Along the year, I had the misfortune of observing the worst of what powerlifting became as a sport. While there are still honorable projects – whether federative, companies, gyms, educational initiatives – I would say most lack honesty, credibility, and, most of all, trustworthiness. I learned and witnessed things that I wish I never had.
There was a point where I needed to give serious thought to continuing as a competitive lifter or turn my back on it all, using lifting as a tool for higher purposes I found the last few years in health service.
I had to compete at the IPL Worlds anyway, to comply with items of my EA petition. As an international judge with the IPL/USPA, I was also going to spend a couple of dozens hours working for the sport. That was it: it would be a test. There and then, I would find out what relationship I really had with the sport as it is, and not an abstract version of it.
I hadn’t found a place to properly train in Kansas by mid-August. Everything worked against me: at the place I was staying, the kitchen was out of use. There was no way I could cook anything. I did have a mini-fridge in my room, I bought a coffee-maker and a water boiler – that’s it. The previous months of no proper training and a stress burden I don’t think I had experience before except at my late teens hadn’t helped with weight and much less with strength. I was over my weight class, I was weak, I was hurt.
When reaching any goal seemed to be almost impossible, Jay Ashman invited me for the third time to visit Brewhouse Barbell, where he was the head coach then, in Oklahoma City. I was still stuck over 61kg (134.4lbs), squatting shit, benching shit and no idea what my deadlift was. On September the 8th I drove South and landed on what would be my first real choice of a home: Brew, at OKC.
Squatting at the @BrewHouse with @ashmanstrength (Jay Ashman ). Lots of gratitude. I can hardly express how feeling safe and assisted changes everything for a lifter in my present conditions. Not to mention the great equipment and environment #mariliacoutinho #rebootinglife #powerlifting #squat #ashmanrules #brewhouse #oklahoma
Blake Austin, the resident kinesiologist, would return me to health (or the closest he could get, in less than two months) and Chris Thomson, one of the most knowledgeable people I know in the sport, and also one of the most authoritative influences in my lifting career, managed to lead me back to real benching. Brewhouse is a warehouse gym exactly like I needed it. The moment I stepped there, met Chris, had a short conversation, squatted with Jay’s help, I knew it: I found my home. I even wrote about it. I even moved to OKC because of it.
Everything started to come back into place: squat became decent, bench finally became a bench press again and deadlift started to improve. Meanwhile, I dropped from 63kg plus change (139lbs) to 55kg (121lbs) right before I took off for Las Vegas. I weighed in at 53.4kg (almost 118lbs). About 10kg in 2 months (let’s say 2kg of water cut). Yes: I made weight before the water cut and thought “what the hell, why not try and make it to the 52kg class?”.
Unfortunately I had hurt my hamstring again about 2 weeks earlier. It didn’t seem bad, but it wasn’t good.
The trip was not that great, with many hours at airports (14h total), and I got to Vegas very sore. Sitting down for long hours was never good for me. I gave up the 52kg water cut and started re-hydrating, with about 16 hours to do it. Quite enough. Only maybe it wasn’t.
The meet was going well, I squatted 142.5kg fine, benched 100.5kg fine and… tore my hamstring real bad on the first deadlift. By bad, I mean bad: I blacked out and when I realized it, I was on Hugo’s arms, being carried out of the platform. The question was not if there was a tear: the question was if it was a total tear and would require hospitalization (and that would suck real bad, because my insurance at the time was the shittiest possible plan ever).
I felt that nasty soreness all along the warm-up. But it wasn’t properly pain, just an annoying soreness. I was aware that my leg was not great and gave a low opener at the weigh in (157.5kgs). I tested 155kg at the warm-up area (which I NEVER do: it’s stupid, but I had my reasons) and it was fine. But at the platform, with 157.5kg, the muscle gave in.
Well, up to my room I went to shower, soak in hot water (fuck ice: everything was so tight I could barely walk) and dress in judge attire. I thought the moderately high heel boots would help by allowing me not to over-extend anything. No joy: it was worse.
I left the platform at about 3PM and came back at 4:30PM to judge until 10:30PM. The injury was annoying. I had taken some ibuprofen and naproxen.
