Let me tell you a little something about how I got involved with this magazine. Back in 2008, I went out to San Diego to compete in the California State Games. I live in Arizona, but my wife and I were taking a summer vacation in SoCal and I wanted to get in a meet while we were there. I was in the warm-up room at the competition, getting ready to start lifting, when Aimee Anaya approached me and introduced herself. I already knew who she was because we had competed in a lot of the same national meets back in the 90s, but she and I had never formally met. We got to chatting and of course I was struck with how friendly and funny she was, and then she introduced me to her boyfriend, Greg Everett. I didn’t know Greg, but we hit it off right away. I could tell he was a real weightlifting guy, so I warmed up on the same platform with him and Mike Gray. If I remember correctly, we all lifted pretty well that day.
They asked me if I wanted to join them for pizza after it was over, which I did. It was a fun afternoon of gabbing, having some laughs and getting to know each other. This was about six months before the two of them moved up to Sunnyvale to start their own gym and website business, which they decided to call Catalyst Athletics.
I was in the twentieth year of my weightlifting career at this point. I had a lot of mileage in the barbell world, and Greg asked me to put some of it in writing for this magazine, Performance Menu. Greg and Aimee were already both experienced weightlifting people back then, but they were starting point a new phase in their lives. They got married right around this time too, so those were some serious “beginning of a journey” days for them.
And now this is the 100th issue of Performance Menu. Catalyst Athletics has become a big name in American weightlifting, and the strength world in general. The Catalyst team has attracted a small army of lifters, who Greg and Aimee have developed into a force to be reckoned with on the national level. The website gets millions of hits, and my own involvement with it has expanded my circle in the sport. Lots of people contact me because they’ve heard about me through Catalyst. I’ve started coaching many of them. It’s funny to think about how this whole thing has developed because I had already gone through the top competitive phase of my career as an athlete before I even started with this gig. I was thirty-six at the time and all of my top lifting had been in the 90s and early 2000s, so my journey as a national-level athlete was winding down. But hooking up with Greg and Aimee was the beginning of a new phase for me, just like the company itself has been the start of a new life for them.
This article is going to be about the journeys we all take. Where we start, what we all have to go through along the way, how we develop, the blows we have to take sometimes, and the people we experience as we travel along. I guess it’s mainly going to be about the athletic and professional journeys we take in the weightlifting world, because that’s what this magazine is all about. But I think we branch out into a lot of different areas of our lives as we look at this, because every aspect of our journey is connected. Our lifting and coaching is connected to our careers, our family life, the way we look at the world, and everything else about how we live. You’re on a journey right now, obviously. Yours is just a little different than mine, and mine is just a little different than everybody else’s…but everything we’re going through is really the same. The details vary, but there’s a common core to it all. And it all began…at the beginning.
The Early Days…
You always start at the bottom, don’t you? If we’re talking about your weightlifting life, these are the times when you’re a rookie and there are a lot of people around you who can lift a lot more than you can. You go to meets and get creamed by better lifters. For a lot of us, it starts at the local level where we go to small meets and try to work our way up the ladder by beating the competitors who are ahead of us. At some point, after you’ve busted your ass long enough, you start winning these meets and you probably qualify for national competition. Then you get to the nationals and guess what? You’re back at the bottom, and a new journey starts. This is when you try to start rising through the national ranks, hoping to eventually compete for medals (maybe even the gold one). The tough part about this phase is you were already working hard when you were trying to conquer the local meet scene, but now you realize that you have to work twice as hard if you want to become one of the best in the country. Your whole life has to change, plain and simple. It has to be completely centered around your weightlifting. If you aren’t willing to take this step, you’ll never make it to the top. Plain and simple, brothers and sisters.
If you’re a coach or gym owner (probably both), the beginning is a time when you’re working in a small facility with just a few clients, and you’re doing absolutely all of the work yourself. You have no outside life at this point. Your whole life is the gym and your athletes. If you have a relationship, it’s probably with somebody who’s connected in some way to your business because there’s almost no way to get a big social thing going. You don’t have the time. These are tough years because you’re working your guts out and you always want everything to move faster than it is. Just like an athlete, you see the people who are at the top in your field and you want to be where they are. You’re trying to put your name on the map, get yourself into a position where you’ve got some credibility established and more people will come to you. It’s a grind and there are definitely times when you wonder if it’s ever really going to happen. If you’re smart, you don’t spend too much time obsessing about the final peak you want to hit someday. You keep your long-term goals conscious in your mind, but you spend most of your time focusing on the quality of your day-to-day performance. The only way you’re going to perfect your craft is if you fight to get all the little details right, every day.
Jackasses and gems, that’s who you meet when you’re on your journey. There will be plenty of both. Don’t think for one second that I’m going to sit here and tell you all the people you come across will be honest and high quality. It won’t always be like that. You’ll have to deal with occasional individuals who are trying to screw you up, either intentionally or unintentionally. Because they’re messing with your livelihood and the thing that’s most important to you, you take things personally. It’s hard to stay level and not hold grudges sometimes, because your emotions are running at maximum octane when anybody tries to damage or interfere with your pursuits. You have to fight not to hate them and it ain’t easy.
