Dealing with injury. Badly.

Getting injured wasn’t necessarily a failure, but how I dealt with it was. Again, and again, and again.

Fail 1. August 2017. Getting broken.

When I first hurt myself at the end of August last year, I decided to ignore it. I was just a few weeks out from the World Championships, and I convinced myself I’d just pulled a muscle. It would be fine. I’d be fine. Hey, I’m a big tough lifter.

Fail 2. September 2017. Making it worse.

When the Worlds got postponed because of the earthquake in Mexico I kept on training at the same intensity, when I could, because no one knew when the competition would be rearranged. And I was still determined to hit the qualifying weights for the Commonwealth Games. I didn’t give myself any time off, even though it was getting harder to ignore the pain in my arm. There were some days it was just cutting out, or I couldn’t get enough push to walk upstairs. (Yes, it was my walking stick arm). No amount of ice, tiger balm, heat pads, more stretching helped. I got very angry and tearful during training sessions, and tried to train harder when I could to make up for the failures. And sometimes it worked. I hit more than one bench PB in these weeks. Which was exactly the opposite of what I should have been doing. I am too stubborn for my own damn good.

Fail 3. September and October 2017. Lying about being broken.

I was less than fully honest with my coach. I had told him about it hurting but reassured him I was fine. A bit worried, but fine. I convinced myself it was no big deal, which meant that I was being relatively truthful. Stupid, but kind of truthful. No, that’s still not true. I was lying my arse off. The pain was keeping me awake at night, and I still said it wasn’t too bad.

Fail 4. October 2017. Oh look, more lies.

I went ahead and entered a domestic competition. During warm up my arm just failed, and I got myself pinned under just 60kg. I wasn’t quite sure if I was just terrified, or in a bad way. So with the support and assistance of a couple of other lifters’ coaches, I unracked it again to see if I could hold it. Nope. I withdrew from the competition about three minutes before my flight started. And then cried a lot, all over everyone.

No, withdrawing wasn’t a fail. That was a pretty sensible thing to do, though horrible. The fail was telling the BWL team manager that I was fine, just a tweak, no big deal, I’d be fine for Mexico, and convincing myself this was true.

Fail 5. November 2017. Considering carrying on.

I had a long meeting with my coach, who rightly left the decision with me. My failure was even thinking that it was smart to carry on, and risk a full rupture at any time. But within 24 hours I came to my senses, and withdrew from my first Para international.

Fail 6. November 2017. Over optimism.

I figured I would be all healed up within two or three months, and could get back to where I was with no bother. Ha. No. The hope meant I crashed even harder.

Fail 6. December to June. Wallowing.

I had a lot of feelings. I ate most of them. Not true. I ate all of them. I ate misery cake, and twice my own body weight in toast. I couldn’t train at all. I put on a lot of weight. I went into hiding. And I kept doing these things, and doing them in ever worsening cycles.

I wavered between believing I’d be fine, and fretting I’d never lift again. I kept trying basic movements, and then being furious I couldn’t do them. Not even a push up. Not even a push up against the kitchen counter. Pull ups? Not if my life depended on it. I should probably have talked to my doctor about depression.

Fail 7. The whole year. Beating myself up.

The one thing I never failed at was beating myself up for my own failures. And then of course had to throw in some extra self-sabotage to make myself feel even worse. Yeah. That eating thing, and endless games of could-have-should-have to keep me awake. What I should have done? Talked to someone who knows how to deal with this. Sports shrinks exist for a reason, and I should have found one.

Fail 8. Now. Impatience.

I’m now working hard to try to undo the damage of a year of inactivity, wallowing, and eating, I am impatient. It’s a daily self-lecture to be patient, to take my time, to be kinder to myself. My body weight is dropping, my training has finally started up again. I’m starting to look less like I’m made of over-proved bread dough.

I have to give myself the talk every time I walk into the gym: “no, this is not where you were, but it’s where you are now, and this week is better than last week. These weights are tiny, but they are many times more than you could move for months.” Thinking ahead, weeks, months, years is dangerous. But it’s hard not to do that. I’ll keep trying to look at today and tomorrow, and not next year.

What was the injury?

A partially ruptured bicep tendon. From the initial tear or fraying, I made it much, much worse by continuing to train on it as though it was fine.

When I finally stopped, it was clear how much damage I had done. For the next three months or so, I couldn’t turn my palm even close to upwards. I couldn’t hold the weight of a kettle. An empty kettle. I couldn’t reach behind me to put a coat on without a lot of swearing, and a lot of extra time.

