Sports as an Arena to Discover Yourself

Written by: Kevin Cann

I had a situation a couple of weeks ago that shattered who I thought I was as a person.  I have always held my ability to overcome adversity at my core.  It has been my greatest asset.  I had received a text message that brought to my attention that I have years of my life that I have no recollection of.

At first this really threw me off.  I was trying incredibly hard to remember something, just one thing from that time.  I even texted my siblings to see if their memories would spark some of mine, but nothing was working.

I began to do what any normal person in 2022 would do, I spent hours sifting through every article that popped up on Google.  A lot of information about PTSD began to surface, and I check all the boxes on the DSM for that diagnosis.  This really rattled my sense of being.

Upon further reading, there is something called complex PTSD (CPTSD) that isn’t in the DSM, but it is more representative of those of us that had sustained trauma over periods of time.  PTSD tends to be from a single incident.  I don’t get flashbacks of an incident, but instead my flashbacks are “feelings” caused by a specific trigger.  When people think, I am overreacting to something, this would explain why, well sometimes.  Sometimes it is a perfectly good overreaction.

From the time I was around 20 years old until now I have held my ability to overcome adversity as my greatest strength.  In spite of 15 years of physical and verbal abuse from the hands of my father, I got out.  In spite of him not paying my college bills, I found a way to re-enroll and finish my undergraduate degree and then go on to get a master’s degree.

Instead of going out, getting into fights, and getting arrested, I began spending more time reading and learning.  I was on house arrest at this time and not being able to go anywhere really allowed me to learn to create space between my triggers and my reactions.  It wasn’t perfect, but I have been able to stay out of trouble ever since.  This is a big deal as I was on some kind of probation from 2005 to 2011.  There was maybe a couple of months in that time I wasn’t.

I had decided to get back into sports at this time too.  MMA seemed a logical choice for my personality.  MMA helped me learn to control my anger.  Fighting angry is a recipe to get your ass kicked.  I was also in an environment with a bunch of people that I enjoyed spending time with beating the shit out of each other.  MMA would be part of my life for the next 10 years at a few different gyms.  I made some lifelong friends here for sure too.  

Getting back into sports was an important step for me.  When I was 9 years old, I remember my father screaming at a referee.  Yes, a referee at an under 10 soccer game.  Swearing and everything.  The referee stopped the game and wouldn’t start it back up until he left the field completely.  It was in this moment that I realized that those lines painted in a box around the field protected me from the terror that he caused.  For the length of the game, I was free.  This is why I loved soccer.

Finding out that I haven’t overcome the past like I thought, really took my strength away.  I lean on that strength when things get tough.  To come to the realization that those incidents just damaged me in other ways was and is very difficult to deal with.  This is where sports become even more important.

Awareness is key for anything.  It is the center of the foundation of our pyramid for a reason.  If you aren’t aware of a problem, you can’t solve it.  This is probably the biggest weakness amongst powerlifters that I see.  They change coaches and programs and continue to be the same person they were before.  They might see some success, but it will be fleeting if they do not make those changes.  You need to grow as a person if you want to reach your fullest potential as a powerlifter.  Stalling out a bit earlier than later while you figure it out can be more beneficial.  Don’t put it off.  Reflect every training day about life and training and how they are representative of one another.

Right next to mindfulness is integrity.  Integrity includes respecting the sport, the gym, the equipment, and other competitors, but it is more than that.  Integrity is living by our own individualized personal values.  This is a representative of who we want to be and an opportunity to be that person.

Spending some time thinking about these values and listing them out is a beneficial exercise.  I tend to narrow them down to 5 to 10 that I find to be most important.  Then we can always go back to them and reflect upon them to see if we are living our lives based upon those values that we hold in high regard.

Commitment, discipline, resilient, and poised are some of my values. Sports offers me the opportunity to exercise those values and put them to the test.  I woke up at 7am and read the following day after the news like I always do.  I was able to put my poise to the test with a max effort SSB squat.

One of my favorite parts of a conjugate program is this right here.  Anyone can feel sorry for themselves and adjust weights based off their feelings for their top set single at an RPE 8 for the day.  Then we can make a post about how we aren’t feeling up to snuff and encourage the strangers that follow us to just take what is there on the day.  When in reality you are probably insecure about the numbers and trying to convince yourself, it is the right thing.

A max effort lift pulls no punches.  You are either stronger than the last time you did it, or you are not.  Either way, you can always give your best.  We don’t always hit PRs.  In fact, we probably end up below our best more often than not in the main lift, but we then we move onto the next exercise and try to PR that, and the accessories.  We compete from start to finish in a training session.  There is no mindless reps and no time to feel sorry for yourself because we move onto the next thing to try to beat that.  That is being relentless, another value of mine.  I meditated, walked into the gym, and told myself I was leaving all that bullshit outside of the gym.  None of that defines me, but my hard work, commitment, and discipline does.

I ended up hitting a huge all-time PR on my SSB squat.  It was 17lbs more than it was before my meet at the end of May.  I came into the gym the next day for my bench press max effort.  I used a fat bar and straight weight.  5 weeks removed from my partial tricep tear, and I am already benching more now than I was pre-injury.  I did the same thing on this day.  I meditated and left my bullshit outside.

I then used my new SSB squat numbers for a new dynamic wave.  I was repeating a previous one since I hit a nice PR, why change it?  I was moving heavier weights much faster than I was moving lighter weights previously.  In fact, I was moving them almost .2m/s faster even though it was 5% heavier.  I did the same thing this day as the previous two.

Sports is an arena to define who you are and to challenge yourself to be who you want to be.  I don’t care about the PRs that much.  I care about how well I have shown up to each training day and committed to it without worrying about outside things.

My lifts in December hit an all-time low moving backwards.  I was allowing the outside stress to influence my performance and I was not living up to my values.  When outside stress is high, I try to gain more control in the gym by forcing things and overthinking everything.  That did not happen at all this time.  That is the PR that I care about most and shows that I have been putting in the work to be a better person.

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