My father was a weightlifter. People who know him now don’t know that. But, when he came back from Vietnam he stayed in Los Angeles for awhile, and all he did was lift and surf. The gym he frequented was a staple for the UCLA basketball team, and he made friends and became a fan. As a child I’d sit with my back to the ottoman his feet were on, watching the Bruins, and he’d tell my brother and I stories about the weight-room or practices that John Wooden allowed him to sit in on.
When I was young my brother and I addressed him as Sir, mostly out of respect, although it was partially because he looked like he could and would fight a pack of wolves. There was just this aura of raw, tangible strength about him. Whenever his temper flared up, I would vanish. The times he’d tell us stories were rarities. He was a quiet, but powerful man. You could see it in his gait.
He stayed in the gym until his early 60’s when one morning playing racquetball, of all things, he tore his labrum. The orthopedic surgeon who cared for him said the damage was “catastrophic.” After that, my father had it in his mind that he couldn’t lift with the same tenacity as before, so he stopped. His only sporting endeavor since has been golf.
When he was 60, he looked 45. And his physique was that of a soldier still. His shoulders were broad and full, and his posture matched his charisma. He was strong and unafraid. He’s 73 now. And he looks 73. It truly hurts my heart.
I love my father, all the traits that make me indomitable came from him. But he failed to adhere to rule that he himself once taught me: That you can lose battles and still win wars.
In fitness, there will be setbacks. You’ll fail a weight you’ve never attempted, or worse yet fail a weight you’ve hit before. Your PRs will taper with age. Your physical history will be less and less forgiving. You’ll get injured, even. Those are battles.
The war is life. And regardless of how hard it is to bounce back after an injury or an extended hiatus, you have to battle on. In quitting you lose. You lose everything.
People that know me know I used to love deadlifting heavy. I’d race towards the 400’s like kids scrambling to find their parents upon hearing the ice cream truck. My lifetime PR is 455, and I’m proud of that. But the closest I’ve come since is 405. And it’s because I experienced pain shortly thereafter, and it detrimentally effected my training for a few weeks. I most definitely lost that battle. However, I kept deadlifting. With a coach’s watchful eye I aimed to complete reps as heavy as I could while remaining pain-free throughout and in the days after. I can’t identify a significant loss in my overall fitness from backing away from those heavier percentages of my lifetime numbers in deadlifting. Mostly, as long as I lift as heavy as I safely can, focusing on technique and range of motion, the benefits I receive are the same, and the advantages of not being at a deficit in terms of capability afterwards far outweigh any jubilation I’d feel upon lifting mid-400’s. And therefore, I win the war.
Nobody goes undefeated in CrossFit. But don’t pick your battles. Battle on.