I managed to damage the front delt on my other shoulder around this time too, by overcompensating from the lack of use of me left arm. I can’t even remember how.

This was compounded by fairly intense general joint and tendon pain. It wasn’t until later that I discovered that this can be yet another of the fun, fun symptoms and side effects of menopause. (Starting HRT in the Spring made it go away. It also stopped me crying every day. Turns out I wasn’t as much of an emotional wreck as I feared—that was hormonal.)

As things calmed down, we tried introducing some very light rehab movements. I had to stop, because things were getting re-inflamed and it was clearly not healed up enough yet.


What’s happening now?

I met with my ever-patient coach every few weeks to see where things were. On the third time around of trying rehab exercises I got through without any pain. Testing things out, I was finally able to move a barbell again.

So we’ve started on a long, slow, careful programme to try to rebuild my strength. I’m five weeks in, and can finally move a barbell again. I am slowly getting more of my range of motion back. Fingers are firmly crossed that I will continue to make progress, and be aware that that might not happen as smoothly as I would like. And if things hiccup, I need to not jump straight back into fail mode.


What happens next?

I’m not sure, and I need to work out how to be OK with that. I very much hope to be able to do a competition before the end of the year so that I can qualify for the GBPF British Bench in 2019, and keep some options open. But that depends on getting my body weight down and by bench weight up in good timing without hurting myself again. And I have mixed feelings about competing unless I am genuinely competitive again, and lift enough.

Para competitions? Not until (if) I can get fully back to where I was, or beyond there. I’m not ruling out an attempt to get to the next Commonwealth Games, but I am trying not to count great-great-grandchickens.

Posted by Katie in all the feels, 0 comments

Working towards worlds: training log

I train four times a week, usually. In this last month before I compete, it’s most about peaking: strength, technique, and confidence. Sometimes, I have to juggle a little. But, we’ve planned for that.

I went to train on Tuesday, to do a planned session of heavy bench doubles…but, found myself entirely alone in the gym. There was no one to badger to spot for me, and no one who could help me with the strap. And, with no useable safeties on the bench at my height, my planned training was not an option. Working over 90% like that’s not the smartest, and it was meant to be a work-to-failure session. So I swapped out this session for a non bench session of weighted dips, inverted rows, pull ups, and push ups.

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[three videos: dips, rows, and push ups]

At the moment, I have two “formal” bench sessions a week, and two other sessions that I can do solo. Partly for just this sort of situation, and partly so I can let rip a little and keep the confidence without fretting about my technique.

I kind of love doing weighted dips again. I missed them when they were gone. The first video shows the last set from a five-by-five with a load of 25kg (so, my bodyweight plus 50%). I can’t hang a dip belt off my hips, so I load up the backpack.

My pull ups are way too struggle-ugly to share right now–particularly when I am doing them on a bar that rotates a little as I move.

The second video has ring rows. These rows were a bit of a balancing act: I loaded up the pack, but on my back, it hit the floor, on my front, it was jammed up under my neck. So I tried it with a plate on my middle. A little wobbly, and a little awkward to pull as high as I wanted as I kept catching it with my arms, but, not bad for a first time around with this.

The tricep push ups were pretty light (+14kg) but I was knackered by then–long day at work, and then the end of the session.

But it was a fun session. And hey, you get to listen to one my very favourite Jazz Butcher songs with that dip video, too. Here’s the full version of Southern Mark Smith:

Posted by Katie in training, 0 comments

thank you

In which I am overwhelmed by kindness and support, and count my blessings, and think a little about the multiple strands that weave together over the years.

I have been overwhelmed by kindness and support in the past few days, since I launched the crowdfunding to help me get to the World Para Powerlifting Championships in Mexico City. At lunchtime today, this tipped over my initial £1200 goal. Because sponsorise runs all or-nothing funding, meeting this goal means that I will receive all the contributions, including everything over that £1200.

The cost of my flights and my entry fee are now covered. I’m going. I’m going to Mexico.

British Weightlifting’s official news release with the announcement of the team for the Worlds.

Because of the the generosity of family, friends, friends-of-friends, and complete strangers, I will be able to take part in one of the biggest Para Powerlifting competitions.

Thank you!

