by Coach Hannah
For the past 9 months, Jerik, Morgen and myself have been training to compete in the Minnesota Open Weightlifting competition. If you are new to Olympic Weightlifting, it is comprised of two lifts: the snatch and the clean & jerk. Both are complicated, nuanced movements that require years of dedicated practice to perfect. Considering we had a lot less than years to prepare, it’s safe to say that we were all nervous about the meet, which happened this past weekend, Oct 4th and 5th.
Morgen and I competed together on Saturday in the 69 kg weight class, with Jerik competing on Sunday in the 94 kg class. When we arrived on Saturday morning in Rochester, we were buzzing with adrenaline and excitement. We were all over-caffeinated and under-fed in preparation for our weigh-in. We had a few hours to watch the light-weight women compete in the morning and take in the gravity of it all. Soon enough 12:00 rolled around and we were prepping for weigh-in. After weighing in, we stuffed our faces with Turkey and fig newtons and got warmed up in the back. We met the other women in our weight class and they were incredibly friendly and encouraging. It was reassuring to get to know their names and find out more about how long they have been lifting – it made for a much less terrifying competition.
Once we started lifting, Coach Sampson took over. He determined our weights, told the judges what we would be lifting, and helped us strategize based on each lift. I knew I wanted to stay conservative with the snatch – if there is one thing I am great at, it is psyching myself out when I am about to throw a bar over my head and squat underneath it. I ended up snatching 51 kg/113 lbs at my highest. Morgen on the other hand was more aggressive, and ended up hitting 53 kg/117 lbs. We both hit all 3 of our attempts, which is an excellent way to feel confident right off the bat.
After snatching we were feeling pretty damn good – so we ate some more fig newtons and prepped for clean and jerk. Morgen has been dealing with some shoulder issues lately so she was nervous about the jerk, but in the back room she was looking amazing and her shoulder was cooperating perfectly, so we both opened with pretty aggressive numbers. We hit all 3 of our lifts, with Morgen finishing at 65kg/145 lbs, and me finishing at 71kg/157 lbs. We were dancing around and hugging all over the place once we realized we had gone 6 of 6 on our lifts. Then, they announced the winners – AND GUESS WHAT – we placed! Morgen took home the bronze and I got the silver. Pretty damn good for some beginner lifters.
The next day we watched the 75 and 75+ women, including our friend Erin from CrossFit Rigor. At 12:00, Jerik went to weigh-in and warm up. I acted as his coach, and together we set his opening lifts. His heat was big, 14 guys, and some of them were old pros who were trying to get a ticket to the American Open. Jerik didn’t let that shake him though, and he hit his first snatch easily. The second snatch was also no problem, but on the 3rd he attempted a PR weight and he struggled. The bar was sitting far behind him – in the gym he would have bailed and tried again – but he fought it for what felt like 30 seconds (and was really 3), and somehow got out of the hole. It was incredible! He ended with a 91 kg/201 lb snatch. Beast.
His clean and jerks were equally easy – the weight was flying up. I started to get a little cocky as a coach so on his last attempt I upped his weight by 10 lbs. Jerik didn’t even flinch, and he easily got his third lift at 102 kg/225 lbs. All 3 of us ended with 6 out of 6 lifts completed, which is basically unheard of.
Last night after we got home from an exhausting and exhilarating couple of days, I thought a lot about our journey to the first meet, and the lessons I took away from our time training together. Here are some of the most important things I have learned about training with a team:
1. Have a sense of humor
Oly lifting is exhausting, repetitive and even depressing at times. Some days when you come into the gym, the last thing you want to do it put in a 2-3 hour training session. Some days you just want to eat a bucket of ice cream and lay in bed. Other days, you are really excited to train and then you miss every single lift attempt and fall on your ass. Some days you try to snatch 75% and the bar is like, “No”. It’s so tempting to let those days drag you into the murky depths of self-doubt. It’s tempting because it’s easy. It’s easy to give up on it, skip a day, get angry about it, blame it on something. It’s not easy to shake it off, tell a joke, and move on with your day. That is the hard part.
If I had been training alone, I would most certainly have spent every day torturing myself over missed lifts and achy shoulders. I still did it some days, we all did; but with training partners, it’s that much easier to turn it all around. I don’t know what I would have done without Morgen and Jerik talking about poop and screaming “weightlifting!” every day in the gym. They kept me feeling light and helped me find joy in my training. I hope that sometimes I did the same for them.
When you Oly lift, you spend many hours chasing 1kg PR’s. Tiny, insignificant jumps become overwhelming challenges when you’re trying to move a bar with speed and accuracy. It’s easy to get bogged down in your own attempts and miss out on what you’re training partners are doing. Sometimes, I would be desperately chasing a number, and turn to see Morgen hit that same weight with ease. My first thoughts were always, how come I can’t do that? But wallowing never did me any good. It took me many months to understand that worrying about what Jerik and Morgen were doing was actually holding all of us back. I should have been celebrating their progress instead of worrying about how it compared to my own.
After I realized this, I saw a video that Morgen posted of hitting a 120# PR snatch for the first time – something that had been eluding both of us. I watched the video like ten times and I felt genuine excitement for her – no thoughts about my own goals or if I would ever hit that number. The next day, I was training alone, and I told myself that it didn’t matter what I did, it was just another day at the gym. Then, like magic, I hit a 120# snatch. By seeing Morgen hit her numbers, by watching her succeed and celebrating her success, I was able to succeed as well.
Coaching the oly lifts is an art form and a practice. Every coach sees something different and they all have a different approach. If you isolated the cues from the top coaches in the world, they might even directly contradict one another. As an athlete it can be frustrating and confusing. I had my coach, Diane Fu, looking at my videos weekly and providing me with feedback. The process was frustrating at times (“I don’t understand what it means to ‘push through the floor’!”) and exhausting at others (“She wants me to do how many squats at 85%?”). I learned that being a coach and being an athlete aren’t that different; you have to find your voice, but you have to be open to new possibilities.
As much as I wanted to stick to my guns on things (“well, it’s always worked for me do it this way”), I saw more progress when I gave into the cues and pushed myself in uncomfortable ways. I found out things I never knew about myself as a lifter – I was heel heavy, hip aggressive and had weak quads – and I actually tackled my weaknesses head-on. It takes a certain amount of humility to be truly coachable. I had to give up my ego, let go of my own opinions, and place trust in Diane. I let myself be coached and I became a better athlete and coach because of it.
After experiencing the meet and training so hard, I can’t imagine giving up now. Yesterday, as we sat watching the end of the 94 kg heats, Morgen turned to me and said “wanna do this again in 3 months?” Yes. Yes I do.