Written by Chelsea Nkwodimmah

“The way to success is to double your failure rate. Because only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” -John C. Maxwell

We train tirelessly for months or even years for nine attempts. That’s hours of pushing our body to its physical limit for just nine minutes on the platform. And in those nine minutes we can only hope that our body’s do not push back against us and that the work we’ve put in is evident.

I was blessed to make my first USAPL Raw Nationals appearance this month…and it did not go as I had pictured it would. Even though I’m a rookie in this sport, I always have high expectations for myself. That has absolutely nothing to do with the caliber of my competition, but more so with knowing how much I and the people who coach/support me have put into my training. Too bad waking up strong AF is not an actual thing. To make a long story short, I bombed out, missing all three of my squat attempts. I must have repeated to my coach after every failed attempt, “OMG, I don’t know what’s happening?!”  After my third squat, I remember running back to the warm-up room, sitting by the door, and staring into space in disbelief as I tried to catch my breath. My coach was crouching down on my left side and another friend sat beside me on my right. Although I knew they were speaking, I couldn’t comprehend what they were saying because at that point I just felt broken. I left the warm-up room to call my training partners who were watching the live stream and they said, “Now is your time to just go have fun, Chelsea.” I walked back out for bench with a grin on my face that would make people question what breakthrough I had in that short amount of time. Yea, I’ve been known to listen to some Dave East or Kendrick Lamar before big lifts, but the truth is that I’m not an angry lifter. That smile was my true, genuine self. That smile was me making my official introduction to the crowd as Chelsea Nkwodimmah.

As the saying goes, failures are inevitable. We can only control how we respond to them. I’ve realized that bombing out that day gave me an opportunity to sharpen my skills and become a better athlete. After all, success is about longevity not a singular moment. Yes, failure might be a great teacher, but unfortunately, sometimes it can also be a cryptic one. Finding its lessons is not always as straightforward as we’d hope. Here’s how I untangled the “teachable moments” hidden in my experiences from this year’s Raw Nationals:

  1. Practice gratitude
  • Having the opportunity to share a platform with such amazing women—several of whom are legends in this sport and masters of their craft—was both amazing and humbling. I train in a commercial gym with a handful of powerlifters and only a sprinkling of us do it competitively. To be in a venue full of men and women with a passion for this sport was not only inspiring but powerful.  Once I remembered to have fun, I also remembered to enjoy the journey and the experience of being there.

  1. Respect my vulnerabilities
  • At Nationals, I let several factors get the best of me. I point these things out not to make excuses but rather to reflect on those things I can change and improve on moving forward.
  • I was very timid and reserved growing up (functional introverts please stand up). So, I’ve never been one to delight in being the center of attention. I let the idea of having to perform at a high level in a room full of people take way too much of my focus.
  • I forgot to carry a scale with me down to Orlando, so I was pretty much stepping onto the scale blindly on weigh-in day. I let the anxiety of making weight prevent me from eating adequately for two days prior to the day I competed.
  • For almost a month, I knew I’d be competing from 8-10PM at night but still, I religiously trained at the crack of dawn every morning.

  1. Acknowledge my strengths
  • In addition to working a full-time job, studying for my MCAT and applying to medical school (also full-time jobs) I always made showing up to the gym and training a priority in my schedule.
  • I proved that I am a fighter and capable of continuing through and bouncing back from difficult circumstances.
  • Last, but most important: Even considering all that I feel went wrong, at the end of the day, I SHOWED UP and that in and of itself is more than enough to celebrate.  
  1. Create a plan to become better
  • Moving forward, I’ve set some goals for myself. I made sure thing were factors that are in my control.  
  • First, I need to stay within reasonable limits of my weight class. That means not letting my post-meet gluttony that I’m oh so good at last for too long. Also, do some experimenting with how my body reacts to certain foods. Meaning, if I eat a stack of pancakes versus an egg white omelet how much does that change my weight on the scale. Having that in mind, I know what and how much I can eat on or days prior to weigh-in day without compromising the scale or my performance.
  • Secondly, I’m the worst when it comes to getting accessory exercises done. So, I’ve vowed to make them a priority this next training cycle as I know they will build my strength for the big 3 lifts.
  • Lastly, which is a big one for me, I want to learn to use the crowd to my advantage and feed off their energy. I’ve learned that they genuinely want me to do well. They want me to win.

I have had endless encounters with the fear of failure, but am increasingly making the decision to step out of my comfort zone. To continue to be vulnerable. And from that I know I will continue to learn, fine tune, and excel.

“…strong woman, you may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated; in fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, and how you can still come out of it…” - Maya Angelou


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