And here we have a bunch of subjective things starting to unfold that would end up giving me the answers I needed:
1. I had about an hour to ask myself whether I was upset about the bomb-out. After all, it was the first in my life. The answer was “no”: considering what I had overcome to get there, actually I thought the results were awesome. I bombed out because unfortunately I had a bad injury that prevented me from having a total, not because I screwed up my lifting. I was actually more than 50kg (110lbs) ahead of the second lifter on my class, and there were 6 lifters. That’s the open class. There’s no doubt I was the best lifter there. The injury didn’t happen because I screwed up, either. I was careful, I opened light, but I had to make a judgement call: lift with injury risk or not lift. I chose to lift, I got injured. The answer to the question continued to be “no, not upset”. Worried, yes: I couldn’t know the seriousness of the injury. Annoyed, yes: constant pain sucks. But not upset. I saw a grown woman crying because she bombed out, which she did for her own mistakes. I’m usually sympathetic towards any lifter, but in this case I just couldn’t. The only thing I felt was contempt. But wait: I wrote extensively on the sociology and socio-psychology of sport and competition. Competition is about winning, isn’t it? Why wasn’t I upset? And here’s where I got a surprising answer: for me it is about striving to win (as much as humanly possible) and playing the merit game to the extreme. I did, and I enjoyed it. That’s it. My “thing” is playing highly ruled games and performing well under the rules. That gives me huge pleasure. Maybe I like the rules more than I like the game. For this, I still don’t have an answer. But I know I’ll stick around for a while, I will win again and I will have a good time.
2. Drugs: now I know offering an alternative to addiction is an integral part of my mission. That insight came from the injury pain. It was bad enough to cause a short blackout. I saw the video: it was scary and hilarious at the same time. I screamed, dropped the bar, fell back and grabbed the spotters legs (and wouldn’t let go). Of course I was offered some stronger pain killer, but didn’t take it. I had the opportunity to see, with my own eyes, what long term opioid use causes to people’s behavior (no: I couldn’t see what it causes to their brains because I didn’t have the chance to autopsy these people). Shortly before the meet I was reviewing the literature on the neural reward system and opioid use: it is scary. It literally highjacks the brain. Add trauma to that and you have a personal tragedy. Add “flexible” morals and ethic, parasitic attitude and character flaws in general and you have a social disaster. Even I, I believe, had my resolve and executive function compromised by the use of opioids in the early year disastrous events, since I got injured at the same time (I always do: stress is the chief factor for my injuries). . Although it may look a bit extreme to abstain from pain killer use even under a serious injury like mine, I know this perspective is here to stay, and is the only way I can help people in addiction. And only those that wish to be helped.
3. There is a small range of things I can actually influence in powerlifting. And that is mostly restricted to education. Being a good judge, for me, is about education. Keeping standards is about education. The integrity of the sport is about education. Being a good coach is about education. I was happy to be there judging. I hear about what’s going on in countries where I know, for sure, that the intentions are diametrically opposite to mine, highly dominated by opportunism and even crime and I don’t think I care more than a 15 seconds sad face. The result is that there are “amazing lifts” being done all around and I don’t know the lifters, don’t look at the videos and don’t react.
4. Other people’s achievements provide me with a great deal of pleasure. Seeing my boys – Hugo Quinteiro and Carlos Daniel – winning their class was something that genuinely made my week. I saw these guys’ first competitive lifts and now they are world class athletes. What can be greater than this? But it’s a different perspective that I have on my own performance: I truly want them to win, break records, etc. I’m not just satisfied with an elegant performance. I guess I’d be frustrated with a bomb-out. What does that mean? Probably that, by now, I’m more of a coach than an athlete.
5. Role models matter more than champions for me. I noticed I actually got more excited about some lifters’ achievements than others. Plotting them down on a spreadsheet, what they had in common for me, subjectively, was moral approval. I approve of their attitude and general behavior. While I care for all lifters under my responsibility, I can’t bring myself to get emotionally engaged in the performance of anyone I don’t admire or at least highly approve of. I am 100% indifferent to those I understand are cheating or trying to; I am almost indifferent to highly self-centered ones.
I ended up with a compromise solution: I do my part. I will continue to be the good, fair, “hard-ass strict judge” I am known to be, I will help educate other judges and lifters, I will lift where I like and feel powerlifting is treated with minimal respect and that’s it.
World-wide, the factors that contribute to the moral bankruptcy of sports in general and powerlifting in particular are way beyond my power to even scratch them. There are psycho-social factors related to perversions of the motivational architecture, there are economic factors linking small players to organized crime, there is no accountability and there is an Ostrich Syndrome among those who could care. My part also includes passive resistance. I’ll just sit and refuse to play any role in promoting delinquency. I found out this is almost dangerous, almost transgressive. Not “liking” delinquent micro-celebrities on the web is just too strange, but it’s what I do. I don’t care how awesome the Instagram picture is, how many tons he or she claims to have lifted or how many millions of followers he or she has. To the best of my ability, I will act as if they don’t exist and I will stir, whenever I can, young minds away from them.
There is a little pleasure, though, in knowing that, in ten years, most of the disgraceful names of today will be wiped out of History. History is written by people and people are non-neutral observers. It is people like me – the analysts, writers and commentators – who create historical record. Each one chooses their perspective. Mine is this. I will write about role models. The others will contribute numerical data to my statistical analysis with their lifts. I’ll keep ignoring their names.