“Almost everything… all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” – Steve Jobs
The explosion was deafening.
I could feel the reverberation through my chest. My ribs, one by one, felt like they rolled as if in a Fenway Park summer crowd-wave. My breadth left me, a swarm of dust and debris flew past me from behind, covering me and all those around me. The noise was muffled, like trying to listen to the world above you as you hold your breadth under water, staring into the sky through the liquid barrier. The screams came forward, the crowd panicked, as the Marines gathered themselves they started to call out to each other, getting a roll call. One grunt was wounded, not in my unit. I looked over as he placed his hand on the checkpoint kiosk wall (which was now only half standing), bleeding from a shrapnel wound… he stood to gather himself. Placing is hand on the wall, he came to a knee, gathered himself, and stood. As a he stumbled his team mate came to his aid.
It was devastation, it was chaos… it was war.
After the Chaos had subsided, I was tasked with some of the clean-up. One of the jobs was to delegate some of my junior marines to clean out the check-point area. There was carnage everywhere. Engine parts, car parts, debris… and body parts. I watched as my junior Marines – their first tour – picked the body parts out of the concertina wire. I became very sullen. This wasn’t my first tour, sadly I had become accustomed to this kind of violence. But them… I worried for them. Most of them were just a tad over 19 years old. As I watched them perform their job… I also saw their innocence leaving them… forever. How will they ever recover from this? How will I?
I knew I loved the barbell, and the Olympic Lifts. That much I DID know. Now… where to start? When can I train? Am I willing to sacrifice my other pursuits for the time being? How will I be able to do what is demanded of me? I am going to be alone (in a CrossFit gym), what program should I use? Am I good enough? This is really hard. I am shit. All of these thoughts passed through my mind when I knew I wanted to pursue Olympic Lifting. Initially I wanted to pick it up as a way to enhance CrossFit… it quickly became something else… something much more.
Then Barbell Shrugged’s Flight Weightlifting Program became a thing. I had listened to them for years, and always thought I identified with them well. It seemed, in that point, exactly the right thing to do. In my heart, I knew this was the path, this was The Way. I didn’t procrastinate on it, I trusted my gut and jumped right on it. I just knew this was the program for me. We will get to that point later in the article… but this became so much more then a simple Weightlifting program.
Forging our Community
Flight kicked off in February of 2015. Barbell Shrugged launched the program, and we were the first heat. While the programming is good and sound, I don’t think any of us predicted the community that would develop. In my group, Flight Solo, we had mostly each other, the programming, the coaching videos, and our own devices to lean on (there are different tiers to registration with more activeness from the actual Shrugged coaches). Kurt and Alex would chime in and were very much a part of the community, but mostly the actual coaching was left to the team. This actually became an incredible thing as a significant community began to develop. In all honesty I’d say this was the entire win of the program. An astoundingly supportive, communicative, and interactive online community grew within Solo. It was amazing to watch and grow. Real friendships were being created, and many people relied on each other.
The course is a year long, and a lot can happen within a year. People went through life changes, divorces and marriages, injury, deaths, jobs acquired and lost, moves, highs and lows, defeats and victories… always bringing it right back to the online community. To include myself I went through a very trying period, and it was THIS group that kept me focused. There was always the support… and the training. Train. Train. Train.
Bringing the crew together
Some of us had randomly met up at meets, or happen to be passing through each others’ towns… but largely I saw an opportunity. I wanted to get this together. I wanted to get US together. I saw such an amazing community and I wanted to cement it into our lives. I wanted digital friendships to become real friendships, and there is nothing more powerful than the human touch. I threw the idea out to the group and an astounding reply came forth. I was immediately taken back by how many of us wanted the same thing. Alex Maclin chimed in and told me to PM him. So I did. Basically he said he’d wanted to do this for a long time, but that he was so busy with Barbell Shrugged that the responsibility would fall on me.
I accepted that responsibility. I was a bit overwhelmed at first. It basically dawned on me that with no official event planning experience, I was about to plan and produce an international weightlifting meet with Barbell Shrugged’s Flight Weightlifting program’s name on it. Holy fuck-shit. I knew, deep down, that I could do it. I have the vision, the leadership, the gumption, and the networking ability to pull it off. Which is why I chose Charlotte, NC. I had the most pull from all over the state, here.
Organizing the event
So the planning process began. It took months of networking, logistics planning, equipment accrual, athlete and volunteer processing…. It was insane. But I was driven to do it. It wasn’t about money (I kept nothing, all of it went into the meet), or the clout. It was about bringing these people together that I had grown to love and respect. Who had been there for me. So many times in our lives we come across let downs. So much of life just simply falls through the cracks. No follow through. I wasn’t going to let that happen, not on my watch. And as the athletes started buying plane tickets and registering for the event I knew that there was only one choice: to succeed. For them. As the time grew near, my focus honed in on what needed to be done. By the Wednesday before the meet I took time off of work and it all began to move 1 million miles an hour. Athletes were coming in on the hour every hour. They needed questions answered, to be received, to be picked up, or just know where to go and when. Some came in especially early just to have some extra time. Starting from about Wednesday, and not ending until the following Tuesday, I had anywhere from 6-10 athletes staying in my 2-bedroom apartment. It was glorious.
