Saturday, February 23, 2013

My Cali Kettle

“Holy shit, am I actually up here, competing with a 24kg bell?”

That’s what I was thinking, as the seconds ticked down to the start of my Long Cycle (Clean & Jerk) set at the OKC California Open Kettlebell Competition.  Now, a Girevoy Sport (GS) competition event is 10 minutes long, but I knew I would be lucky to last 8 minutes, if everything went well.  So far in training, alone at the YWCA, I had done 3 minutes per arm, at 8rpm, for a total of 48 reps. But unlike in training, there are a whole bunch of things you don’t get exposed to in the comforts of your gym, where you get to choose the time of day, the music, take control of your atmosphere, maybe count a rep or two that would have most likely been no-counted.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have done that 5 minute snatch event beforehand.  I thought I’d have enough time to recover, and I ONLY used the 12kg bell, hahaha… uh oh, I hope I didn’t just screw my grip for the LC Main Event. Well, here goes!”

I was on the fence on whether or not to even do this comp.  I wasn’t nearly ready to do any kind of serious numbers with the 24, since I had just started training with it less than two months prior.  And I hadn’t been training snatch at all.  Plus the whole thing would be an extra expense, I’d have to book days off or take vacation time, blah blah blah.  I was making excuses why I COULDN’T go.  Then 2 things happened. 

I had a FB chat with John Wild Buckley, and amongst the silly banter we always have, when I told him I was thinking about going to their comp, he exclaimed, “oh my god we need you!”  At face value, it was simply a dramatic statement of encouragement, to get me to tip the scales in favour of going.  But it struck something within me, because even though I only see my Chu-Hus (don’t ask) only a few times a year, I need them too.  I need everything there is about the world of competitive Kettlebell Sport… but more about that later.

Tracy Reifkind is going :))”

Mark Reifkind posted this simple statement on the OKC Event Page, and FB had a mini-explosion.  This was the second thing that solidified my decision to go. I assisted Mark in 2008 at the RKC in LA, but I had never actually met Mark’s wife Tracy. And these two legends of the Hardstyle KB world were coming to a GS event?  Sold!  I’ve always been big on collaboration and unity, but after 8 years seeing the KB industry grow, change, split, and rollercoaster up and down with various certifications, organizations, competitions, and products, it was about time we started to all work together.  And Tracy Reifkind might just be that person to initiate the global crossover.  I would look forward to lifting alongside a fellow Hardstyler (my KB roots were planted in the RKC), in an event dear to our hearts: the 5 Minute Snatch.

“12 or 16??  20 or 24??”  5 Min Snatch? Biathlon? Long Cycle?”

I know from previous experience that by attempting 2 events in one competition, something’s going to suffer.  But since this was an “early-in-the-year” comp, after consulting with my coaches Tom Corrigan and Misha Marshak, I decided on the 12kg bell for the 5 Min Snatch, and the 24kg bell for the Long Cycle.  This way, I wouldn’t destroy my grip for either event.  I had to set my ego aside and NOT do the 5min snatch with the 16kg, as is the standard for one of the RKC tests for female instructor candidates. 

But this competition was not about ego, it was about motivation, camaraderie, and friendship amongst colleagues and competitors.  There was no place for divas or douchebags at the OKC.  I have to admit, as a coach and trainer of already-motivated clients who look to me to inspire them to do their best, it’s HARD to self-motivate to a competition level when you are training alone.  So I seek every opportunity I can to soak up the positive energy and inspiration from every person I can at these meets – from the tireless crew at Orange Kettlebell Club and the Chu-Tang Clan, to World Champion Denis Vasiliev (he’s a world champion in kettlebell sport, but he could also get the title for nicest guy), from elite lifters to the nervous novice, from WKC, IKFF, IKSFA, USAKL, etc…  And then there was Mark and Tracy. 

I was really looking forward to meeting Tracy, and seeing Mark again.  As KB lifters, they are knowledgeable, accomplished, and respected.  And they were also of the “other” style… Hardstyle, which is very different than Girevoy Sport (Competition) style!  Having come from the RKC myself, and still teaching my own KB classes primarily in Hardstyle, I know just how different it would be for Tracy, especially since she has never competed in ANY sport before.  I also wanted to make sure she was overloaded with the GS friendliness and camaraderie that has become one of the primary reasons I travel to train and compete with other athletes – because we are all a family.  That’s what it’s all “aboot”, right ;-)?

