Written by: Sarah Brenner
2017 will be my first time competing at the Arnold Sports Festival. I started powerlifting in November 2015, competed in my first meet in February 2016, and placed 5th in the 84+ weight class at USAPL Raw Nationals with a Wilks of 421, qualifying me to compete at the USAPL Raw Challenge at the Arnold. I watched the 2016 Arnold meet from my desk at work, and promised myself I would make it to the 2017 Arnold to compete. After qualifying at Raw Nationals, the Arnold had my complete focus.
On November 9, I successfully registered for the meet (which is a task in itself). On December 6, 12 weeks out from the Arnold, my father suffered a massive stroke. When I got the call at work, I felt like my entire world ended. All I knew was my dad had a severe stroke and was in the ICU. My father’s stroke was caused by a bacterial infection called “Endocarditis,” which caused a bacterial plaque to build on his heart and travel to his brain. My dad was in the ICU for a week, and in the hospital for a total of 7.5 weeks to treat, not only his stroke, but the infection that caused it. He was very sick, and allergic to most antibiotics, which made treating him difficult. My dad could not move the right side of his body, could not eat, and could not speak. It was devastating to watch as he tried to speak and couldn’t get words out. After a week, I decided that I should use my frustration about my dad as fuel for the gym. I quickly learned that I was not one of those “the gym is my escape” type people. I could not separate my thoughts about my dad from the gym. I would get to the gym, attempt to train, and have to end my session because I was crying. I had 3 weeks of either not training at all or crying through my workout and ending it early. My dad has been out of the hospital for 3 weeks now and is in a long-term rehabilitation facility, where he will stay for 6 months to a year. As he progressed, he regained his ability to eat, he can say a few words and is working hard in physical therapy to sit up on his own. I am hopeful that one day he will be able to functionally walk and talk. I slowly got back on track as my father’s condition stabilized, and I was able to get through full training sessions without crying. I started to become hopeful about competing in the Arnold again.
On January 12, I got rear ended at 40 miles per hour. At the time of the accident, I felt no pain. The next night, I was in so much pain I couldn’t get off the couch. I went to the doctor and had typical whiplash symptoms with my lumbar spine being the most affected. I was told it would take 4-6 weeks to resolve. At that time, I only had 6 weeks until the Arnold. My doctor asked me how important the meet was, and if I would consider backing out. I explained that I’ve been working towards this meet for a year and would do anything I could to compete. Knowing how important this meet was, my doctor and chiropractor have been very aggressive in my treatment with medications, chiropractic adjustments, physical therapy, and massage. I took 2 weeks off from training completely and resumed training cautiously during the third week. As a team, my doctor, chiropractor, amazing coach, and myself, decided that I would just have to be honest about how I was feeling and stop training if I felt pain. I’ve been able to train, although I have had to end many sessions early due to pain. However, I feel less pain every day. My back does fatigue quicker than usual, but I am able to work through it. I am finally excited and hopeful about competing again.
The past 10 weeks have been the most frustrating and humbling weeks of my life. I’ve learned to be flexible and honest with myself, but most importantly, I’ve learned to keep pushing. I may not do as well as I had hoped at the Arnold, but competing after everything that has happened will be a win in itself. This meet will be very emotional for me, and if you see me crying on the live stream, I promise it won’t be because I’m sad, it will be because I that meet as the finish line, the end of the mess that has been the past 10 weeks, after which, I can start fresh. I learned that I am not only physically strong but mentally strong.
**Update.. Sarah competed at The Arnold this past weekend and totaled 1245lb/565kg. Going 3/3 on squats ending with a 501.5lb squat a 32lb meet PR!! She also went 3/3 on deads ending with 529.1 American Record.**
Get to know Sarah better!