Excitement for the Arnold ran high a week away from the competition. That Saturday we were all scheduled to max out in the snatch. The impending meet and the day’s heavy training meant there was a seriousness of purpose in the air. This was coupled with a certain level of diva-esque activity, which ranged from the acceptable to the absurd. Pete and I, for example, were rather specific about the morning’s rituals. We needed to control as many variables as possible in an effort to give ourselves the best chance at feeling 100% in the gym. Our needs were driven in part by what had worked in the past—what we’d eaten on a particular day, for example—and in part by mere superstition, such as the underwear we’d been wearing. But what sport or activity doesn’t have its rituals? Even the most logical among us isn’t immune to the occasional plea to the Universe via an arbitrary ordering of objects and actions…
Competition-day singlets? Check.
Two tabs of Dianabol? Check.
Box of Oatmeal Squares to snack on during the drive? Check.
Max-out mix CD? Check.
Taylor ham, egg, and cheese on an everything bagel from Easton Ave Bagels? Check.
Coffee with cream and sugar? Check.
Orange Gatorade? …
“What?!” I cried in horror, as I looked in the bagel shop’s beverage cooler. “There’s no Orange Gatorade!”
On any other day blue or purple would have sufficed, but not today.
“Easy,” Pete said, with all the haste of a surgeon in the ER. “You wait here for the bagels. I’ll run next door.”
“Okay,” I said, greatly relieved.
Orange Gatorade? Check.
Such antics continued on our arrival in the gym, where people were jockeying for bars and platforms while pretending not to do so. It was a subtle ballet of lifters asking things like “Were you about to lift on this platform?” or “Did you want this bar?” and others responding with protests of not caring despite caring very greatly.
“I’ll lift anywhere!”
“The bar doesn’t matter!”
Almost all of us knew exactly which platform we wanted, and which bar we wanted. We also knew which platform we absolutely would not lift on.
“Platform doesn’t matter!” shouted Ricky, amid the gentle bickering going on.
“You wanna switch then?” asked Joe, who felt he’d gotten a raw deal by having to lift on the one platform we all agreed was slightly canted up at the front.
“I’ll lift there,” said Ricky, as though it truly didn’t matter. “That platform just slopes a little. Means you gotta lift uphill.”
“So let’s switch.”
“I already got 70 on the bar over here,” said Ricky, dodging the suggestion. “We’ll switch for cleans.”
Both of them knew this was unlikely.
Nikos, who’d long been accustomed to the Spartan standards of random Eastern European gyms before emigrating to the US, shook his head and laughed amid these antics. He nodded slightly and pointed his mustache accusingly at the gym. “In my country, we have one bar that spin, saved for World Champion. Everyone else use shit. Where I lift, all platforms,”—and here he made a gesture with his hands to indicate various angles and degrees of tilt—“no good. Still we train. Here, ‘I need this bar, this my platform.’” He smiled and pointed to his head. “Too much thinking. Is important just to train.”
“Damn right!” said Pete, although I noticed he’d gone out of his way to select his favorite barbell: an Eleiko competition bar, rather than one of the training bars.
We trained. The energy in the gym was a presence in and of itself, a thing as tangible and omnipresent as the chalk in the air. So too was our enthusiasm over what everyone was doing, no matter how big or small. Ricky and Myron going back and forth in the snatch with the regularity of a tennis volley: 125 Ricky, 125 Myron; 130 Ricky, 130 Myron; 135… Robbie fighting with pure grit to save a 67.5-kilo snatch. Joe taking attempt after attempt at 112.5 before finally nailing it. Libby not missing a single lift up to 90 kilos and then taking a fair—if ultimately unsuccessful—shot at 92.5. Pete with an easy 125 and a couple cracks at 130, neither of which was very convincing but which we rooted for all the same. I had my own go at 130 after making 127.5, although it only took one missed attempt for Nikos to shake his head.
“Not today,” was all he said.
When it was all over and we’d moved on to pulls and squats and supplementary work there were some new PRs, as well as some promises of impending PRs in a week’s time. Whatever the outcome, Ricky and Nikos and Russ could spin it in a positive light, reassuring us all of future success.
“You look ready for next week!” was often the refrain for one of us who’d lifted well.
“Today isn’t the competition. With a week of recovery it’ll all come together,” was instead offered to those who’d arrived a few kilos shy of where we’d hoped.
And most of us were more than happy to accept these divergent maxims, as we’d been on the receiving end of both at various points during our lifting. Amid all the frustrations—an inevitable part of the sport—there was still an incredible sense of certainty on that Saturday morning, as there was most Saturday mornings at FDU, that things would work out when it mattered most, on the platform. Days varied, but the overall arc of each of us was part of some greater momentum linked to each other and to the gym itself.
“Helluva day, eh?” said Ricky, beaming as we walked out of the gym together. He’d missed 135 in the snatch something like nine or ten times but seemed totally unfazed by this. “Always fun to go heavy here.”
I nodded. A few days prior many of us had also maxed out in the clean and jerk down at the Rutgers Power Gym but it wasn’t quite the same. That was simply a place to train, and it served that purpose reasonably well.
This was our home.