Rumbler Weightlifting started in 2012 as a small group of friends lifting weights in my basement, that had ceilings just high enough to hold a loaded barbell over your head. Back in those early days I was actually much more interested in competing than I was in coaching, but as a personal trainer, I seemed like the only choice we had to oversee our training and competitions. Truthfully at the time I was woefully underqualified. Weightlifting stands right up next to sports like gymnastics as one of the pinnacles of human performance. Your basic personal trainers certification or even the highly lauded “CSCS” won’t get you even close to competent on how to perform, coach and succeed in this sport. Weightlifting breaks a lot of rules in the world of physical culture. Rules regarding how to train, recover, and simply what the human body is capable of. The Weightlifting universe seemed overwhelming to me at first, but I was fortunate in two ways: First I was born hating being second best, and secondly I had the chance acquaintance of a man who was an elite athlete of the sport. I often fondly remember the days training with my good friend Amaurys Almanzar aka “Billy”, soaking up everything he had to teach me, from technique, to programming, to recovery, and competition. There were many lessons learned in those days, a lot of which weren’t through spoken word, but just watching his approach to training, his attitude, and his extremely high level of expectation. He always believes in people, and pushes them to find the limit of their potential. This is a character trait that has developed in me and I’m now some what known for among both my clients and athletes. I can be happy, I can be pleased, but I am rarely ever satisfied.
It was this attitude that helped me rise to the occasion when a special athlete walked through the door. When I first met Mackenzie, I knew she had potential in the sport of Weightlifting, and I knew that despite my rapid growth as a coach in that first year, I had to move even faster to stay ahead of her development as an athlete. I look back to almost four years ago now, and chuckle at myself. I thought I knew about Weightlifting, compared to now, I knew nothing, and I’m confident in another four years I’ll back at this moment and think the same thing. But in reality that’s what this sport and and life is all about: Growth and progress.
The first three years of Mackenzie’s Weightlifting have been tumultuous to say the least: First we wasted quite a bit of time trying to cut her weight down to the 75kg class, which just wasn’t a healthy weight for her. Then we battled injuries both from Weightlifting and the lingering abuse she took as a high level hockey player of nearly 20 years. There were certainly times I know she felt frustrated and questioned where she was going in this sport. Add to it we were now competing in an open ended Weight Class with women (some nearly literally twice her size) were lifting really big weights, and the qualifying totals for the National Championships continued to increase at a rapid rate. But each year we rose to the occasion. This is Mackenzie’s third year of Weightlifitng, and this is her third time competing in the National Championships, the biggest, baddest most competitive tournament in the entire country. The only step higher than this is an international team or the Olympics. Every year they have raised the stakes to qualify and each year Mackenzie has risen to the challenge. Just 8 weeks ago we were sitting on a stone patio outside someone’s house in rural New Jersey wondering if Mackenzie was even going to make the 205kg(431lbs) qualifying total. Now as I type this 30,000 feet somewhere above the mid west, we are flying home with a Bronze medal in hand. On Sunday, May 8th 2016, there were only two women stronger than Mackenzie in the +75kg weight class in the entire country. Her first year she finished 14th, her second year 10th, the goal for this year as 9th or better, and she absolutely smashed that goal. It wasn’t an all time day for her, she set a PR for herself in the snatch by a single kilo, and fell a little short of her personal best in the clean & jerk, but she made the lifts she needed to put herself in medal contention. Weightlifting is a funny sport, it’s a gamble really. On paper you may be the stronger athlete, but if you don’t come in with a good game plan, good preparation, and a good strategy you don’t make lifts, and they don’t hand out medals for “should haves.”
Am I satisfied? I can say with this result, yes I am. It far exceeded my expectations and our goals, but as I told Kenz as we were sitting on that patio in Jersey absolutely dejected that she had missed all three snatches and bombed out, thus missing the qualifying total, “2016 Nationals is not the ultimate goal.” The ultimate goal, is and will always be to represent the United States of America at the Olympic Games. When I first met Mackenzie I told her she had the potential to be an Olympian. I believed it then, and I believe it now more than ever. It’s a dream that seems so big, and at times so far away, but weekends like this remind me that we are on the right track, and in this game you can’t lose sight of the bigger picture, and you must be patient.