One day out
The athletes instantly took to it all. You’d think we’d have been living together and training together for years… and in a way, we had been. On Thursday night, the early birds trained together. It flowed naturally. A few PR’s were hit (2 -days before meet, mind you), and we just had some lifting fun… like a team. Friday the bulk of the athletes arrived and Reebok CrossFit in Uptown Charlotte opened their doors to them. I was busy running around setting up the meet, and all of the athletes wanted to help… but I wanted them to train together. So I shoo’d them away from my work and let them be where they should be… with each other. It was a real treat to watch! A room full of Flight Weightlifters getting in one more taper work-out before the big meet. My reward was watching just how smoothly the personalities and athletes bonded and moved together. Like before, you’d think we’d have been in the same room for years.
I felt it days before the meet, and the feeling kept growing: something amazing is about to happen. That night we all met for a meet and greet at a local pub (Greystone Pub, in South Charlotte- Sedgefield), and it was great. Everyone was having a blast, drinking drinks, eating food, playing games, and just getting to know each other in person for the first time. There was no drama, everyone meshed very well, and it probably went on a bit too long for athletes about to compete… but this was about the people. Good people. We were getting together to celebrate our friendships, a year (or more) of hard work put in, compete, and toast to the community that had developed.
I woke up first in my home, and met my mother. We walked together, getting in a moment before we knew that I’d be ripped away by the demands of the meet. We talked… and she said, “You’re going to do well. It will be a lot, there will be things that pop-up… but just be cool and tackle each obstacle.” As I entered Reebok I could feel a low hum of excitement building. I was there before any of the athletes making sure things were getting locked on.
The females came in mid-morning to weigh-in and by noon the meet was underway. I had delegated responsibilities, organized everything I could think of, prepared myself, and all that was left was to let it happen. And happen it did! The energy was high, the fun-factor even higher! We had Weightlifting going on, coffee being sold, Barbell Shrugged on-site, beer being drank, food being grilled… and good old fashioned Weightlifting competition happening at the center of it all. A Flight Weightlifting Meet. It was all happening right in front of my eyes. I just let it go and let it happen, directing it as I could….
The day progressed, The heats passed, the energy was high. It was all so amazing to watch. My mother and step-sister were sitting in the crowd, who had never seen a Weightlifting competition, and absolutely fell in love. They were screaming, carrying on, and told me it was the best day ever. It was amazing to watch the athletes. To reflect and think, “I did this. They’re here, and, in love. WE did this.” Athlete after athlete lifting, Lifetime and competition PR’s! Some athletes not performing to expectations, but that’s competition… welcome to Weightlifting… and more importantly… they were having a blast. Everyone was supportive, having fun, the energy was high…. It was all to be expected from a group like this… from Flight Weightlifting.
After a day moving at 1000 mph, the last lift happened, the last heat closed. The awards Ceremony took place:
The after party commenced:
And the night came to a close.
After the storm
In a manner like we look to in the Holidays every year… it came… it was a whirlwind of awesome… and it goes. Sunday the majority of athletes had all but left, and those of us who stayed behind had a nice enjoyable day of drinking beer, eating food, and watching baseball. A calm after the storm. It was a day with family.
When the last athlete left by Tuesday, I was finally able to sit back and reflect. I went through many emotions. Some were about a respite… I could finally breathe! The event happened and it was a roaring success! I actually fucking pulled it off…. Some of it I was sad… because it was such an amazing time and now it was over. That kind of quietness that happens after your family leaves, and you’re alone in the house. But I was filled, mostly, with happiness. My soul had truly been filled. And, as the next few days passed, the response was overwhelming. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter were flooded with the Flight Weightlifting Meet. I was receiving praise and thankfulness not only because of a meet well ran… but people connected with a community… and community they had been searching for and found! This became more than just a good time… it literally changed people’s perspectives. Many were now given a sort of clairvoyance as to what they valued out of life… and what direction meant something to them.
This was my reward.
To ask nothing but to give to those around me. To impact a community so profoundly that I had grown to love. My thoughts drift back now to that moment… when I saw my young marines picking body parts… as I write this on this Memorial Day… about how I wondered how we’d ever find happiness again. After all we had been through, how would we ever heal? You give. You give back. Barbell Shrugged GAVE us a program, WE created a community, and I GAVE us the opportunity to do something that would impact us for the rest of our lives. And impact it did. The secret is to accept the challenges put in front of you, not because it will do something for you, but so that you can GIVE back to those around you. When Alex said he wanted me to pursue this, I had the vision, the understanding, to know the task I’d been given. I wasn’t sure at the time how’d I’d pull it off, or what it’s going to be like. I just took the first step, accepting the challenge in front of me. Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi once said that it is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself… that we become more than what we were. My healing came in providing for those I love. In giving them their joy, I receive my own ten fold. In creating this community, and acting upon it, we created a light in this world. A place where people respect each other, love each other, provide for each other. THAT is community. And now, when I have my darkest moment, and my thoughts go back to those places of hopelessness… I remember this weekend. I remember what we did, what WE created.. and that I am not alone… and never will be.
- Check out more from Ben at his blog One Foot One Step
- Interested in learning more about the Flight Weightlifting program? Get all the details about the program here.