About two years ago, Gloria posted a blog entry about a particularly tough contest preparation she had just gone through to prepare for a series of Figure shows in March 2013. If you’re interested, you can read the blog post by clicking on the link below:
Because she was struggling to lose body fat at the necessary rate, she took it upon herself to do way more cardio than she was prescribed for several weeks. But not only that, she also had a couple of fairly painful injuries that she had to work through as well. In fact, she was getting three physiotherapy sessions a week at one point, just so that she could keep up her training and make her shows.
Sometimes during contest prep, shit happens. Especially when you consider the fact that before those March 2013 shows, Gloria had only competed once before. Ever. That meant that at the time, we were still getting acquainted with what worked for her body and what didn’t, so we were still ironing out some kinks in her program.
Her very first contest prep went very smoothly and without a single hitch, but not so that second one. And of course the injuries didn’t help.
Anyhow, predictably that blog post drew a lot of heavy criticism, particularly on one particular online fitness forum that got wind of it. I won’t name the forum since, quite frankly, I don’t believe they deserve the attention.
The members of the forum wasted no time taking the moral high ground and criticizing Gloria for being irresponsible and crossing the line of what’s good for her (which they, of course, knew better than everyone else) “all for a plastic trophy”. Some of them carried on as though Gloria had just committed suicide.
Let’s be real, though.
Sure, Gloria’s situation wasn’t ideal. They knew that, and we knew that. But it wasn’t the end of the world.
Sometimes in life, you just gotta do what you gotta do. Then you deal with the consequences and move on.
I’m sure that individually, not one of the women on that forum would have made such a big deal about it. But collectively, that pack mentality kicks in and pretty quickly things kind of get out of hand.
Everyone is spurred on by everybody else. They each jump up onto their high horses, rabidly start preaching their words of infinite wisdom (which in reality they actually just read somewhere one time), and then retreat to pat each other on the back for a job well done.
What was perhaps most disappointing for me was the fact that several of the women on that forum were actually Figure competitors themselves. I would have expected that they, above anyone else, would understand that no one lives the life of a Figure athlete just for a plastic trophy.
I know that Gloria certainly doesn’t. Her reasons for competing are deeply personal. No one else needs to know what they are, and even if they did, they probably wouldn’t understand them anyhow. Because they’re not her.
Without understanding someone’s goals and motivations, how can anyone possibly decide what they should or shouldn’t be doing with their life or their body?
Let me digress here for a while, because this whole situation with Gloria’s two-year-old blog post was brought back to me recently after watching a video I came across on YouTube.
It started not long ago when I finished reading a fantastic book called Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell. Marcus is a US Navy SEAL who, in 2005, went on a mission in the mountains of Afghanistan in which his entire team was killed in action and only he survived. The heroic story of everyone on that mission and Marcus’ eventual survival is absolutely incredible and was actually made into a Hollywood movie of the same name.
Anyhow, in researching more about Marcus and his life, it was one particular story about his SEAL training experiences that absolutely blew me away.
During a particular training phase, Marcus had been ordered to make a swim out in the ocean with a car tire around his neck, because of some indiscretion that had upset his instructors. After doing so, he had to make an 80 foot rope climb, with the tire still around his neck, and now filled with water as well.
Climbing almost to the top of the rope, Marcus lost his grip and fell all the way back down. After being berated by his instructors and verbally provoked into quitting (which they would regularly do to all the trainees), he refused to do so, got back up, and started climbing again. This time he reached the top, but with the rope being wet and sandy he once again couldn’t maintain his grip and fell a second time.
Unbeknownst to Marcus, the fall broke his leg, however he continued to train on it for two weeks until a bone scan revealed the extent of his injuries. He was found to have a 13 inch vertical crack in one of his femurs (thigh bones), eleven stress fractures in one leg, seven in the other, and a fractured pelvis.
Because of his injuries, Marcus was ordered a compulsory rest period from training, but resumed before being fully healed. To deal with the pain he wrapped frozen peas around his legs to sleep at night and relied on pain killers. And with the help of his team mates to get him out of bed each morning and push and pull him through his trial runs, he finally managed to pass his training phase.
If you’d like to hear Marcus tell this story in his own words you can do so by watching this video.
This story got me to thinking about how people would react to hearing it. What would people think about someone who would put themselves through serious physical injury like this, risk permanent disability, risk their wellbeing and, let’s face it, their life, just to achieve a goal?
Is any goal really worth this kind of sacrifice?
When does it become OK to risk your physical wellbeing for the sake of achieving a goal? What kind of goal makes it OK and how much of a risk is acceptable?
Of course, everyone will have their own opinions about this.
Personally, I found Marcus’ story absolutely inspiring, that an individual can have so much drive and determination to achieve his or her goals that they would endure such pain and difficulty to do so, with no consideration of ever quitting. To me, it’s nothing short of heroic.
