American Weightlifting: Documentary Review

I was recently invited to view the independent documentary American Weightlifting.

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Greg Everett, a very well known lifter and coach, produced, directed, filmed, edited, and scored the documentary on his own. It’s a real passion project and I was thrilled to receive a press screener copy.

Overall, I think the film tended to bounce between a few themes and lacked narrative. About 95% of the documentary was interviews  played over b-roll of athletes training at Catalyst. I think Greg really missed out by focusing strongly on coaches and not interviewing very many athletes. I grew attached to some of the athletes in the b-roll, especially the high school athletes, and I would have loved to hear their stories!  Perhaps the part 2 to this documentary could be the weightlifting version of Spellbound. I would be into that.

That’s not to say I didn’t like American Weightlifting! I loved it! On many occasions I have settled into my couch and watched an hour or two of lifting competitions so I’m happy to watch Catalyst athletes practice drills, react to misses, and struggle through the heavy ones. I’m also interested in hearing about the history of weightlifting in America. This documentary will be appealing to most weightlifters, but I’m not sure that it has enough hook to bring in the non-lifters for two hours.

The highlight of this movie was Aimee Everett’s interview where she teared up while talking about her love affair with the platform and the bar. She talked about how weightlifting has given her so many happy things, but also torn her apart so badly. I’m still fairly new to this sport, but I couldn’t agree more. After I did poorly at a meet last weekend, I wanted to quit and never return while simultaneously I wanted to never quit and keep trying forever. I wanted these things equally. A torrid love affair.

Another great quote from the documentary: “You just have your body, your mind, and this one simple tool to express your will and measure your success”. That is such a beautiful definition on weightlifting.

When Greg sent me the press screener he suggested it might be especially relevant to the audience of this blog as it features so many female lifters. In fact, probably the majority of the lifters were women. Throughout the film, the viewer is treated to many women, of a whole range of body types, perform heavy lifts with great technique. I would probably go to their gym and be happy to watch them train all day! There were no gratuitous camera shots that zoomed in on scantily clad bodies, and there plenty of shots where women supported each other. Who would have thought that a documentary about weightlifting would pass the Bechdel test with flying colours?

The best part is that the inclusion of women didn’t seem forced or even intentional; it seemed natural. It didn’t seem like Greg actively had to remind himself to get some ladies in there to fill up some XX quota, but more like he just filmed his crew of athletes that he respects and duh, of course that’s with plenty of women.

Even the interviews with female athletes just focused on being an athlete. Oftentimes when female athletes are interviewed, the focus seems to be on “what’s it like to be a sports lady!!!?” whereas male athletes get to speak about their sport. COOL.

Feminist rating 5/5!

The documentary comes out on November 16th and you can purchase it here.

Also, watch the trailer. It made me tear up a little:

Adventure Racing and Friendship

A few weeks ago I did an adventure race called Race the Rockies with my friend Sierra. IMG_0942

We did the Edmonton race, which was mostly through trails and parks in the south side of the city. Early in the morning we picked up our map, marked with check points worth different numbers of points (and which would take different amounts of skill/effort). We were given an hour and a half to make a race plan, and then the race began! We had 6 hours to bike, canoe, and trek around, collecting as many check points as possible. We had to be back in by 4pm… every minute in early was worth one extra point, but every minute in late cost you 10 points! There was also a food drive for points- every pound of food donated was worth an additional point.

Our initial route was, shall we say, stunningly optimistic. The race was hard! Though we intentionally bypassed some of the most challenging check points, we still managed go up and down several staircases with our bikes (Edmonton has a very steep river valley) and at one point found ourselves carrying our bikes down the steepest hill in town (surely) as we made our way to a canoe check point.

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This! With a bike!

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We had to canoe with the bikes as well, which added for some balance challenges. “Nobody has fallen in yet today,” said the volunteers. “Let’s not be first!” I replied.

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We kept our cool, called it a refreshing rinse, and continued on our way!

Later in the race, we dropped off our bikes at ventured into a trekking section of the course. We expected this to involve trail running, but instead found ourselves lost in a park many, many times. Luckily, a river helped us orient ourselves and we were able to spot a few check points. At the start, we merrily and nimbly did things like inchworm scoot across a log while crossing the river. On the way back, covered in scratches and nettles, we just splashed right on through.

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The trekking was by far the most difficult part of the race (not the four hours of biking that came before). It was so hard to make decisions, knowing a bad choice would cost not only me, but Sierra as well. We took turns trying to trail-blaze. There were times when the path would just vanish, and we were left whacking back tree branches that clawed at our faces like that scene in Snow White.

I felt responsible for tipping the boat, so every time I also picked a bad path (“I feel so confident in this shortcut!”) I felt doubly guilty. But Sierra was a great teammate and we never got too down on ourselves. We reminded ourselves that our goal was to have fun and do our best! One time we spent about 20 minutes looking for a checkpoint that just didn’t want to be found. It was so frustrating, but we strategized and communicated really well and just decided to put it behind us, not focus on the lost time, and keep racing. Zero fights the whole time! Zero disagreements, even!

Also, we got to see some great views:

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At the end of the race, we had a little awards ceremony and pizza party. Sierra and I somehow came in 3rd in the women’s division! We chatted with some of the other teams that we had run into at different places on the course. Many people have been doing this for years and years. They talked about races that were freezing cold, that involved carrying bikes through neck-high water, and that were 36 hours long. Most of them did all these races with the same parter. What a true test of friendship!

