Lessons Learned Between The Collars

Discovering Powerlifting

You grow up small and weak, being told you can’t do certain things because you’ll hurt yourself. I think that’s where it starts for everyone in strength sports. We’re limited by our own bodies, but then we learn that we can change that. We can change that to levels where we seemingly become superhuman. Then it just becomes a question of what will drive you, what will motivate you when you’ve got twice your body weight on your shoulders and every fiber of your body is telling you, “No fucking way.” Except you keep pushing, because you know that in another second the weight will start to move, but you’ll have to dig deep within yourself because that second lasts so much longer. 

I remember it started with Brandon Allen, a bear of a man in all senses of the word. It’s one of the earliest Apeman videos. I remember he took up the whole screen and when he moved, he moved with intention. It looked like the world around him made way for him. I envied him in that regard. I then envied his strength, I still do. Megan Gallagher followed next. She was so different than Brandon. I couldn’t believe she was a recommended video. After watching one of her meet reports though, it became clear they both shared that intention and inspiring strength. I envied hers as well. 

People often forget that there are different types of strength and that it’s not determined simply by weight lifted. I am equally appreciative of the strength it takes to squat 1,000 lbs as the mental fortitude required to get there. It couldn’t have been easy, but the same could be said about the one-legged man learning to squat 400, or the woman coming back from a near-fatal accident to do the same with 300. None of it is possible without being all types of strong and when I first wanted to get into the sport that was clear to me, so was the fact that I was not strong. 

Finding the Fire

It didn’t mean that I was weak either, though. I just didn’t think I was worthy to be that strong. I am/was an angry individual, mostly at myself. The flaws that I tried to keep hidden always felt ready to spew out for all to see. I imagined people just staring and wondering how long I could keep up the facade and reveal the truths just below the surface. In reality, I was giving these flaws power by focusing on them and not devoting myself to working on bettering all the aspects of me. That’s kind of where I’m at now, I’m driven.

This insane drive to be a better me when before I just wanted to call it quits, and just rest. I felt weary, so tired, and the color seemed drained from all existence. I look back at the old me and all I see is a child. I look back and see a kid who was so scared out of his mind to simply exist and it makes me sad and it makes me angry. Angry that I didn’t do something earlier, but hindsight is 20/20. 

Someone near and dear to me asked me what goes on in my head right before every lift. I get tunnel vision. Almost everyone fades away, but there is someone that’s always looking back. It’s a younger me, it’s everything I have tried to forget and bury but they’re still there. I don’t know if I'll ever be free of them, but I don’t think I want to or should. So I puff my chest up a little more, I tighten my body, ready to strain, ready to lift, ready to impress this younger me who just needed to be told that if they held on just a little longer, if they could crawl through the shit for just a few feet more, that although their eyes are burning from tears and the blackness of finality seems to be the only respite, there will come a day when they are king of the mountain. What mountain doesn’t really fucking matter, just that they know that they stand tall over it. 

I am that evidence and I’m glad we held out long enough, even if there were some really close calls. The job’s not done yet though, there are still more miles to travel and more mountains on the horizon, but I can look around me and take a moment to admire the view before I grit my teeth, look up, and get back to climbing. 

What’s the end goal? I just want to find my happiness. I’m getting there and I’m sure I’ll have it, in time. But I also want to show people that as long as you show up and do the fucking work, even when you don’t want to and have to bitch and joke to get through it, you can leave people awestruck. I’m not even that fucking impressive, but people have to look look up, I'd prefer that than them looking down. So, in the words of one of my favorite artist, Tony Guilardi-Brown, “I fight for hope.” Make that my mantra, chisel that into my bones, let that be my grave marker, whatever. You can’t have the light without the dark and the dark helps the light shine so much fucking brighter.

 In the Dark, but Never Alone

Speaking of which, I’m no special case. It’s a long story of self-hate, harm, and fear that’s all too-common in the sport. It being so made me find my place and learn to look at these flaws in a new way. It goes without saying that the sport is made up of outsiders and the strange. The type of people who will, without fail, go to the gym despite how they’re feeling. The type that will starve and dehydrate themselves and lose up to thirty pounds to earn a few extra points in a formula that determines the “best lifter”. Point being these people do not conform to the norms and are angry. Angry at their jobs, angry at themselves, angry at the present. 

The weights give them refuge from the toxicity of the anger and the hate, it allows them to direct it. It goes without saying that we’re all innately broken, but these fractures don’t make us fragile and we seek to test our mettle against the metal. It’s true though, it’s progress you can track, but it’s also the obstacle that will never be scaled. You’re not content with what you have in the moment and are always looking forward; eventually, there’s a time when your body can’t and it starts to degrade. So we try and hold on, better to struggle than to lay down. It is both admirable and inspirational, if a little morose. There is a peace in that however; we cannot control what always goes on in our head, but we do have control over what we subject ourselves to through lifting. So matter how shit we feel or  broken we become, we have solace that the struggle will not kill us, it cannot kill us, because that part of us that would allow it to is long dead. 

I guess that’s why I don’t personally don’t fear the devil and have slowly come to lose my fear of actual death. I know what they’re about, people though, people will always scare me because they’re capable of anything. Both in wonderful and terrible ways. Take that how you will, I choose it to be a call to take up arms and charge the void of uncertainty. I don’t know how long I’ve got left on this planet, but you can be damned sure that I won’t drift along idly. I’m at the helm and ready to sail northward, to home, wherever, and whenever, that may be. 

Continue to fight the good fight, one way or another we’ll all get to rest eventually, but there is still work to be done.

By: Richard Castillo