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Of Past & Plantaris

To the sons I never had, but always will: Noel, Christian, Cam, Logan, Alex, Brandon, and Brayan.
 I have always been a father of none, but a father to some. You are all that I am.
 

There was no “pop”, no piercing sensation of immediate tactile discomfort and crippling downheartedness. Just a simple squeeze and light wrap burn. A possible pinched plantaris, the most useless of leg muscles stacking behind the pit of the knee. Nothing I had not overcome before in a few days’ time with old fashioned rest, ice, compression, and elevation; sleeping on my back with my foot on a makeshift car jack of throw pillows. At the time it was unbeknown to me, that I had already acquired a tweaked ligament, grade one gastrocnemius tear, and many ruptured blood vessels, hiding beneath light superficial discolorations.

That week before the meet consisted of banded rehabilitation, flossing hip flexors, bodyweight squats, crutches, and myofascial release. The pain became severe, but I gained the ability to walk and squat again within three days. By Thursday, a day before weigh ins, I could put a bar on my back. I decided I would compete in sleeves if possible (a last ditch effort after 12 weeks of prep in wraps). I let it come down to the wire, making my final judgment call under supervision during warmups Saturday afternoon…

Noel - “Jesucristo,” he’d say with a smile. His bulging muscles, towering stature, and tan skin too manly for the mere age of 17. The circumference of his arms and chest swallowing me, a blanket of comfort burying me under a sea of parental roars. Standing behind a solemn black curtain, I peered anxiously out from stage right, the caps and gowns shifting nervously in the hot glow of the metallic cans. He had told me many days before, before the diploma was in hand, that I was the only reason he stayed, the only reason he needed to graduate.

With six kids and two chaperones in tow, we traveled north to Newark, New Jersey for the competition. Nine of us would compete Saturday and Sunday in the RPS North American New Jersey Championships. Six of my teenage students and one of my female clients in the Saturday morning session; myself during the evening session; and then finally, both adult chaperones on Sunday with the 220 and up classes plus Gear Resurgence. Everyone made weight, spirits were high, I had placed the injury on the back burner, and continued to nurse it with ice buckets and Epsom salt in the hotel room…

Christian - You were my first, spending the weekends at camp Rog, under request of your mother, truly making me believe I could be a different man. Walking until our feet were scrapped raw and red, across the scorching cement waterpark, you’d giggle and lie, telling strangers I was your dad, older brother, or uncle, never really knowing how close those words made me feel to you. I remember unbearably hot days, our backs burning against the black bench material of the Salisbury warehouse gym that summer, and you, even though tired and flopped out on the floor, would look at me and say “it’s gonna be your time Rog, one day everyone is gonna know who you are, I just know it.”

…Watching and handling my team of teens that morning gave me hope. I saw the joy in their faces, the nervous twitches, the stomach churns of anxious awaits for attempts. I had done too much, given them more than I could take back, so at around one o’clock in the afternoon I wandered upstairs by myself for the final ice bath and applications of lidocaine. I knew in that small dingy hotel room, the strong pervading smell of medication wouldn’t be able to mask the consequences of what I was doing. I felt the ball of knotted calf cringe beneath those tight knee sleeves. They bit down into my gastrocnemius almost as tightly as I bit down into the sweatshirt. Pulling them on, rocking back and forth throughout the throbbing, I waited impatiently for the swelling to settle around the neoprene prison. I fumbled out the door; limped down the hall to the elevator; and eagerly anticipated its’ metallic doors to automatically open and take me to where I knew I was going…

Cam - It was hard that meet, me in the ref’s chair, to stay silent and admire your maturity from afar. We exchanged silent head nods for hours that day, but this wasn’t your first rodeo, you were more experienced than most adults. You handled yourself per usual, a true child of mine. You didn’t need help, a reassuring pat on the back, or an army of people in your corner for warm-ups. You just simply executed and did what was expected and what you had been taught. I stood impossibly emotionless that 3rd attempt, watching you take a junior national record, choking back tears from the expediting table.

Surprised by two friends, a USPA state referee and my wife’s own coach, I was again reassured I had enough people there to guide me through the meet. I stretched with bands to help my shoulders warm up for low bar positioning and I flopped on the floor like a salmon swimming upstream to benefit my SI joints. When all was said and done, I made my way over to lock down one of the monolifts, with a few of the other stronger squatters waiting to begin.

