that every serious fighter will eventually be injured. When you are cutting weight, your life will be miserable. There is nothing fun about it. You will be forced to make sacrifices that close friends and family do not understand. That’s reality. You are going to get hurt. You are going to suffer. You will experience fear and anxiety. It is not all fun and games.

And after all the sacrifices have been made and you have eventually hung up the gloves, there is a good chance that you will have earned little or nothing in the sport that you loved. I do not have specific figures, but there is no doubt that less than 1 percent of fighters make more than 99 percent of the money. I have close friends who were accomplished professional fighters who struggled to put food on the table even during the prime of their career.

Yet despite the struggles faced both during and after their fighting careers, many of these individuals would not have it any other way. I say this not to suggest that the pain and struggles are not real, but once again to remind you that you must decide for yourself. It is not my place (or anyone’s) to tell you what you should do with your life. If you are passionate about something, by all means pursue that passion. I simply encourage you to understand the risks that accompany such passion.

Training to compete and training for general health are essentially polar opposites. It is important that we do not confuse the two. General health and fitness does not require an elite effort. It always amazes me how many modern fitness programs encourage their members to sacrifice their health in pursuit of what is supposed to be a healthier life.

If you are training to compete in a high level sport, there’s a good chance that what you are doing is not healthy. It is not supposed to be. You train to become better at your sport. That is the goal. When I train a fighter, I am there to look out for him, but I am also there to help him knock his opponent unconscious. That is what we are hoping to accomplish. Everything else is secondary.

And while such words may sound harsh to some, I am glad that they do. Experienced athletes and trainers need to be more upfront about the harsh realities of competition. There is nothing wrong with encouraging athletes to work hard towards their dreams, but let’s also have full disclosure in terms of how much you must sacrifice and the price you may pay as a result. Pretending that lifelong injuries do not exist does not benefit anyone. Personally, I would rather scare someone away from the sport than have them blindly participate without understanding the risks.

Not everyone is willing to endure what must be endured to reach the top. That’s okay. I do not think any less of anyone who is not willing to sacrifice everything to become the best that they can. As mentioned previously, there is no right or wrong answer when considering how much you are willing to give up in pursuit of your goals. I simply encourage you to understand the risks and then make an informed decision that you can live with both today and as the years pass.

Whether it is fighting, lifting, or any other intense sport, high level competition isn’t for everyone. Anyone who suggests otherwise either has not been there or is just plain ignorant. Competition is harsh, as is life. Choose wisely.

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You are free to make whatever choice you want but you are not free from the consequences of the choice.

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Inspiration from Stuart Jamieson

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.

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The art of living lies less in eliminating our troubles than in growing with them. – Bernard M. Baruch

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He’s a Fighter

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.

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We acquire the strength we have overcome. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Discipline and Longevity

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.

Bernard Hopkins

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.

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It takes no effort to be ordinary. Ordinary is not even a challenge. You can do nothing and be ordinary. – Bernard Hopkins

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Wisdom From J.J. Watt

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.

J.J. Watt on dedication

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.

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Effort is between you, and you, and nobody else. – Ray Lewis

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