Here in Darwin, we host the biennial sports festival called the Arafura Games. At this year’s games, the weightlifting competition also included the Oceania and South Pacific championships.
As a resident of the Northern Territory, I was able to qualify for the weightlifting competition in the +105kg (super heavyweight) division.
Also entered in the competition were Damon Kelly, Australia’s Commonwealth gold medallist, and Itte Detenamo, the man Kelly beat for the gold in a thrilling contest in Delhi.
While this meant I didn’t expect to come even vaguely close to winning in such a phenomenal field of lifters, I was looking forward to lifting alongside them and representing my home state.
On Sunday, disaster struck. I began a training session at the end of a weekend coaching course. The course involved many hours of practical work drilling the snatch, clean and jerk progressions and I was physically and mentally exhausted. During the training session I felt a sharp sudden pain in my lower left back. I knew from experience that I had possibly hurt myself quite badly.
I decided that I wanted to compete, no matter what. Even if I had to lift an empty bar I wanted to compete. I saw physiotherapists on Monday, Wednesday and today (Friday). I was finally diagnosed as having a bulged disc in my lower spine – a minor herniation. On Monday I was in a lot of pain, and after standing for most of Tuesday I was in terrible pain on Wednesday. On advice from a physio, I went home and stayed in bed almost constantly for 2 nights and a day — and today I was able to walk and move almost without pain.
The physiotherapist I saw today pre-contest said he was surprised at how quickly I’ve healed, given that spinal discs have almost zero bloodflow. I credit the recovery to my weightlifting training.
And so it was that today, after having trouble walking, standing or sitting for almost a week, I was able to complete the competition.
My big shock this morning was discovering that under the IWF rules, I must declare opening lifts high enough that the total would be within 20kg of my qualifying total. My qualifying total was 170kg, which meant I would need to have snatch + c&j of 150kg or better declared at weigh-in. This was a shock as I had originally planned to make one token lift for each event.
I went down to warmup feeling apprehensive. Snatches were a bit painful at first, but by modifying my form to a Papuan style, I was able to lift without pain. However I had to powersnatch as overhead squatting began to hurt my back.
My opening snatch was 65kg and felt like it weighed nothing. I decided to change my plan and try for 70kg. It felt easy too — no pain. Almost a military snatch. Finally I took 80kg and lifted it without too much effort. My competition PB in the snatch is 110kg.
Next were C&Js. I had a lot of time to rest while the stronger lifters ran through their attempts. I started warming up. Because of the lower back injury, I switched from split jerks to power jerks. Again, squatting down in the receiving position caused pain, so I concentrated on powercleaning.
I started with 85kg, which again felt easy. Then I went to 95kg, and a small drama occurred. While cleaning the bar my left hand slipped clear off during the receive. I couldn’t pull my hand back by itself to get back under the bar. Remembering the rules about C&J, I decided to shrug the bar off my shoulders to reset the left hand — and succeeded. I was told later by some experienced weightlifters that they had never seen anyone recover from that situation before. I power jerked it successully. Finally I cleaned and jerked 105kg. (My PB is 131kg).
I had originally approached this competition hoping to lift 120kg/140kg, and I think that I would have made it easily but for the injury. The enforced bed rest meant that I went into the competition fully recovered and feeling fresh, apart from the soreness, niggles and occasional spike of pain.
By focusing on my form I was easily able to power snatch, power clean and power jerk my way to 6 lifts out of 6, with 3 white lights all the way. While the total lifted is a personal worst, in many ways this is the competitive effort I am the most proud of.
After I finished up, I got to watch Itte Detenamo smash 5 Commonwealth weightlifting records, including snatch, clean & jerk and total. He’s now the strongest man in the Commonwealth and the strongest man in Oceania. It was a thrill to watch because I, despite injury, despite not being a jot on these mighty lifters, got to compete on the same stage with them, on an equal footing. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.