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As you are reading this, my fourth-place finish at this year’s World’s Strongest Man competition is in the history books. My placement was nothing like I’d planned, that’s for sure, but the experience reaffirmed the knowledge that the power to succeed lies within the mental focus that all of us have. Each of us possesses the will to push ourselves beyond the discomfort and pain of training to achieve higher levels than we ever dreamed of, but only if we focus on this internal power when the going gets rough.
A few days before I was set to leave for the World’s Strongest Man in California in mid-September, I started to experience some numbness and tingling in my left hand. At first I didn’t think much of it and figured it would just go away. Unfortunately, this ended up not happening—and instead of getting better, it only got worse after I started competing. I made it through my qualifying group fairly easily and never let anyone know that it was bothering me, as I really hate to show any weakness to my fellow competitors. During the qualifiers I was seeking treatment every day in hopes of getting some feeling back into my hand before the finals started, but nothing was working.
During the finals I basically had almost no feeling in my left hand. In addition to that, I also was experiencing weakness in my grip and a loss of function in my fingers. As the six events proceeded, I basically was just hoping that I could get my hand to hold on and function enough so that I could try to perform up to the best of my abilities. Sadly, this was not to be.
The only event where my hand didn’t bother me was the super yoke carry, and I was able to get the win in that event. It bothered me the most on the truck pull with grabbing the rope and on the natural stone loading—one of my best events—as I couldn’t feel if my left hand had a good grip. And on the deadlift and power stairs events I lost the ability to grip and suffered accordingly. Overall the final was extremely disappointing to me because, despite being in the best shape of my life, I couldn’t perform anywhere close to my potential due to a nerve issue that I couldn’t control.
After the letdown of tearing my biceps at the MHP Arnold Strongman Classic earlier in the year and thus not being able to perform at the top of my abilities and successfully defend my title, having almost the same thing happen to me at the World’s Strongest Man was and still is very hard to deal with. After committing so much of my time, effort, and money to preparing to win my second WSM title, coming away empty-handed is a terrible feeling.
But even though I have had to go through a lot of disappointment this year, I know that the best way to move forward is to stay positive. Mental strength is sometimes overlooked in the big picture of championship sports performance and training, but I consider it one of my greatest assets. The ability to find the positive out of any situation can be difficult, but it is what I always try to do. Yet accomplishing this with any success requires more than just saying this is what you plan to do.
Setting small goals helps me to stay on track and to be positive each day. I will set small training or diet goals to meet on a daily basis. As I meet them, I know that I am getting closer to being where I want to be. Charting such goals is very helpful in accomplishing long-term success. For instance, if just getting to the gym is a problem for you, keeping a detailed training log makes it more real—and, therefore, makes you more accountable to yourself. As you become stronger, making real progress becomes more difficult, so keeping track of every rep, set, weight lifted, rest period, and how you feel is critical for moving forward.
If you are an advanced bodybuilder or strength athlete, the same basic principles apply. Few lifters have the laser focus of a Mr. Olympia contender naturally without practicing daily self-affirmation techniques and embracing the power of positive thinking. If you can see yourself accomplish something in your mind, it is attainable. Even those tasks currently outside the realm of your imagination may be possible. You have to be realistic, of course, but the problem is that many of us use “being realistic” as an excuse for not achieving more dramatic accomplishments.
Sometimes adversity can be a good thing for building character and making you work harder than ever. Overcoming challenges only makes winning all the more satisfying. Nothing worthwhile in life is simple or easy to accomplish, so you have to work at it to be your absolute best. When times become difficult, don’t give up. Use those roadblocks as your inner fire to keep pushing forward.
After this difficult year in Strongman contests, I know that I will come back stronger than ever and this disappointment will only fuel me more for 2013.