Competing isn't for the faint of heart, but it's also not reserved for the elite

September 14, 2017

Have you ever wanted to compete in something? Maybe a half marathon? Or a Spartan Race? What about a weightlifting competition? If you’ve ever had any of these thoughts, even the teeniest, tiniest, slightest thought that competition would be fun—go for it. I know it’s not that easy. I know the ensuing self-doubt and anxiety the mere thought of competing brings people because I’ve experienced it a couple dozen times but I also know that getting past that point and doing the damn thing is so beyond rewarding.


I’ve always competed in some sort of organized sport since the wee age of 4. I’ve had success many times but I’ve also tried out for soccer teams and not made it, I’ve swam in swim meets where I’ve been disqualified for not touching the wall properly, and I’ve ran half marathons and been last to cross the finish line. I never stopped playing soccer, swimming or running though and I never stopped competing.  


Now, with about a month until my first National competition as a powerlifter I can already feel the storm of anxiety I know will start to hit me as I board the plane to Orlando. No matter how many times you compete, no matter how many times you fail and put yourself back out there and especially, no matter how many times you succeed the ensuing anxiety will always come. It’s important to remember though, that you don’t have to be the best to compete. In fact, sometimes you don’t even have to be really good at it but you do have to love what you’re doing, want to get better, and enjoy the process.


Here are 4 tips to competing, as told by me—the not-so-naturally-talented soccer player, technique-lacking swimmer, slow runner and far-from-strongest powerlifter. 


There will always be someone better, faster & stronger than you


If I had never competed because I was waiting for the “optimal” time to be better, faster or stronger I would still be waiting to play in my first soccer game. There will always be someone outdoing you, even at the top level there is still going to be someone who beats your time or your record—that’s what those things are for…to beat. Particularly in strength sports many women come to me with the fear that they’re just not strong enough. Let me ask you, what does that even mean? What is “strong enough”? As far as I’m concerned, there is no such thing because every single day we have the opportunity to be stronger not only compared to other people, but more importantly, compared to ourselves and that’s what competing is truly all about.


Four weeks out from Nationals and I know I’m not going to be standing on the podium after lift number nine but I will have accomplished something pretty cool for myself and that’s all that really matters. My goal to compete is not one that manifests in my desire to beat other people it manifests in my desire to always strive for something more and to continue pushing my own boundaries and my own comfort zones.


Thankfully, even as a middle-school swimmer I understood this. Every year at the end of the swim season we would head to the Championships held at Ohio University. After the meet my team awarded all the swimmers who beat their best time in all their events and, after realizing that I was never going to be the fastest, winning that award became my goal. It was less about placing and more about beating myself. Even when I came in last in my heat I would jump out of the pool excited because I had beat my personal time. It’s never you vs. the competition it’s always you vs. you. Remember that.   


If you’re not having fun anymore, it’s time to reevaluate


This one’s a biggie. Just as competing shouldn’t be against anyone but yourself, it also shouldn’t be for anyone but yourself. If you’re competing for your parents, to gain approval from your peers, or to impress others it’s time to reevaluate. If it stops being something you personally want to achieve and it becomes a chore it’s time to reevaluate. If it’s no longer enjoyable, it’s definitely time to reevaluate.


It’s okay to try something and end up not enjoying it but you have to be able to give yourself grace to walk away and to say, “You know, this just isn’t for me.” That’s not quitting and it’s not giving up, it’s deciding that this just isn’t a priority and it’s taking away from your life. But there is a big difference between pushing through the tough times. Powerlifting isn’t always fun. In fact, it’s scary, it hurts, and it’s very time consuming but I enjoy the process as a whole and I enjoy pushing myself to the limits to see just how strong I can be.


Competing is only part of your life, not your whole life 


I am so much more than a lifter. I am a sister, a daughter, a girlfriend, a co-worker, a writer and a friend. I am more than my competition totals and more than my Wilks score. You are more than a time, a weight or a placing. And in the grand scheme of things, just like competing should be fun, it is also not the end-all-be-all to your life. Compete for fun and it won’t consume your life, it will enhance it.


Use whatever happens, good or bad, as a learning opportunity


Really, what more does competing come down to besides an awesome learning opportunity? Competition teaches us a lot about ourselves—how to remain calm under pressure, how to get outside our comfort zone and most importantly how to prepare for and overcome adversity; all things that can be applied to our lives outside of competition.


I have learned so much about myself as a person through powerlifting and through all the experiences that powerlifting has brought me. Come October, I expect no less. I am going in knowing that I won’t be the strongest but I will come back knowing that I gave it my all and no matter what happens I will have learned something about myself, not only as a competitor but as a person, and be able to take that and apply it to my everyday life.

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