When the 2016 University National Championships were announced, they were set to include a new division: The Under 25 championships. This was a great idea from USAW, as internationally records and championships for competitors under 23 years old are contested although it’s not an official age division (youth is up thru 17, juniors is anyone 20 or younger, senior is 21-34, and masters is 35+). Being that most athletes in the USA don’t discover Weightlifting until an older age (a problem everyone is working on), it made sense to push the age limit out 2 years passed the international age of 23. This meant more opportunities for my athletes to compete on the national stage, as the qualifying totals for University’s are lower to account for the fact that the athletes are managing both training and school (and often full time work as well). The event was set for Baton Rouge, LA, and it looked as though Rumbler Weightlifting would have the largest team we’ve ever brought to a national event with possibly 7 athletes competing.
What we would later find out is that nothing about this event was going to go as we expected. First we lost several athletes from the team for varying reasons, from injury, to personal decisions to move their lives in different directions. Shortly after the floods ravaged Baton Rouge, and while the damage was assessed, many wondered how this was going to effect the event, which eventually lead to a venue change to New Orleans, only a few weeks before the competition. Many competitors and teams had already booked their flights and hotels, and were hit with heavy fees in order to have these plans changed on such short notice. Flights from Boston to NOLA can be had as cheap as $160 round trip. All told we paid about $450 per person. There was one other problem as well…Because all of the events happening in New Orleans the weekend of the competition, USAW was unable to find a centralized hotel and event center to host everyone.
Despite experiencing rapid growth in the last 5 years, Weightlifting still isn’t a “popular sport” with some 30k competitors nation wide. One of the best parts of a National meet is being with your “people.” Like all sports, the mindset of a Weightlifter is unique, their passions, challenges, and experiences are unique as well. It’s an exciting experience to be in a hotel with hundreds of athletes and coaches who see the world the same way that you do. When you’re not competing or coaching, all of your down time is spent at the hotel or surrounding area, and there are Weightlifters every where! Everyone gets to break bread together, and you see people that you only get to see once or twice a year, or maybe you’ve only ever seen on the internet before. This year there were 6 different hotels that USAW contracted with to get us group rates, scattered about New Orleans and its surrounding areas, and none of which were very close to the event center where the actual competition was. Typically the hotel is part of the convention center where the athletes compete, or is across the street. Our hotel was about 4 miles away. We were also about a 25 minute drive outside the city, where all the easy public transportation was (taxis, Uber, Lyft, etc…)
Due to all the factors mentioned above, I wasn’t really looking forward to this particular trip. Our team now consisted only of 2, and I worried how we would be able to get back and forth to the venue without renting a car (an additional expense I really didn’t want to incur due to how much we had already spent on flights). After a brutal morning waking up at 3:00 a.m. to make a 5:45 flight out of Boston, we hit our first snag when we touched down in NOLA…we were told Uber wasn’t allowed where we were staying, and Lyft (the other privatized cab service) wasn’t allowed to pick up at the airport. There was no shuttle to our hotel, and a cab ride was $38 just to the downtown area, and it would cost even more to get us all the way out “across the river” (as all the locals put it), where our hotel was. So we found a less expensive ride downtown, and then got a Lyft from there, only to find out that Uber is available in the area, and they CAN pick you up at the airport (even though Lyft can’t…) We were also told that Uber isn’t supposed to drop anyone off at the airport (even though they do because there’s no way to regulate it). So Lyft can drop you off, but not pick you up, and Uber can pick you up, but not drop you off. Welcome to Louisiana!
When we finally made it to our hotel, the rooms weren’t ready yet, since it was so early in the morning still (LA is an hour behind us on the East coast). But once the rooms were available that’s
At national competitions only athlete and coaches are allowed in the warm-up room during competition. I always try to get a good look back there before my athletes compete so I can get a feel for the lay of the land, so any opportunity I have to help out another athlete I take, as it serves as a warm-up for myself. I had never met Dan’s athlete Erik before, so I just kept an eye on the marshall’s table and the cards while Dan took him through his warm-ups. We were treated with a boost of adrenalin early on when Erik made his first snatch but failed to wait for the judges “down” signal, thus resulting in a no lift. He missed the same weight outright on his second attempt, meaning he had to make it on his third, or he’d fail to post a total, known as “bombing out” in Weightlifting. Never a good thing! Erik came through and made it on his last attempt, and went on to put up a 125kg clean and jerk for a respectable 221kg total for his first national meet, and only his 2nd Weightlifting competition ever!