However, the nice thing that makes it all better is the fact that you’ll also come across some of the best people you’ve ever known. The jackasses won’t take up permanent residence in your mind because you get to spend so much of your day with people who are fun, enthusiastic, supportive, and trustworthy. They make your whole life better, don’t they? And one of the things that always nails me is how so many of our life-changing relationships seem to start from unplanned, coincidental meetings. Sometimes, you form bonds with people that last for decades and they’re tighter than family, and it all started with just bumping into them one day and having a random conversation. It all began almost by accident, and now they’ve become a major part of your time on this earth.
Damn it… It just can’t be easy, can it? I probably don’t need to explain what a setback is to you. It’s not like we haven’t all had them or anything. They’re the problems we run into, the things that hold us back or…maybe…threaten to stop us completely. And doesn’t it seem like they come in clusters? Have you ever noticed that? It’s like you’ve had a good run of progress, where things have been going strong and you’re starting to see some improvement. Then, out of the clear blue sky, something unfortunate hits you and it just pisses all over everything. Then something else hits you. Then something else on top of that. Before you know it, you’ve had a streak of bad luck that seems like it’s never going to end.
Makes you want to tear your hair out, doesn’t it? In all honesty, sometimes it makes you want to quit. I personally think everybody in our area of life has had the “just walk away, put everything in a backpack, and go live in the mountains” moments. I swear to god, there have been times when I’ve stopped and said, “I could just move to a little town in Montana, get a job at a gas station, and live by myself in a tiny apartment. I won’t have anything to worry about, no big responsibilities. I’ll go to a bar and have a beer every day after work, watch a lot of TV at home, and that’s it.” Does anything like that ring a bell? Of course it does. Listen, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. That’s a big part of living the high-expectation-big-dreams lifestyle. It’s a constant struggle and there are certain phases where we just get pounded with obstacles. Thinking about quitting is a natural part of the progression.
But you won’t quit. None of us do. Not being a quitter is one of the foundations of our personalities, so we just plow through all the crap.
The Machine Phase…
I love this part. Now we’ve reached the time when you’ve got this thing running the way you want it to. You’ve put in godawful amounts of work for years, and the fruits of your labors are starting to show. As a weightlifter, this would be the point you reach where you don’t feel like you have to think about your technique as much as you used to. You’ve made a lot of progress and you’ve had some hot streaks that resulted in lots of kilos added to your total. Now, you go to meets and people watch you. When you’re doing your warm-up lifts, you can feel the eyes on you. And you know they’re watching you because you’ve got your game together. Your movements are faster and more efficient than most people, and you’ve got more bumpers on your bar than they do. I call this the “machine phase” because that’s how you’re operating, like a well-oiled motor that you can rev up to maximum output whenever you need to…and it doesn’t feel like you’re struggling when you do it.
For gym owners and coaches, this is a nice time. It’s almost like the whole thing clicks along by itself. Sure, you’re still busy as hell and you have to keep working as hard as ever to get everything done. But the athletes in your gym, and the operation of your gym itself, are making the progress you used to dream of. People know who you are now. You’re a name. You’ve probably moved into a bigger facility…or at least drastically improved the one you’re currently in. The nice part about this phase is that people are starting to seek you out. Word has spread about what you’ve got going, the quality of your environment and such. Your place is getting to be a little animal factory, and some of those big ideas you had in the beginning have actually happened. You started out with a vision, and it hasn’t reached full fruition yet but it’s getting closer.
And the road goes on…
Everything we do is like this, isn’t it? Professional pursuits, relationships, athletic careers, raising children…all of it.
The journey we’re on is such an exciting way to spend our lives. I hate corny mottos and clichés like “it all starts with a dream.” You know, the ones that look like they got ripped off from a Hallmark card? But that really is what this all comes down to. At some point in your life, you started to figure out exactly what you wanted to do with your time on this earth. Not too long after this idea occurred to you, you started having visions of greatness. You got into this thing because you wanted to take it all the way to the top. It took a lot of courage to take the plunge and try it. No doubt you had people who discouraged you or said you were crazy. Some of them probably told you it would be a waste of time.
You took the first steps of your journey knowing full well that you might not make it to the ultimate peak you dreamed of. No matter how confident you are and how much you tell people that you never had a second’s doubt about where you were going…we all know damn well that you’ve stopped and wondered at times if it was really going to happen. That ultimate peak became a question mark. But that’s where you start to realize that the ultimate peak isn’t what this is really all about. It’s not about the end of the road…it’s about the road. Because you eventually realize that the road you’re traveling is your life. If you hit your big moment, like winning an Olympic gold medal, that’s great. However, the days, months, and years of your life are what made up the path to that gold medal. And if you’ve been able to spend all of those days doing something that makes you happy on a daily basis, it’s better than a million dollars.
Happy 100th issue, brothers and sisters. I love writing for this magazine, and I’m grateful to anybody who takes the time to read it. At this point, I don’t think I’m ever going to run out of ideas for articles. So the only things that could stop me from writing for you are A) termination of the magazine or B) news from Greg that my services are no longer required because the quality of my work has gone into the crapper. But you wanna know something? I don’t think any of those things are going to happen. I’m becoming a better writer as time goes on, and Catalyst Athletics is gaining momentum every day. This freight train ain’t gonna stop rolling anytime soon, so make sure you stay with us. We’re so lucky to be doing what we’re doing together…so lucky.