Warm-ups hurt, but moved well. Each repetition into the hole, pushed my sleeve into my calf and my calf into my hamstring. The stacking of the three was excruciating at depth, and I worried I would cut the squat high unintentionally or favor one hip and leg drastically. I evened out at around 405 and we took video of each single, looking for irregularities. All looked well, so we continued and decided to keep my opener of 600lbs as they called for any last changes to flight C…

Logan - That weekend, in the hills of Virginia, I watched you recline, and outstretch clumsily, floating in a hotel pool. We had snapped a picture of you ever so nonchalantly, sunglasses on and leaned back, a stubby cigar hanging out of the side of your lip. A true man’s man we laughed, “Neck daddy.” Later that weekend you, at the fleeting age of 17, spotted and loaded all day, sweat staining those hideous meet shirts, more than any workout ever could. I remember how proud I was of you, watching you count kilos, with many compliments from the adult staff. I remember thinking just how far from a joke you becoming a man really was.

The first heavy squat did damage. I knew almost immediately, and tried to block out not only the unbearable tenderness, but the crushing wave of doubt that would familiarize itself with me if I let it. If you asked me how it felt, I said fine. If you asked me how it moved, it went great. The blood began to pool rapidly and you could literally see it growing in size while I kept it in a diabetic compression sock layered with a cotton compression sleeve on top— a feeble attempt to control the swelling.

With no issues on depth. I favored one hip slightly, but ended with a 650 squat which was a 17lb all-time best for me in sleeves. We were afraid to to take the knee sleeves off for bench, and since it was not aiding a load bearing joint, we opted to keep it on throughout the warm-ups and actual attempts. The swelling had not wrapped under my foot and heel yet, but rather, settled on top. I could still push through and drive from my legs relatively well. The only limiting factor I did not account for was that the bench block under my feet was narrow and caused some instability in my short stubby legs. I opted for a safer third attempt than previously considered, and waddled away with a 425…

Brandon and Alex - In quiet stirrings, interrupted by only the sounds of chased breath, the three of us built an unspoken bond rummaging through broken metal. The rust collected on our callouses, so many days spent in that old weight room. Those sparks that ignited in both your eyes when I opened the door to the new one. It took you both almost an entire year to truly hold conversation with me, half learning and absorbing, the other in what I assumed was awe. I always tried to be the man you needed me to be, that I thought you deserved. You were the only two who wore my hand me downs, swimming in a large t-shirt at least for that first year or so. You called me “dad” the summer of your senior year, and I never let that go. Haunting how so few syllables, can cling to the entire essence of someone.

Deadlifts were the most nerve racking surprisingly, not only because of the rapidly declining condition of my leg, but because I was closing in on my goal: a sleeved total at 1800. The recklessness of the day hadn’t really set in until we changed my socks before pulls. My toes had begun to darken and the blood on top of my foot was the consistency of jello. Most of my leg had begun to bruise and the sleeve had pushed some of the discoloration above my knee making it appear as though I had also torn my hamstring. I put on another lidocaine patch; added the cotton compression sleeve under the deadlift sock but over the knee; and was helped to the warm-up area. Hinging at the hips and getting into optimal pulling position was difficult. The swelling would press against my hamstring, making one of my hips rise before the other. However, by the 400’s, reminiscent of my squat warmup, I evened out and adapted to the adjustment quickly and kept my opener of 650 through the supervision of Coach Sarni and company…

Brayan - Peering into the brightly colored birthday bag, a tired bow barely clinging to the top, you sat back gleefully in my office chair, eager for me to open what you had spent so much time gathering. Inside, among a cavalcade of candied dextrose sweets, beneath the grizzly bear ankle high socks, sat a small wooden frame. A simple photo. All of us together. Smirking. The past day’s competition settling on our faces. Family. Perhaps for one of the last times. I sobbed uncontrollably later that night after you had left, staring into the printed faces of sons I had never and always had.

  …I ended up pulling 725 that meet, totaling my first 1800 and achieving a 97lb sleeve total PR. But just as it has always been, that was never the point. I’ve tried many times to take inventory of my thoughts; to write down in detail the passing of those final 25 minutes, beneath the forgiving luminosity of platform lights. Your faces glowing in the front row, the shadows barely hiding the agonizing emotions crossing mine. The overwhelming feeling of letting you down, knowing that I will have always wanted to be more, have given you more of me. You have changed me. An animal acting out of urgency and unpredictability, now grounded and tethered to something so fragile and real. 

In our purest form -
Under a sea of soft green, of smiling faces
I imagined it so, And in peering in –
Exposing white teeth, our eyes met
Red in fury and façade
We spoke these things into existence
As if there was no other way.

 

By Travis Rogers
@papabearrogers