It’s not just the financial contributions that means so much to me, but the encouragement and the belief. I have had support from people I’ve not seen in lifetimes–not just counting the passage of time since I’ve seen them, but whole worlds of living ago. People I worked with back when the web was shiny and new and built by hand, people I met through collaborative sites and communities. People who know me from the distant past as a student, as a colleague, a photographer, a student (again), as well as people I see every week, people who have known me from all the various paths we’ve walked through these years. I never imagined I’d be in this place, and I can’t imagine they did either.

No one would have expected me to become a competitive powerlifter.

Not even five years ago. It’s still not five years since I first tried lifting, and fell in love with it. This is one of the things that keeps amazing me: just because you didn’t take up a sport early in your life, it doesn’t mean that it’s too late. Just because you always hated taking part in sports, it doesn’t mean you can’t love one when you find the one that brings you joy.

And the list of support above doesn’t include that of my fellow lifters–people I’ve trained with, learned from, competed with, begged spots from, yelled at to get off my damn bench already, admired, and compared notes with along the way.

One of things about powerlifting that has always amazed me is how supportive people are.  My first competition was a revelation, as I realised that people were yelling and cheering their competitors to fight to get lifts–even when it meant they were about to be beaten if that lifter they were cheering for succeeded.  These are people who have given generously with their time, knowledge, friendship and emotional energy: to work with someone, to improve their technique, to listen, advise, mock, and to be there for training, to drive to competitions, and confiscate my snacks when I’m making weight. You know who you are. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had your support, in all its forms. Thank you.

(And now I seem to have something in my eye. I thought hayfever season was over…)


So, here’s Joe Cocker, at Woodstock:


Posted by Katie in all the feels, 0 comments

Going to the Worlds!

On October 3rd, I will be lifting in the under 50kg class at the World Para Powerlifting Championships in Mexico City. To say I am excited about this would be a classic bit of understatement.

Heading out onto the platform with my coach, Matt Barlow, at the British Championships this year.


This is my first international as a para powerlifter (though I’ve competed internationally in able-bodied competition) and my first competition on this scale. I’ve got just over five weeks until I’m on the platform (and yes, I can tell you how many more days, and how many more training sessions I’ve got between now and then.)

Training is going well, as I learn to use the strap for stability, tighten up my technical precision, and just keep pushing the kilos. Rep by rep, kilo by kilo. And with hour by hour of sleep. (That’s always going to be one of my biggest challenges.) And pre-lift dance by dance.

I am so fortunate to have this opportunity–to be going with the GB squad, to try to reach the level I am aiming for, to lift among the very best in the world, and to be part of this sport.

It’s hard to believe that five years ago I’d never even touched a barbell. And that finding a sport that fits you, and people who will believe in you can take you so far and so fast. Thank you to everyone who has stood by me along the way. Buckle up: we’ve got a long way to go!


Posted by Katie in all the feels, competition, 0 comments

Top ten time

In which I get my first World Para Powerlifting ranking, and for one brief shining moment I am in the top ten.

The British Championships in Coventry last month were the first IPC approved competition I’ve done, and, now I’ve also been classified, my results went through for ranking. And I made it into the top ten:

Screenshot: World Para Powerlifting 50kg rankings, August 2017


Now it’s time for the caveats: this is top ten of the under 50kg class women who have competed at an IPC sanctioned competition so far this year. It’s early in the year, and still a few weeks ahead of the World Championships, which means that I will soon be shoved unceremoniously down this list when more of the top tier lifters come out to play.

If I check the para powerlifting rankings over the past two years, including Rio, I sit at number 20. Still respectable, for a first outing, and something I know I can improve.

Do I want to reach the point where I finish a year in the top ten? Of course! It’s something that went straight onto my list of goals. Probably for next year, though.

But, right now, I’m enjoying that single-digit ranking moment. However brief it may be.

Musical bonus: Uptown Top Ranking:

Posted by Katie in competition, 0 comments

Accentuate the positive

It’s taken me a couple of weeks to write something I could share about my performance at the British Championships on the 16 July. When you win, or when meet your goals, it’s easy to find the positive, and addressing the faults and negatives feels safe. When you fall short, and make mistakes, however, there’s a tricky line between beating yourself up, and looking honestly and usefully at what you need to fix, and between sinking into disappointment, and acknowledging what you have achieved anyway. And wallowing is horrid to read. So here’s a happy post about a bad day.


So, how did it actually go?

Not so well.

Three lifts went up, but only one counted.

