I have been an athlete for over 30 years, and I have been at an international level for twenty of those years. I have squatted over 1000lbs in training countless times, benched 785lbs, Deadlifted 815lbs, Standing Military Pressed 315lbs, Front Squatted over 600 lbs, Clean & Jerks 419lbs, and Snatch 320lbs. I am a strength athlete. I love all things heavy! I always have! People have often asked me how I prepared mentally for big lifts, and until now I have never tried to explain. I think mainly because it is a scary frightful place that doesn’t even completely exist for me anymore, but I am going to try and explain.
For you to understand I am going to have to explain who I am in a little more detail. I am from a North Carolina mountain town called West Jefferson. Mountain People normally refer to the county that they are from, so for that purpose I’ll let you know that I am from Ashe County. Ashe County is a typical North Carolina mountain county settled mainly by people of Scotch-Irish descent, and that is where the word “hillbilly” actually came. It was brought to America by the highland Irish and Scottish settlers, and it was a word synonymous with backwards, fighting, and isolated. My home was formed by mean, fighting, and backwards son-of-a-guns that would rather stab you as to look at you. My wife and her family find it strange that I fought several times per year from kindergarten through my senior year in college. It was just who I was! People settled the mountains to be left the heck alone because they wanted to do whatever they wanted to do. They are group of people that doesn’t like to be told what to do. Fighting was simply a rite of passage for young men in the mountains, and it was definitely a measurement of masculinity.
There was also a darkness in those mountains that is sometimes hard for me to talk about. Alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, child abuse, neglect, and other forms of evil all contributed to a side of that mountain that most people won’t talk about and try to forget. Before I was a Christian this evil defined me, and it played a huge role in my life. I had a constant unrest that would manifest itself in violence, drugs, alcohol, women, or sports. Sports were the one place that I could release this darkness, and not be at risk of imprisonment or death. Thank God that I exceled in sports because that was the one thing that saved me from being totally consumed by my demons. Sports provided me an outlet, and the fear of not being able to play sports kept me out of major trouble when I was off the field. I still had my moments of fighting, drugs, alcohol, and several other forms of evil, but at least playing sports kept me out of prison.
From the outside looking in I appeared to be the all-American kid because I had the grades, was a great athlete, and had the girls, but I constantly battled my demons. It was like the Devil himself sat on my shoulder constantly reminding me that I am a mountain boy that should be doing bad things. I was at a constant unrest with a daily battle between good and evil. When I became a strength athlete, I was able to channel most of this unrest into my training. I started to learn how to channel the hate and evil into the lifts, and that is when I was able to make huge gains. Before a major lift I would remember every bad thing in my life. I would think about every fight, every bit of abuse both physical and mental, every slap, every negative comment, every death, my brother being in prison, and everything else in that crazy mountain town until the point that I was a raging lunatic. I learned early on to hold it all inside, and then to release it in one violent moment on the bar. Controlled rage I called it!
This technique worked well for years, but it wasn’t until the later years of my career that I learned the real secret. I call it “The Darkness begins and the Love Ends”! I would still bring up all the horrible past things of my life, but I added one thing. I would end the evil thoughts with all the things in my life that I loved like my wife, my daughter, my sister, and my mother, and this would cause a power to come over me that would literally give me supernatural strength. I would fill my body with rage to chest height, and then the love would bring on a feeling that would fill me up with an energy that would overflow from my eyes and ears. There were times that I literally couldn’t hold the tears from gushing out of my eyes, and when that would happen, the weight didn’t stand a chance. I don’t know if you will be able to mimic these emotions because I have had extremely terrible things happen in my life, and I have loved just as extreme. This power cannot be conjured with balanced emotions or feelings of melancholy only extreme hate and love.
Now I am a Christian, and the hate is quickly leaving my body thank God. I am motivated by love of God and family now, and I believe this to be much more powerful and healthy. I teach my athletes to focus on love, but if they have some demons, then let’s exorcise them on the barbell. Writing this blog took me to a place that I haven’t been in a while, but now I feel like I am back to normal. I am thankful that I was able to make it out of all that hate, but it’s a part of my past that has made me who I am. I probably would have never won all of those World Titles, and then maybe I wouldn’t be the coach that I am today. Below is a video and you will see that I am literally holding back the emotions to the point that my face looks like it might explode!
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