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Late on August 2015, Johnny Vasquez, Powerlifting Watch (PLW) owner, approached me with a proposal: help him with creating content for PLW. He is getting busier and busier with record keeping, ranking systems and other services that PLW provides to the community. Fishing for lifting news was consuming his non-existent spare time. He was very clear: this was an easy task because “there is news everywhere”. He was interested in more diversity, especially international diversity. Since I am a native speaker of Portuguese and I speak and read Spanish and French, it should be easy for me to poke around into these national powerlifting communities. We started on September the 1st.
I tried to contact friends from different parts of the world, such as Turkey or the Philippines. I learned fast that some countries with highly State dominated economies and hypertrophied bureaucracies are arid ground for the growth of powerlifting. Others, for the same reason, are the opposite, such as many East European countries. I admit I was a bit afraid it wasn’t going to be that easy.
I sent friend requests to people who had a very high number of common friends with me. Redundancy should provide a fertile ground for powerlifting related information and years of professional writing made me think that one way or the other I would create stories, no matter how hard it was, and I was prepared for it to be hard.
It was then that the magic happened. I looked at my feed and all I saw were stories. There were videos with very good and heavy lifts from a girl I didn’t know. I wrote to her boyfriend and got an amazing story about community building and how a girl in love with the loaded bar could inspire a whole team, starting with her fiancée.
A father sent me an inbox with videos of his 10 year old daughter competing seriously and lifting good weight. All I had to do was get the date and location. I had the story I always dreamed of writing: how lifting weights not only was not harmful to children, but beneficial. And that even more beneficial was to share the love for the iron with a loving parent.
I had a man who underwent the most severe health problems sending me his video of a world record attempt.
I was invited to powerlifting organization groups on facebook that I didn’t know even existed, but they did and had fun and sound lifting.
There was treasure all around!
From a barren desert I saw blooming exotic flowers. I am sorry, I’m a biologist: this is the best metaphor I can come up with. Because deserts, you know, are anything but barren. They are full of life everywhere. You only need to learn how to look. A blooming desert is almost obscene with reproductive effusiveness and beauty.
And that is what the PLW job taught me: my feed became a blooming desert. In one week people went from seeing me as the rulebook and calibrated equipment zealot (which I still am, or a part of me is) to the storyteller. Because, let’s face it: if the closest meet with calibrated everything and long seasoned and certified judges is 600 miles away, people will lift where they can. Lifting is what they love.
I learned fast to see the difference between the high profile opportunist that has the chance and resources to lift under the best ruled and best equipped conditions and chooses not to, just to force some shady all time record, and the lifter with limited financial resources that will lift where he can, hardly having too much of a choice between two or three alternatives.
The latter were my desert flowers and they were everywhere.
But wait, there was more treasure, more desert life: the companies that grow around the limited powerlifting economy. Personal equipment, apparel, hardware – these firms give life to the craft. Many of them were created against all odds: after all, who wants to produce something that initially only half a dozen freaks will buy? You need to be a nutcase yourself and love that craft too much. So I made a list of these companies and I found something they had in common: most of them were involved with causes. Like Sorinex and APT Pro Gear with Veterans. When I started powerlifting, I used to watch Sorinex videos of them setting up weight rooms in universities and I dreamed of one day visiting the factory or one of these “playgrounds”. To my surprise, Bert Sorin was totally open to contact and to answer questions. Alan Thomas, from APT, was the first person to believe I could be anything in powerlifting and he gave me gear – my first real good gear. I saw Jen Iron make her first t-shirts and build a flourishing business with apparel design: Iron & Emotion.
There was treasure everywhere.
As I told these people’s stories and interviewed some, they were always extremely grateful. It was hard for me to understand why. I never saw people thanking journalists for writing stories, and I had many friends in daily press (and even sports journalism). I’m just doing my job: writing stories. They are lifting the weights or making equipment. They are the stories – I just write them.
There is treasure everywhere.
There is a deeper treasure that I have been digging, and its story somewhat overlaps with the PLW job story: it is the “into the mind of the coach” project. I decided to try to understand what made these people decide to be coaches and what made them special as such. I created a basic qualitative research tool (a questionnaire) and adjusted it to each of my interviewees, which were just my friends at first. But that is another story, that will be told another time. All I can say now is that I hit a gold vein.
This year my lifting is very limited, as the previous two years were, because of injuries. They might or might not be related because the first one was a serious spinal disease. I managed to do some nice benching and remain in the first place at the international ranking. But now things got ugly: two serious and extensive muscle tears in critical areas (on at the rectus abdominalis and the other at the adductor, both starting from the pubic bone with partial disinsertion).
With my teaching (another story for another time) and especially now, with the PLW job, powerlifting unfolded itself into new and fascinating dimensions, beyond my self-transcendence trip into the unknown. It is easier to deal with the frustration of my limited lifting and painful injuries. I share the joy and pride of my stories’ subjects. My journey now includes a myriad of lifters from everywhere, all of which sharing the joy of finding life in weight that only appeared to be dead.
It has always been alive and the source of all this treasure, everywhere.