I can’t emphasize enough how incredibly awesome the OKC is.  John Wild Buckley, Nazo, Jason Dolby, Juliet Lederle… these guys worked tirelessly to make this meet happen.  And even though they are too humble to state the impact they have had on GS sport in North America, I’ll give them a little shout out.  THE SPORT WOULD NOT BE THE SAME WITHOUT YOU GUYS!  Thank you for everything you do to bring people together to grow this sport!  Thank you for being honest ambassadors and promoting GS with integrity!  I am proud to be a part of CHU!!  You are bringing people together, you are raising money for incredible causes (everyone should attend or support the One-Hour Long Cycle, held every year in October, on JD’s birthday), and you are constantly pushing the boundaries of greatness!

I was only a bit sad that my coaches Tom and Misha weren’t able to be there.  Also, Coach Sergey Rudnev – during my first workshop on GS, the impact of his words to me after a brutal snatch drill (see “Five More Reps” in my Oct 2010 blog) have not diminished one bit.  My entire GS experience as a coach and athlete has been because of their patience and influence, making me trust in their training and programs, listening to the voice of reason when they tell me to back it off.  Well, I try my best on the last one, but I listen most of the time...  Thank you, Coaches Tom Corrigan, Misha Marshak, and Sergey Rudnev.  I am honoured to be your student.


You may notice I have gone off on tangents with this blog.  I get distracted easily.  In fact, I watched “one” hula video sent to me by one of my hula dance sisters… well, there went another hour, lost in the land of YouTube!  Sigh!  I told T-Rif that I would post my blog soon, but that I had so much to say… it seems such an overwhelming task, especially to coordinate all the photos I took, after I returned home!  But she said, just start writing… so I did.  So forgive any journalistic errors… at least there are words to read!

Back to the platform.  The 5 Minute Snatch. 


I was really, really, really hoping this event would come at the end of the day, so I could do the Long Cycle fresh.  But wouldn’t ya know it, it’s not all about me… hmmppff!  I was up on flight #2, and then #9, of 18 flights.  So I played it safe, and stayed with the 12kg as planned.  It would be a good way to warm up for LC and save my grip, for the most part.  But really, I was taking in the electricity and excitement of it all – the big, spacious gym, the sounds of bells clinking, the chalk dust wafting, and the buzz of competitors and spectators readying for the next flight.  And guess who was beside me? T-Rif!!  The cheering from the spectators and coaches was so energizing; don’t ever underestimate the power you have as the audience to influence an athlete’s set to go from good to great! I was actually able to enjoy this event and just… lift.  There was no pressure of having to rank with a certain amount of reps; there was no sponsorship deal on the line.  What a relief!

This feels like cheating, hahahahhahahaa…..

I can’t remember the last time I trained with a single 12kg bell.  I actually don’t remember the last time I specifically trained for snatch.  So when the timer started I just did… whatever.  Maybe that sounds bad, or lazy, but I’ve been so preoccupied with the 24 for LC I hadn’t even had a chance to do a test set with the 12kg snatch at all.  So, no game plan, no pace, Just Do It.  My form was pretty sloppy, mostly GS, with too much lateral movement, but the last 10 reps I did pure Hardstyle, why not?  I got 130 reps, T-Rif beside me got 121 with the 16kg bell (Oh YEAH!!!) and it was so easy it felt like cheating.  A good set it was!

Seven flights later, after watching, cheering, chatting, meeting people, networking, eating, staying hydrated, warming up, and pacing around the gym, it was time to get back on the platform.  I was actually feeling the pressure now, because working with the 24 was just something that I was just getting used to.  Even though none of my coaches were there, my KB family took care of me.  THANK YOU Juliet for chalking my bell for me… it was perfect! 

That 24kg bell made me earn every. single. rep.  It was unforgiving.  I had a simple plan going in… try to stay focused, and aim for 7-8 rpm for 4 min/side.  I knew the breathing patterns. My technique, while far from perfect, was not (the real) Horror Show.  And I do well under pressure.  My judge was BJ Bliffert, and I knew he’d be fair, not give me a rep I didn’t deserve. 

