Bench Press, The Story (Part 2)

Read Part One here.

After my T-shirt was found and before the competition began, I ran into Gideon.

You remember Gideon--no hair, swirly mustache, bencher of 525 pounds. We said our hellos and compared notes from the previous year: I planned to make a 15-pound jump, I said, and he said he wasn't lifting heavy today, maybe he'd only go for 540. Loser. (Your perspective gets skewed at these events--lots of guys would bench over 500 today, and one guy deadlifted 700. It's like when I worked at a fancy crystal shop and the $200 vases appeared quite reasonable.)

He asked if I was nervous. I admitted as much--my constant pacing already told the story--but I felt strong today, and therefore confident. Gideon said he used to be nervous throughout an entire competition, but now he's cool until the moment he sits on the bench and gets his head in the game.

"You can't even talk to me at that point," he said. "I'm somewhere else."

Indeed he was. On his first lift of 500, the genial man's face turned rigid. His eyes were on the ceiling, and he took a few focused breaths. Then he lay himself down and pushed that baby up.

My first lift--at 120--posed no problem either. Second lift would be 125, which I've gotten 7 out of the 10 times I've tried.

Make that 7 out of 11. The day of the competition, on the second of three lifts, I missed it.

Bring on the mind games.

I'm strong today, my injuries are at bay, but I didn't get a number I knew I could get. Now my nerves were neck and neck with my confidence thanks to the pressure: I now had only one more chance to get a weight I knew I could do.

Hindsight tells me the reason I faltered was probably because of my weight, not the bar's. The days I had gotten 125--and one day when I all but successfully benched 130--my body weight had been high. I didn't realize how high, because as I found out when I weighed in at the competition, my scale at home was a full 8 pounds off from the YMCA's. I just barely made it into the 148.75 weight class.

But nerves got the best of me the week leading up to the competition. I'd eat but lose weight. I now see that helped me stay in my class, but it also meant that perhaps I wasn't getting the calories I needed.

I didn't know any of that between my second and third lifts. All I knew was that I was at my strongest on this day, but I failed to get 125. And I wasn't sure what to do differently the next time around.

I thought of Gideon. It couldn't hurt to try whatever it was that he does, I figured, for my third and final lift.

You can watch the final attempt at 125 here. What you won't see is all the pacing I did just prior--Greg filmed me because he says it was funny, but had to edit it down for time. And you can't see my face, but thanks to a YMCA trainer who took moment-by-moment close-up photos, I can report that I was doing some major work, and that everything turned out fine: I successfully benched 125.

I'm glad there's documentation because frankly, it's all a big blur. I thought I was on that bench forever.

Soon after, I decided that forever was long enough.

Stay tuned for Part 3: Why I'm Retiring.


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