Reflections from the Platform:
When Distraction and Fear Ask You to Realign Your Goals
By: SweetDee Rygwelski
In the last week since the 2016 RPS Texas Max Madness, I have found myself running through a gamut of emotions; all positive and also overwhelming. At first, the focus of my emotion was how I smashed those heavy weights. Feeling fierce and a little ferocious. The longer I sat on it though, the more overwhelmed I became. Not overwhelmed in the way that brings anxiety, overwhelmed in the sense that garners a burning sense of pride. Roughly 3 days after the meet it hit me, I realized I had accomplished part of the “big hairy audacious goal” I set for myself years ago: become one of the – if not the – strongest woman in history.
Rewind to 6 years ago when I took the platform at my first powerlifting meet. It was something I did as a favor to one of my best friends, but man did it have a profound impact on my life. It’s the first time I pulled 300 pounds (watch it here!), shit, it’s the first time I even tried. A 300 pound deadlift was the goal I set for myself that day, and I did it. I’ll never forget what that felt like; to feel like a monster and be elated with the surprise that you are capable of what you said you could do. Like, “WHOA! I just picked up 300 pounds! How is that even possible? If I can lift that, what else can I lift?!” Well it wasn’t a rhetorical question. Within 24 hours of completing the meet I knew I wanted more from powerlifting (and myself) and I began my journey to becoming one of the strongest women in history. I had no idea what that meant at the time and what I have learned over the last six years could easily be a novel (if not at least a series of whimsical blogs) but I knew this was the ‘more’ I wanted.
Fast forward to July 2015 when I took that platform at an SPF meet in Corpus Christi. I did not accomplish my goal. I missed it by a mere [greedy] 19lbs and while I still hit a solid PR total I was incredibly disappointed. My coach, being who he is, had meticulous records and while I was off contemplating “what does this mean?” he was off crunching numbers and came at me with some hardcore data: turns out I had only completed 50% of my training as it was written. The other 50% I altered as I wanted, wasn’t completed in the home gym or I simply missed altogether. My coach also suggested that I evaluate what my goals really were because my actions were not in alignment with what I said I wanted. (You read that goal above.)
What was happening to me? That’s not me. I do not give 50% effort and expect to smash my goals. I give ONE MILLION PERCENT effort and wait for the earned, extraordinary outcome. I took his advice. I took a step back and had an honest conversation with myself about my life goals where they were related to powerlifting and outside of powerlifting, too.
Hindsight being 20/20, I was burnt out on life. So much had happened in the eight months leading up to that meet – moving cross country, training multi ply for the first time, going to the women’s pro/am, new relationship, switching jobs (twice!), personal and professional disappointments, a strong(wo)man show… the list goes on and it’s not worth getting into now. The point is, my life had been turned over and everything had my head cluttered and I didn’t know what I wanted anymore.
Taking all of that into account I asked myself questions:
- Do I still love powerlifting? Is it my passion? Yes, most certainly. I cannot imagine a life without the iron. The iron has quite literally been there for me when it seemed like nobody or nothing else was. The iron has pushed me beyond my own limits and shown me broader horizons. It’s gave me a reason to continue to push and grow and expect more from myself. When everything else is stagnant, the iron challenges me to be more. That’s motivation and I can’t imagine my life without that drive.
- Do I want to continue to be competitive? This I actually answered with a series of questions: Do I know how to not be competitive? No, I’m a competitive asshole. Is competition important to me? Yes! I thrive in a healthy competitive environment. Have I burnt out on being a competitive powerlifter? No. I still have goals I need to accomplish. I’m not done yet.
- So, if you still love lifting and you still want to be competitive, what the hell are you doing right now? Why aren’t you taking advantage of the opportunity in front of you? Why are you letting this slip through your fingertips? Then it hit me: I didn’t feel safe. With so much going on in my life, with changes around every corner, I always felt like I had lost control and I was scared. I’m not sure what I was scared of, but whatever it was it stopped my in my tracks for a bit and then I realized, I didn’t believe in me. All of this had me feeling raw and exposed all of the time and it was a distraction. I feel deeply, and while some athletes (the best athletes) can put that shit aside and perform, this was a time when I could not. I knew that before I could get back into lifting “hardcore” I had to see the change through – cause you can’t stop it.
And with that, I took a month to myself and got all the little distracting ducklings in formation and set boundaries for them so that I could move forward. I showed up to lifting when I could. The distance gave me a chance to miss lifting and that was a vital piece for me. I started to get hungry for it again.