It got me thinking about how important sports can be in a friendship. My best friends growing up were soccer team friends. In university, I ran and biked with friends. Now most of my best friends are ones I met through Crossfit (or whom I gently encouraged to join Crossfit with me). I doubt I would make it to lifting 5 times a week without knowing  my friends would be there!

At the after party, racers’ spouses, kids, parents, etc. showed up and we all said goodbye and the day ended. But the fact that we had all just spent 8 hours racing with our teammates, time that was physically and mentally gruelling, is pretty cool. Most people raced with a friend, some people raced with a girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse, but nobody raced alone. And I just think that’s great.

CF24 and Creation of Hope

I’m doing CF24 on October 26th! Twenty-four workouts in 24 hours… every hour on the hour. Sounds like torture, literal torture! See last year’s workouts here.

CF24 is a fundraiser for Special Olympics Canada. I’m really excited to be raising money with athletes, for athletes (our goal is $50,000!). We are encouraged to ask our friends and family to help us meet fundraising goals, so if you’d like to do that, click through for my personal fundraising page!

However, I’ve decided to meet the Special Olympics goal myself and ask for your help in fundraising for another organization with which I am involved, Creation of Hope. I spent three months in the summer of 2009 in Kikima, a village up in the mountains a few hours east of Nairobi. I taught math, physics, computers, and the occasional gym class at an all girls high school. Here are my students at a computer class (it was in a church, since our school didn’t have power):

I also spent time on weekends with some of the hilarious, spirited, incredibly kind kids who are part of a food program that Creation of Hope runs. They are sponsored (by Canadians and by Kenyans!) through monthly donations. I’ve been involved with the program for over 4 years now, and it’s been great to watch them keep growing up. School is free only up until grade 8 in Kenya (well, “free”, since the cost of the necessary uniform can be prohibitive) so many children’s education stops with grade 8. The Creation of Hope is currently sponsoring 43 students in high school and post secondary, but that costs about $15,000 a year. I’m hoping I can use CF24 to raise money to make a sizeable dent in those tuition costs.

A very cool thing about Creation of Hope is that 100%, truly every last cent, of your donation goes towards the program (never to setting up booths at the mall or mailing you glossy brochures every year to ask you for more money, and none of it will go towards running the CF24 event, either). You can read through the monthly updates to see full accountability of all funds raised.  In fact, you’ll be able to follow that blog and see your donations in action as well! GUYS, THAT’S COOL!

Ways to donate to Creation of Hope

1. Mail a cheque made payable to Creation of Hope (with “CF24” as the memo) to:

4082 Powderhorn Cres.
Mississauga Ont.
L5L 3B9

2. Give me a cheque in-person and I’ll mail it for you!

3. E-transfer me money or give me cash in-person and I’ll write a cheque to Creation of Hope and mail that!

Whatever you choose, you can expect full accountability on my blog and on the Creation of Hope blog.

Also, if you’d rather donate to Special Olympics Canada, that’s also pretty fab. Just go here and click Donate Now.

But if you’re not in a position to donate right now, then if you’re in Edmonton you could just come on by at some point during the 24 hours of workouts and cheer us on!

Weightlifting Bad Days

I haven’t posted much about my lifting progress since the last meet, primarily because I haven’t made any. I’ve yet to hit anything higher than what I did on competition day. It’s frustrating and discouraging. I’ve snatched 41kgs time and time again, and I’ve failed at 42kg so many times and in so many ways (I’ve hit my forehead and even somehow the back of my head while snatching). It’s mentally defeating.

I think that I’ve been waiting to hit the good news so that I can say “I finally did this weight, and it is especially lovely because of all the bad days I experienced along the way!”. But I now think it’s worth it to point out that weightlifting is very hard and in unexpected ways. It is just hard.

A quote from Catalyst’s post “Where Have All The Prs Gone?” describes my situation well:

Let me tell you something about weightlifting. New people come on the scene, especially now with CrossFit pulling so much interest in to the sport—these folks PR every week, their lifts continuously go up week after week, and they are the fucking bomb! Their confidence is through the roof! Do we have the next World Champ? The greatest thing to hit weightlifting… they are thinking to themselves, well shit fire and save matches! At the rate I am PRing in my snatch and clean & jerk, 3-5kgs a week, I will be beating all these bitches, all these top 10 girls or boys, and I will be amazing! I will be an Olympic medalist for sure… as they are calculating what their lifts will be in 6 months at this 3-5kg per week increase.

And then reality sets in. You can’t PR every week forever. New people to the sport have a level of strength and a level of technique. Once those two things match up, they hit a wall. New folks PR every week because they are new to the sport, and they are going to naturally progress to where their limit is, based on their athletic ability. When they reach their limit, they find PRs are not coming every week. Or every two weeks, or maybe not even in a whole month.

Yep, that’s me! “At this rate, watch out Lindsey Valenzuela in mid-2015!!!!!” I thought to myself during the summer. But now the PRs have stopped coming so quickly and hoo boy, let me tell you, it is hard. But the thing is, that even after I miss and miss and miss a lift, I think it’s important to avoid being cautious with optimism, because if there is even a shred of doubt in my mind that I can make a lift, then it’s over, I won’t. Every time I walk up to the bar, I have to truly believe that this is the time I can finally snatch more than 41kg, which means every time I miss, it’s kind of crushing.

So… back to the gym again! Clear eyes, full hearts, right?