Weightlifting might seem like an individual sport, but it’s not. No one gets to their goals without a huge support system. My life has taken so many twists and turns in the last few years, and I am so grateful for everyone at Arkitect Fitness who affords me the opportunity to do the two things I love the most in this world: Make a positive impact in people’s lives, and coach Weightlifters. We have a diverse group of people with a wide variety of goals at the gym, each as important as the next, but I don’t think people realize that their hardwork paves the way to fuel the dreams of the young athletes they share the gym with. Every time you lose an inch off your waist, or set a new personal best for yourself in the gym, your friends, family and peers take notice, and when people take notice they come in, and when they come in they join our community, and as our community grows it enables me to better help people. It gives me the tools I need to help that soccer player land a scholarship for college, or to realize their dream of becoming an Olympian. None of that would be possible without each and every member of Arkitect Fitness, regardless of what they are training for. We are all part of something bigger than ourselves.
This weekend was amazing for many reasons. A national event is always a pleasure for a coach because you’re surrounded 24/7 by people who are passionate about the same things you are, and it just creates an awesome environment, but I had an epiphany this weekend while I was talking to some other very well respected coaches in the country. Many coaches are trying to build a situation where they only work with elite athletes, and I thought that maybe some day that is what I would want for myself as well, but I don’t think it is, I just want to work with passionate people. I realized that is what drives me, in a way I didn’t even realize. Without that I am restless and lost, but it is being able to work with people who are passionate about what they do that brings me real joy, regardless of their goal, athletic potential or any other factor. One of the best moments of the weekend was when I was able to sit with the most decorated Olympian in Weightlifting history, Pyrros Dimas, and have an opportunity to talk with him about anything I wanted. The conversation covered everything frrom Weightlifting, to fishing, and politics, but one thing was apparent: Even after a 25 year long career, and FOUR Olympic games, he was still as passionate about Weightlifting as he ever was. He spoke about how the Olympics bring people together, and that moved me. I want to be a part of that, and I realize that you don’t need to be an Olympian to put aside your differences and come together as people, and that is exactly the opportunity we have at Arkitect Fitness. So many different people all there for different reasons, but at the end of the day the reason is basically the same: We all have set a goal for ourselves and we want to work towards that goal. We all want to improve and create change, and as cliché as it sounds, to be the best we can absolutely be.
So I’m going to set the bar high for myself, and for all of you, and I hope you do the same. Let’s continue to get better together. And again thank you to everyone who is part of our community, all of this is possible because of you. I would also like to thank all the members of Team Rumbler, you are all a very important part of each other’s success. I would like to say a special thank you to my sister in law Jamie Pica, who devoutly travels with us to all of the national meets to be my assistant coach, and allow myself and the athletes to focus on our jobs while she takes care of basically everything else. Without her this would be a whole hell of a lot harder and the results wouldn’t be nearly as good. I would like to thank my father who is Arkitect and Rumbler’s biggest fan, and who has been my sounding board over the years for so many things, but taught me that if I want something to just go out and get it. I’d like to thank Katie Austin who often gets stuck with giving us rides to and from the airport, has been the creative mind behind both the gym and the team and given us an opportunity to present ourselves to the world so that our community may grow. Thank you to Judy Varrill for investing in Arkitect and making it possible. Thank you to Katerina Bares for allowing me to be away from the gym for days at a time and not worry about anything. Thank you to Dr. Coapland, Dr. King and CJ Best and the rest of the staff at Performance Health for sponsoring our athletes, and keeping everyone at Arkitect in tip top health and injury free. And thank you to everyone who has ever donated money, shared a video on FB, dropped a “good luck” or tuned in to a live stream or stopped by a local competition to cheer us on. It means the world to us. I’ll see you in the gym.