Pictured below, Rachel Greengas (a member of Liberty Barbell’s Advanced Team), Mike Graber, and Coach Jim Rutter.
On Sunday, July 8, last year’s US National Champion Mike Graber stopped by Crossfit Center City/Liberty Barbell for a visit with hookgrip.com owner Nat Arem. At the 2011 Championships, Mike snatched 81kg (~178lbs) and clean and jerked 98kg (~216lbs) at a bodyweight of 55.6kg (~122lbs). These lifts equaled 146% of his bodyweight in the snatch, and 176% of his bodyweight in the clean and jerk.
I hadn’t seen Mike since the 2012 US National Championships this past March, where neither of us competed, and where I heard rumors that he, at just 28 years of age, planned to retire from the sport. Mike didn’t lift when he dropped by CFCC, though he would have trained, he told me, had he brought along his shoes (I jokingly offered to let him wear Sammy’s pair).
Instead, this was a social call, a chance to check out the facilities and see the atmosphere at Liberty Barbell. The 2-4PM Advanced Oly class had just finished and I was putting on my shoes to begin working out. Let me tell you, just having Mike walk in the door made me want to put some heavy weights overhead.
Admittedly, it helped that he dropped some kind words about my ability to continue to compete in this sport at a high level as I grow older. But just his presence alone inspired me to attack heavy weights that day. He didn’t even stay long, or watch the training session, but after his visit, there was no way I wasn’t going after some big numbers.
And that’s one of the things that the sport of weightlifting—as a community—can give you.
Liberty Barbell is a young team, comprised of many new lifters. A visit from an athlete of Mike’s caliber lets us know that we’ve rattled our sabers a bit, and the noise has attracted the attention of some of the top local competitors. He wanted to drop by and see what was up with our program. Imagine how Emily Record—or any of the aspiring advanced team members—would feel if Chris Spealler or Annie Thorisdottir dropped in for a workout.
But more importantly, Mike’s visit inspired a sense of solidarity for the struggle.
As Donnie Shankle—another 2011 US National Champion—mentioned in a recent blog post, weightlifting is one of the toughest individual sports. Each day demands dedication; in every session, athletes must push themselves to attempt and hopefully make maximum lifts. Just attempting maximum efforts on a daily basis takes tremendous focus, courage and spiritual discipline. These sessions beat down the body and challenge the mind, even as (and if!) they strengthen both. Meanwhile, injuries threaten to derail training, your competitors nip at your heels, and work and personal life pile on stresses that prick the soul like mosquitoes on a hot summer night.
That’s what makes a visit from someone like Mike such a source of inspiration. He’s another athlete that’s trode the same platforms, suffered through the same frustrations and did it all to feel the thrill of hoisting heavy weights overhead.
As we grow as a team, we can expect more visitors (just wait till the last weekend of September!), and Mike and I are trying to set up some joint training sessions with Team New Jersey that will no doubt inspire some big lifts from both teams.
But as a lifter, you can find this inspiration from more than just a visit. The men and women who compete in this sport love this sport. They love others that love this sport. Reach out to them. Ask them for advice. Watch their videos on YouTube.
And as your competition numbers increase, and you earn the level of respect those numbers deserve, you never know. Someday, you might walk into a gym, and just your presence will inspire another to achieve her best. Until then, learn, love and find your inspiration.