I rushed my first lift (70kg) and was too quick off the chest. My second lift of 70kg was fine. My third lift of 73kg was given two reds, because my bum lifted from the bench.


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(videos: one of each lift, kindly taken by Zoe)

So I came in fourth, with a 70kg lift at 48.0kg bodyweight. I’m not happy with this.

Reasons, not excuses

I loathe making excuses, but I’ve been reminded by people who care about me that I need to remember and acknowledge some of the reasons I’m not at the top of my form at the moment. Most importantly, that it’s been a difficult spring, and I lost a lot of training, a lot of sleep, and a lot of focus when dealing with my father’s illness and death.

With a little hindsight, just getting back to training, and competing at the British feels like an achievement. I didn’t back out. I was on the platform six weeks after arranging his funeral. Even if I did not perform as I had hoped, it was a big step back towards my goals, and towards honouring my dad’s principle: do your best. (He didn’t believe in trying, either. Just doing.)

Annoyingly, on the day, my nerve damage was playing havoc, and I had no feeling in my right leg or glutes. Which made it head to judge my position on the bench (such as whether my bum was up or down on that side.) That said, it shouldn’t be coming up anyway, and I should not be relying on that sensation to give me the cue.

Enough of the negative, tell me the good things

Three lifts went up, with no struggle.

I have now pressed over 1.5 times my own weight on the platform.

My strength felt solid, and even though I messed up, I did not get into my own head, and start second-guessing and doubting things. I never doubted that any of the lifts would go up. Not even for a flickering moment.

After a bad detour into comfort eating and poor nutrition (hello custard creams!) I managed to get my weight back down to 48kg, just 200g over my last comp weight. Still recomping, but I’m securely and comfortably within the 50kg class.

The mistakes I made are fixable or avoidable.

It’s fantastic to lift at a venue like the Ricoh Arena.

I am now Internationally Classified, with an IPC licence.

I have one more chance to qualify for the Commonwealth Games. So, I’m not out yet.

Being supported


(Photograph: On the platform, with Matt, just before setting up for a lift)

I get incredible support from some amazing people. Their belief in me sustains me even when I go a bit wobbly with doubt. (I’m going to write another post about this, but, for now… ) Two of them were there with me in Coventry: my coach, Matt, and my sister, Louise. That Matt flew back from his holiday for a 12 hour stay to ensure he was there with me was a huge gesture–on top of the practical and solid support he gives me. Just knowing he was doing that made it possible for me to do this. And not waver from that, even when things were at their lowest.

And my big sister? Aye, she’s always had my back:

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(photograph of a squishy-faced baby wonky donkey and her big sister. Awww.)

So what do I do to fix things?

Keep getting stronger, and focus my training on the technical issues. That would cover both the “get strong” and the “get good” parts of the deal.

That means I have already started training to use the strap again. There’s an option, with para powerlifting, to have one or two straps across your legs and round the bench, to secure you. Everyone who competes has a lower body disability of some kind, and greater or lesser control of their legs and leg position. I’ve used it in the past, but I’ve not been using it for the past year, because I often train alone and so it’s hard to get consistency. But, if that’s going to keep my bum firmly planted on the bench, then I’ll get used to it and work with it, whatever it takes. Because it would be crazy to give away any more lifts for an avoidable reason.

Oh, and slow down. No more rushing. No more micro-pauses. Use the strength and show the refs a good solid stop.


And a little musical finale…

Oh, listen to me children and-a you will hear
About the eliminatin’ of the negative
And the accent on the positive
And gather ’round me children if you’re willin’
And sit tight while I start reviewin’
The attitude of doin’ right

You’ve gotta accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between
You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom, down to the minimum
Otherwise pandemonium
Liable to walk upon the scene
So: Get good, get strong, and get it done. Easy, right?
Posted by Katie in competition, 0 comments

Singlets and self-consciousness

I always feel awkward in a singlet. It’s bad enough in competition when everyone has to do this, but wearing it in the gym feels worse. It’s a grim combination of self-consciousness and showing off, yet moaning about it feels like an odd mixture of fishing for reassurance and humble-bragging. But it’s something I usually do in the run up to a competition to get over myself a bit. It’s a peculiar juggling act: learning to be being present in my body, but also ignoring it. 

When I say that I “feel awkward”, I may be understating the case a little. Maybe a lot.

It’s not as bad as it used to be, but I still want to hide. These days, I can deal with the tightness of the clothing, I can deal with the lumps and bumps of the enclosed body. I still have trouble, however, dealing with the exposed legs.

