“The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back.” – Vince Lombardi
Shorty lent me sport psychologist Jim Afremow’s book Champion’s Comeback. As I’m a fan of his previous work I was excited to get started on this one and so far it does not disappoint. It has made me reflect on my athletic journey which has been fraught with setbacks. What’s key to understand is that in athletics, as in life, setbacks are not the exception but the norm. Everyone one will experience them not occasionally, but frequently. Champions in life and sport the people who develop the mental resilience and grit to work through them and keep forging ahead.
1981 at the age of 9 is when I began competing in sport attending my first Judo tournament. I competed until 2001 when accumulated injuries forced my retirement at the age of 29. A great body worker was able to put me back together over the next couple years and by 2003 I was back on the mats competing again. In 2005 my partners and I opened our own Judo dojo. In 2008 I competed at the world Masters Judo Championships in Brussels. Finally in 2012 accumulated injuries sent me back into retirement but over those last 9 years of competition I managed to podium 3 times in the BC masters division, earn my 2nd degree black belt, start my own dojo and compete at my first international competition. Essentially my comeback journey, the years after returning from my first retirement, provided me with all the peaks and most of the highlights of my Judo career.
2005 was the year I began supplementing my Judo training with CrossFit. It helped keep me competitive. But it wasn’t until 2013, after I’d retired from Judo competition, that I registered to participate in my first CrossFit Open competition. Three years later in 2016 I qualified for and competed at the CanWest Games.
Then in 2017 I suffered a major setback as I began to experience hip problems. It was a problem that developed slowly and gradually worsened rather than something triggered by an acute injury. To this day I blame it on the elevated stress levels of the gym expansion from Dunbar to Alma Street. Not only was there the stress of finding suitable contractors for the build, there was the financial stress of the banks, the lease negotiating stress of dealing with our old landlords. As we were living above the gym our family also lost our home during this time and were forced to scramble in a very competitive rental market to avoid becoming homeless. I spent the year certain I was one stressful moment away from a heart attack but instead of my heart it was my hip that gave out. I was sent to the spinal unit at VGH as everyone was convinced, based on my history of Judo spinal injuries, that this was a symptom of disc damage. But scans turned up nothing.
No surprise I failed to qualify for the 2017 CanWest Games. In 2018 however, despite continued struggles with my hip, I managed to again qualify. But leading up to the event I had many second thoughts and was considering withdrawing as late as one month before. Happily I didn’t withdraw because the competition went well and I finished just outside the finalists including one of my best ever performances in which I tied for third place in the event just behind two former Crossfit Games athletes!
In 2019 my hip problems continued. I again managed to qualify for the CanWest Games but was questioning the wisdom of participating right up to the day of competition. We took a hotel in Poco because sitting in a car was so excruciating for me I couldn’t bear driving there daily from Vancouver. Sunghee drove us out the day before competition with me lying on my side in the passenger seat which was laid out flat the whole way and still I was in agony. The night before the competition I decided to just go out and do the best I could on the events. I didn’t expect much but I was wrong. It turned out to be my best performance yet. I didn’t match my bests on the lifts but I remained competitive somehow and though I finished with the exact same placement as in 2018, this time my score was much closer to the athletes in the next 5 spots ahead of me with only a few points separating us! Even better, I wasn’t in pain. I felt like a champion for coming through that!
This year, 2020, is the first year that I’ve been able to back squat and deadlift heavy again to full depth without triggering debilitating hip pain. I’ve been very cautious with my comeback as I’ve lost a lot of strength over the past 3 years of battling this dysfunction but this is the first year that I feel I am making consistent progress and that everything has stabilized. It seems a lot of soft tissue work (stretching and Original Strength) for my hamstrings, not my back, have proven effective at resolving the issues I was experiencing. I’m feeling very hopeful as my loads are gradually creeping up and my strength is approximately 80% of the way back to where I was in 2017 before the hip problems started and I am able to RX WODs with greater frequency.
It’s been a long, 3 year journey of recovery and I would guess barring other setbacks that it will be another year or so before I have fully recovered my lost strength. I’m sharing this because you too are going to experience setbacks. In life, in sport, in the gym. Most of them will mean at worst a few months of struggle but some will be much more significant.
Mentally and emotionally it will be daunting. It is frustrating to come in to train (or to go compete) knowing you will not perform to your previous standards. But I remind myself that I am not training to win today or even this year, I am training to be doing this at 80 years old. That give me 31 years to get over this 4 year setback. I’m also a realist. I have prepared myself mentally and emotionally for the fact that there will be other setbacks. Some might be even harder to come back from. But you don’t need to look far to find examples of other athletes overcoming even worse setbacks to succeed. Because that, after all, is what champions do. Champions come back!
Do not worry if you do not have a rower, we have many modification options for this one to get you through!
Equipment: Barbell, dumbbell(s) or alternative. Rower or Barbell or alternative. PVC pipe, broomstick or alternative.
5 min AMRAP
10 Shoulder Pass Throughs
10 Shoulder Press
10 Push Press
20 Push Press
15 Push Press
10 Push Press
5 Push Press