Invisible Wounds and PRs

Written by: Kevin Cann

We bend over to deadlift, we start to pull, and suddenly, we feel a sharp pain shoot down our leg causing us to stop in our tracks and drop the bar to the floor.  We struggle to stand up straight and the pain is so severe that we think we just did something major to our back.

Chances are that most reading this will have experienced this at one point or another while powerlifting.  The physical ailments of the injury tend to subside quick, usually within a week or two.  However, we may experience hesitation mentally that holds us back a bit longer.

That little bit of fear and doubt will surely decrease the numbers on the bar even though the physical strength remains unchanged.  Coming back from physical injury isn’t the only time the mental/emotional side can have an impact on numbers.

I have shared some of my story in past articles.  I think there is benefits to sharing our stories so that others can find strength in them, maybe some will realize they aren’t alone, and because it allows us as individuals to increase our self-awareness and make the appropriate training decisions necessary for us.

I grew up in a very physically and verbally abusive household.  My earliest memories of the abuse begin at around 6 years old, and this continued to escalate until I left the home after high school.  I would have to return home at times after this period, but I had gotten much bigger and the physical abuse stopped, but the environment was something out of a movie.

My father stabbed me with a fork, threatened to kill me while holding kitchen knives up to me, all while telling me how worthless I was.  This was my environment for more than half of my life.  

I have since left that environment and I am estranged from my father these days, but you can never truly leave that place.  It burns a sore into to you that you carry everywhere.  In fact, there is an assessment called the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) and the toxic stress risk assessment.

A score of 4 or more out of 10 comes with higher risk of a lot of various ailments in adulthood.  I scored an 8/10 on this assessment.  Risks of suicide, drug abuse, heart disease, cancer, you name it, it is higher in this group of adults that suffered high levels of trauma as children.

I read that list and realize what I have overcome at times and feel lucky.  I truly credit sports for helping me.  I am sure my high blood pressure is a result of that trauma I experienced due to always being turned on.  My drinking was high in my 20s, and I did have a high perpetration towards violence which are all on the list of adverse conditions.

Interestingly skeletal fractures are too.  The fact that I am typing this a month removed from my triceps tendon tearing off my bone is interesting.  The tendon is fully intact, it snapped off the bone creating an avulsion fracture.  Basically, the bone couldn’t sustain the force of the pull from the tendon.  This is a rare injury for a drug free lifter.  Maybe a coincidence, maybe not.

Anyways, that assessment is a toxic stress risk assessment.  Not just stress, but they decided to call it toxic stress because of the adverse health conditions that this population suffers.  The sad part is that doctors and people typically don’t even understand why they are suffering physically.

This population walks around with an invisible wound that no one can see, but they will judge these people based off what they can see.  You never know anyone’s full story, so think about that before you judge them.

For those that know me, I am always reading and learning.  I will almost guarantee you that no one reads and learns as much as I do.  It is a survival trait that I developed over time.  It is known as avoidance when those that suffer from trauma get lost in their work.  It works as a distraction, and it works well.

I learned this even from an early age with reading books.  As I got older it is how I finished my undergraduate degree and then my graduate degree, but also began a long path of self-directed learning.  I own textbooks that I never needed for school, but I read them all.  I realized it distracted me from my stress.

My constantly elevated arousal, known as hypervigilance, allows me to remember almost everything that I am reading.  In some ways it is a superpower.  That is until my heart explodes.  I also have a very high pain tolerance, probably from the same elevated arousal.  Think of it as being “turned on” all the time.  It makes me a bit irritable too, but I like to think that is my charm.

The negatives of this are that I am always turned on.  This often leads to burnout, but it gets tough to take a break when you need the distraction.  It also has a huge impact on my recovery and performance.  

Throw in a global pandemic and then an economic recession and we got a real problem here.  The pandemic had a negative impact on every single person on earth.  It is no surprise that my best lifts happened before the world shutdown.

The pandemic is a major trigger for me.  Being forced in my house with loads of uncertainty.  This has a substantial impact on me.  This is a big trigger in fact.  There are whole years of my life that I do not remember a single thing.  Couldn’t even tell you my teacher’s name.  Instead of memories, I get life experiences that open dark doors in my subconscious.

The problem with a stressful event that is continuous is that those doors do not get shut.  This is an extremely difficult process to manage for all of us, but for some we are on another level with this.

I am fully aware of how these types of situations impact me.  The pandemic may be in the rearview mirror, but the economic fallout since is heavy.  My team is half of the size that it used to be.  Again, I used avoidance tactics to learn more and more over the last 2.5 years and our results show for it.  We are lifting bigger and bigger numbers and winning more medals.  I am a much better coach, and the team are much better lifters these days.  The development of the newer lifters is also a sign of this.

At USPA nationals I hit my first PR since before the pandemic.  I pulled a deadlift PR on my 3rd attempt.  A weight I dropped in my meet in January 2020.  I also smoked 5kg under my best platform bench which was an absolute RPE 10 and wouldn’t have counted on the USPA platform for an uneven lockout.

The internet can make fun of my total and my national championship medal all that they want.  The amount of work that I needed to do to be able to hit that PR has been happening over a lifetime.  That work goes unnoticed because it isn’t seen on Instagram, much like the wounds that many of us carry around.

We celebrate people that had physical ailments, that healed, and then they did some things.  Bones heal, as do muscles and ligaments.  I have broken many and torn quite a few at this point.  I have pins and screws holding some pieces together.  However, those healed.  It is badass to come back from major injuries and come back even stronger, or even to keep showing up and giving it your all.  That shit fires me right up to see.  Wounds from severe trauma don’t heal.  That is why they carry such adverse effects later in life.  We all experienced stress together with the pandemic, the threat of war, and economic uncertainty.  This stuff will have an impact on people more than most 

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