Once the ducks were in line, there was only one question left: do I just go back and lift raw, or do I go for it and put on that gear? Turns out, after putting on the squat suit and feeling the pressure of the gear – raw lifting didn’t offer that “excitement” anymore. Besides, I already had most of the gear and had the money saved to replace the generous hand-me-downs with new threads and a coach and a lifting crew who were there when I was ready. The universe was telling me to get back into my squat suit and kick ass. So I did.
For the 8 months leading up to the meet, outside of regularly scheduled adulting, my focus was lifting. I took on training with a new attitude, I focused on learning new skills and becoming a technician in the gear. Wider stance squats, raising the chest to the bar when you bench and meticulously placing my hips at the right angle for an explosive pull off the floor. I wanted to be a machine. I dove in head first and gave it everything I had. The new goal was to recognize that I have what it takes to get through this training session, today. No matter how out of control everything else felt, I had the opportunity to learn and grow with the bar. If everything else was falling apart, this was the one thing I could do to find center again.
Lifting became about bettering myself, not about being one of the strongest women in history. I used training to remind myself of what I am really made of. I approached each training day with the recognition that any weight Coach put on my shoulders was nothing compared to overcoming my own distractions and fears. Each training day something went right – and sometimes things went wrong – but everything taught me that I can handle what is being thrown at me today. Which is something we all have learned before but sometimes we need a reminder.
Eventually lifting in the gear and handling those weights became second nature and I believed in me again. Then the funniest things started to happen: work took off and I have been killing it in the office just like in the gym, my finances are in order – all of them – and I was given the opportunity to downsize and rebuild my life, how I want it. All the areas where I felt like I was being stretched, pulled and pushed settled into their new boundaries and everything else fell in place.
By the time March 26 came around, when someone asked “What do you think you will lift at the meet?” My response was always, “I don’t know. There’s nothing my coach hasn’t put in my hands or on my back that I haven’t handled. It’s going to be a good day!”
And a good day it was! I ended up going 9 for 10 (they gave me a 4th attempt deadlift!) and put 317 pounds (!) on my total. I even locked out all three of my shirted benches. A vast improvement from the pro/am a year before where not one shirted bench was completed.
My numbers for this meet were:
Squat: 644 (129lb PR) video here
Bench: 336 video here
Deadlift: 452 (27lb PR) video here
Total: 1432 (317lb PR)
I’m thankful for all the uneasiness, fear and distractions thrown my way. Without them, I wouldn’t have been asked to be present in my life and reevaluate and realign. I’m grateful for the team and people at Austin Simply Fit for allowing me to figure out who I am and who I can be within these walls. Without a doubt, life will get distracting again and I will be challenged with greater hurdles than dished out this time, but hey, I am strong enough to get through today.
I’ve never been so relaxed and excited going into a meet and the biggest factor I can attribute that to is being present for today and not worrying about tomorrow. As it turns out, focusing on the here and now leads to greater long-term success. The performance I put up at this last RPS Texas meet earned me 6 RPS world records – 4 of which were open for the taking and 2 of which were standing for two years prior. It also landed my name in two spots on the Top 10 all-time multi ply 181 list for squat and total. So, not only am I strong enough to take on life, I’m also one of the strongest women in history. I’m so proud of all that I learned and accomplished on my way to these goals. I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard for anything. While I don’t want to get knocked down again, it’s bound to happen. Either way, I’m ready for the next round. Let’s go!
About the Author:
Dana “SweetDee” Rygwelski
Born and raised in the Philadelphia area, Dee was a cheerleader for 15 years before moving to Los Angeles in 2007 and began lifting at DogTown Crossfit in 2011. In 2012, Dana moved back to Philly, trained at Crossfit Delaware Valley and competed in powerlifting at Iron Sport Gym – where she met Big Tone Barbaccio and later joined the Jersey Iron Powerlifting team and learned what it means to really be a powerlifter and to train on a team. In 2014, after two years and many successes with Jersey Iron, Dana’s professional life moved her to Austin, Tx where she found Austin Simply Fit and began training as a multi ply lifter. In little over a year, Dana has put over 300 pounds on her multi-ply total and recently earned a spot on the all-time Top 10 181 list with a 1433 total. She is also the Texas State Chair for Revolution Powerlifting Syndicate (RPS).
Dee is a lover of Pitbulls, especially her pitty Squat! A domestic traveler, Dee has been to over 50% of the continental United States and lived on both coasts. She enjoys creating new experiences and shaking her tail feathers to a good house beat on the dance floor. In her professional life, Dana is a marketing, communications, and operations strategist. A jack of all trades, SweetDee’s passions include inspiring people to become the strongest version of themselves both in and out of the gym, loud laughing, and making people smile.