The next day, Phil, Jamie and I went back to downtown to explore more of the city. Normally during your down time you’d just walk downstairs from your hotel room, to watch some Weightlifting,
Our new friends from Israel by way of Texas.
but because we had to take a cab to get there, we didn’t spend much time there unless we had to
This left us more time to walk around downtown, and explore more of New Orleans culture. We hit up the National WWII museum, which was absolutely incredible, and then we grabbed lunch at a local hotspot called the Ocean Grill. While we were waiting in line we struck up a conversation with two women from Israel, now living in the US, and decided to get a table as a party of 5 to cut down on our wait time. It ended up being one of the highlights of the trip for me, as they were very kind, funny, and interesting people. We also sampled some more of the local flavor, with blackened gator, fried, and crab cakes. Phil got himself a Po’ Boy. After that we headed back to the venue so Kat and Kenz could get in their final training session before the weekend. We grabbed dinner, had our team meeting, and went to bed.
The day of the competition is always tough if you’re lifting late in the day. Hurry up and wait is the name of the game. Phil volunteered to load for the morning sessions, and was out the door early, while the rest of us just laid low and tried to focus on the tasks ahead. Kat’s session went first, and it didn’t start the way I had wanted to. We opened with a 71kg snatch (6 under her personal best), and missed it 3 times. Kat had her eye on a bigger prize: qualifying for the American Open in December. To have a shot at that, she’d probably need at least a 76-80kg snatch. I initially wanted to opener her a bit lighter, but decided to push it up a bit. A decision I regret, and ultimately take 100% responsibility for. It was clear that she was extremely nervous, and that her nerves got the best of her. While my lifters need to make their lifts, it is my job to put them in a good position to do so, and I didn’t do that here. Once she had bombed out, the nerves hard worn off quite a bit. (just goes to show how “pressure” is self created). And she was able to come away with a personal best competition clean & jerk of 94kg. Added to the that, the experience of a national event, and it wasn’t all that bad of a weekend. She will only become a better athlete because of what happened.
Mackenzie’s weight class was huge (18 lifters, the maximum for a session at a national meet), and as she’s one of the stronger girls in the country in her division, that meant more waiting. We shared our warm-up platform with Danny Carmargo coach of Oly Concepts in Florida. I was pleasantly surprised by how affable and cordial the man was, and it made our competition very smoothly. You never know who you may have to share a warm-up space with, and sometimes it’s less than pleasant. Mackenzie’s warm-ups went very well, though we decided to open up a bit lighter than planned, after eyeballing some of the competition in the back. She made all 3 of her snatches, 89, 91, and 93, winning herself a bronze medal in the snatch, and breaking her own New England snatch record in the process. Kenz has struggled a bit in the C&J lately, so we made a conservative choice to open at 110. She made that lift easily as well as 114, and got called for a press out on her third attempt with 116kg on the bar. Unfortunately her main rival for the third and final total medal was unfairly (in my opinion) given 4 attempts at clean & jerk. Combine that with a technical stoppage, there was just too long of a break between 2nd and 3rd attempts that really disrupted Mackenzie’s rhythm. Although speculative, I feel that we were really robbed of a chance to win an overall total medal. Both Kenz and I were disappointed with that, but we have to take away the positives: competition PR snatch, national medal, New England record. Not a bad day.
After the medals ceremony, we hit the town again and enjoyed some more local cuisine: Crawfish poutine, Crawfish quesadilla, New Orleans pizza, fried oysters, and of
course, some more beignets, as the athletes had yet to partake in the delicious french pastries. All in all I would say that this has been one of my most favorite trips so far, for a number of reasons. First I’m really grateful for the support of Jamie, and Phil who spent money out of their own pockets to help the team, as well as Katie for getting up so damn early on Friday to drive us to the airport. But I’m also proud of how my athletes conducted themselves even when things weren’t going their way. No one complained, acted unprofessional, or churlish. I’m proud of Phil for volunteering to load all day, which can be a thankless job. It shows how passionate he is about the sport, and I think says a lot about why he’s progressed so well, despite being so damn old! Even after loading for the competition, he still came back for Kat and Kenz’ session to help load for their warm-ups. I would say this trip more than ever we experienced more of the local culture, which I’m really grateful to have an opportunity to do. I also think USAW did a pretty good job given the last minute changes to the event due to the flooding in Baton Rouge. I didn’t hear a single complaint from any clients back home the entire weekend…Which is impressive because we were unstaffed for 4 days! All in all I’m very proud of my team, happy to be home, can’t wait for the next one, and excited about the future!