I think many people would probably have had the same reaction. After all, Marcus was training to be in the military. But not just in the military, a special forces operator, no less. The best of the best. He was training to be a hero. So it would be expected that someone like this would need to be able to endure extreme circumstances.
Others would no doubt have a totally different view. They would believe that being a Navy SEAL is just a career. It’s a job, just like any other, and anyone would be a complete fool to put themselves through all that pain and danger for just a job. More SEALs die in training each year than in combat. How can anyone justify that level of risk, for any reason?
At the end of the day however, these are decisions that can only be made by each individual for themselves, and it’s absurd for anyone else to make judgments or cast criticisms. Each and every one of us is alone in understanding what we want our life to be about, what we want to achieve, what it means to us, and how important it is.
So no one has any place judging someone like Marcus for his choices.
And it’s the same for Gloria’s case. She’s the only individual I know personally who has this very same “never quit” attitude and dogged determination to pursue their goals through thick or thin. And the only person I know who can give everything she has in her training and never back down, ever, no matter what.
Of course, she hasn’t ever had to go through nearly as much as Marcus did, but she has that same unbreakable drive and refusal to quit once she has her eye on a goal that’s important to her. That’s a mindset that very few people can truly understand, so naturally there are always going to be people in her life that criticize and question her choices.
As I mentioned earlier, during Gloria’s March 2013 contest prep she did a lot of cardio for a few weeks – way more than was on her program, and more than either of us thought was a reasonable amount. She did so without my knowledge because she knew that as her coach, I would have strongly advised against it. My attitude would have been that if we couldn’t get the body fat off her in a healthy, reasonable manner then so be it, she would just have to miss some shows.
What I see now though, is that that attitude would have been wrong on my part.
Well, for two reasons.
Firstly, if physical wellbeing was allowed to strictly govern everyone’s decisions in life, not much would be achieved by anyone. There would be no Navy SEALs, no world champion athletes, no competitive sportspeople, nothing. All of these endeavors carry physical risks, as well as long-term physical implications.
The reality is that there are far more important issues in life than dying with a perfectly pristine body. Life isn’t meant to be contained within a bubble. It’s meant to be lived and made the most of. To have experienced and achieved as much as possible is to truly have lived.
In Gloria’s case, doing excessive cardio would only have led to some metabolic damage at worst, which we then would set about correcting in the subsequent off-season. Hardly a big deal. The personal satisfaction and pride of having overcome such challenging obstacles to make it to the stage however, is a big deal.
The second reason is that, as I said before, it’s no one’s place to decide what another individual should risk or sacrifice to achieve their personal goals. Each of us can only decide that for ourselves.
My attitude as a coach should have been to make Gloria aware of the pros and cons of what she wanted to do and to give her my best advice, but then if she chose to ignore it for her own personal reasons, to support her as best I could even if I disagreed with her decision. I now see that as a coach, it’s vitally important to keep in mind the bigger picture of what is in an athlete’s heart and what’s important to them, and that that takes priority over everything else.
As it turned out, Gloria made the decision on her own. She fought her way through a pretty brutal contest prep and in the end, she was very happy that she did. If she had to do it all over again, she would, and I would do everything in my abilities to help her through it as smoothly and painlessly as possible.
So anyhow, the point behind this whole rant is this:
Whenever you decide to achieve anything out of the ordinary in life, you’re going to encounter opposition. The naysayers and the haters will judge you, criticize you, and even offend you. They’ll tell you that you can’t do it, or that you shouldn’t do it because it isn’t wise. They’ll tell you you’re crazy, that you’re obsessed, that you’re doing too much, and that you’re irresponsible and setting a bad example for others.
But they have no right to say any of these things. They don’t know you, they don’t know your motivations, they don’t know what’s in your heart, and they don’t know what visions you have for your life. So they’re speaking from a position of total ignorance.
If they’re content to live a safe, average existence where no sacrifices are made and no risks taken, and will have no regrets when they’re done, then good luck to them. They can rest happy with their beliefs, but they shouldn’t try to impose them on others.
Someone asked Marcus Luttrell what made him want to become a Navy SEAL. His response – “Because someone told me I couldn’t”. He eventually realized his life-long goal of fighting for his country as a SEAL, and is now a national hero following his accomplishments in the service. Good thing he didn’t listen to the naysayers.
But it didn’t come easy for him, and it didn’t come cheap. Incredible achievements never do, for anyone.
If you’re prepared to pay the price for the distinction of leading an extraordinary life, then go for it. Don’t let anyone hold you back, and don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t or that you shouldn’t.
Remember, once you’ve achieved great things, those very same people will be looking up to you, admiring you and asking you how you did it. And when they do, you can tell them it was by making sacrifices that they weren’t willing to make.