During minute two, left hand, something went weird and I no-counted a rep.  That horrible moment when you don’t feel the connection between body and bell, and the judge stays silent instead of making the count… I allowed it to distract me.  I lost focus… oh, I had the strength, I had my technique, but without the mental focus, things could go not-so-well.  I started thinking, “Oh shit.  NOW how am I going to make up that rep?  I can’t speed up… I can’t slow the clock… I have to…”  I didn’t know.  So I kept plugging away, but I knew that threw me off and I would be lucky to match the numbers I had hit in training.

Gawd, is it three minutes already?  I’m so far behind, and I have a minute before I have to switch!  C’mon!!  Tick, tick, tick… Let’s do this!  Ah… urk…. Oh shit. The Claw.  Whups, DON’T DROP IT!!  SWITCH!!!

Ahhhh, The Claw.  Another horrible moment that many KB athletes can relate to.  It’s when the fingers of your working hand seize in a flexed position around the bell handle, and you cannot loosen them, nor tighten your grip.  It happened at the end of my set at Nationals, and it was happening now in Cali.  But I caught myself before I dropped the bell, and switched hands.  I hadn’t hit the four-minute mark yet, but my left side was done.  Onwards with the right! 

I heard my name.  I could hear people cheering and shouting words of encouragement.  Dolby? JWB? Elf? Nic?  For sure I heard Mark & Tracy Rif; they were right in front of me.  Come on, T, remember the basics!  Breathe!  Make sure BJ sees the fixation! Don’t lose another rep!  Keep going until you can’t go anymore… one rep at a time!

Aaaannnnd… hello, Claw.  The frustrating thing was, I had the cardio and strength to continue, but my grip was another story.  And when I can’t control the bell’s path from the dump to the rack during the clean, the subsequent jerk is not going to be properly aligned and lead to an uuuugggllllyyy finish.  But I had no choice, so I went as far as my gnarly hands would allow, until the bell literally fell from my right hand.  43 reps. Five less than in training!  I was a bit disappointed, I’ll admit; I was hoping for at least 50.  But then a cool thing happened. 

People came up to me and said how great it was to watch my set!  I mean, it’s nothing new to congratulate a lifter after their set, but I guess I felt like I didn’t do my best and my set was only so-so.  But when the praise kept coming, from lots of people, even ones that I hadn’t met personally, I started to think, “Huh, maybe I did do something cool by picking up that damned 24!”  Even though I am FAR from my goal of Master of Sport (which requires 96 reps for the 65kg bodyweight class), I think the general consensus was that it takes some nads to even get on the platform with the GREEN (24kg) bell.  So I had a bit of a “wow, aw shucks” moment to myself, and enjoyed the rest of the comp.  (side note: THE most incredible thing happened a few days later.  T-Rif blogged about her foray into GS, and not only posted the last few minutes of my LC set with the 24, she gave me some unbelievable props for doing it… I am so honoured, and flattered, by your kind words Tracy… you have completely motivated me to seriously kick ass in training and competition!  THANK YOU!!!)

I could go on for days about how awesome the whole GS competition universe (not world, but UNIVERSE) is, but I think you get the idea as to how passionately I feel about it.  So I’ll leave you with this: 

Things happen for a reason.  Sometimes we don’t understand the how, and especially the WHY, at times, but my path to kettlebells, and specifically GS, was most definitely a circuitous one.  Ten years ago, if you told me that in 2013 I would excel in an obscure-but-life-changing Eastern European sport (Cow bells?  Kettle Balls?  What’s that?), hang out, train with, and be coached by world champions, become part of an entire family of international Kettlebell friends and athletes, compete as a semi-sponsored athlete at the age of 41 in a professional division (huh, ME?), and be somebody’s inspiration (who, ME?), I would have thought you were delusional.  Had I stayed with the police dept, I would have never been introduced to KBs at that utmost critical time.  Had I stayed a journalist I may never have become involved with the fitness industry.  And had I stayed with the fire dept, I would have never considered competing in GS.  Funny how things work out, isn’t it?

Of course I have my “What if…?” moments about those lost professions, wondering how changed my life would be had any of those things played out differently.  But those “What ifs” have become “What next!” in my kettlebell endeavours… and I can’t wait to let you know how it all plays out.  Thanks for reading my ramblings… and until next time, I’ll be 10-7.


PS: I have no idea why some of the text is highlighted and reversed colour.  But I'm tired and just want to get this published... so, please complain to the manager if you don't like it.  Thanks.

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