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Video: from last night’s training, six days out.Mostly tech singles. This is a cheeky little 68kg warm up. While wearing the dreaded singlet.


When I lift, it helps if I am completely present in my body–but in a useful way. The self-critical, highly distracting, waste-of-brain-space presence that runs and runs a brutal critique of aesthetics? Not so useful. (Though it’s useful for some, as that ‘s the way that sells a million magazines and diet plans.) The awareness and presence that gives me proper control of position (which is trickier than it sounds given that I often can’t feel most of my right leg or buttock), the cueing of actions, the squeezing of muscles, and the knowledge that I can push like hell? Aye, that’s the stuff. That’s the presence that lets you take up the space you need, do what you do, and feel good doing it.

I know the former option is a waste of time and energy, and most of the time I am happy enough in my own skin to live in the second state. But put me in a singlet, and all that tangled body image nonsense comes dancing to the front again, blocking the view of the important stuff. And where my response should be to read “singlet” as “YAY competition time! Go, Cooke, go!” rather than squirming.

Worrying about the stupid stuff

Because I have little fat legs, and one of them is super-wonky. And I hate that. I never show my bare legs; I don’t wear shorts and always wear leggings under dresses or skirts. It’s only in the last couple of years I’ve felt comfortable enough or confident enough or just plain no longer give a fuck enough to walk around town before and after training in loud leggings without a dress or long coat on top. (Though I don’t think I’ve ever worn them without a visit to the gym at some point.) It has nothing to do with “modesty” or with what anyone else thinks about my body, and everything to do with how I think about it.

No one cares how I look in a singlet. I know that.

I get grumpy that I care.

Part of it is standard issue body issues. (see above re: a million magazines.) And I’m seriously grumpy that I haven’t got over this by now. It has always been a little more complicated by medical history, in that it can be hard to love a part of your body that you associate with pain, and limits, and surgery.

But it’s been years since I was last sliced and diced, so that raw resentment has slipped into the shadows of deep history, and become just another layer of the sediment. These days I rarely get any bone pain (just weird misfiring of nerves), and I’ve learned a way to walk that’s far beyond anyone’s expectations (including my surgeon’s, and my own.)

The luxury of ignoring it

I’ve reached a point where I have the luxury of being able to ignore it most of the time. Most of my work-arounds and adaptations are so ingrained I am oblivious to them. It’s not “pretending to be normal” because screw normal, but what my body can do is much more alive in my brain that what it can’t. It can be hard to hate that.

I have ugly legs, and that doesn’t matter.

Wearing the singlet in training is much the same–I train in it so it becomes normal, so that it doesn’t get in the way by interrupting me with self-consciousness. I wear it until I hit the point of not thinking about it, until I can even tune out the stray background signals of “aargh, bare knees” or “ugh, weird pressure on my thigh.” Until I forget to care.

Better things to worry about

It took a long time until I could look at videos of myself lifting and see the lifts not all the things I hated about my body. In a singlet, that’s still a challenge. (Because hello little fat peely-wally wonky legs!) But when I’m wearing a singlet, I have more pressing things to worry about: a start command, a rack command, and what happens in between.

Roll on Sunday, and the next time I have to wear it.

Posted by Katie in all the feels, 0 comments

The weight of paperwork

I’m nine days out from the British, and still getting the work in, and still going through the traditional rollercoaster feelings from the highs of “aw yes, I’m pretty good at this stuff” swooping down to the stomach-lurching “argh, I forgot how to bench” via “why is this suddenly heavy?!” and “weird, did I forget to put those extra 5kg plates on?”

Add in the surreal pre-competition dreams, and this is the now-expected ebb and flow. Even though I have learned to expect it, I still get caught out by the emotions that come with the ups and downs. Until I remember that it’s just what happens, and then it becomes rather reassuring. It’s just part of the process, like fretting about how fat my knees look when I wear a singlet.

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Less predictable: the bureaucratic challenges

Most of the real roller-coastering, however, has come from paperwork. Or the lack of paperwork.  Because this is the first officially IPC-approved competition I’ll have done, it will be the first time I will get an international ranking. But, first, I have to be classified–that is, to be checked that my disability meets the categories for this sport.

As I went through this on a national level a couple of years back, I was caught out by a request for medical records this week. I should probably have expected it, but i didn’t. And, I don’t have my medical records. Who does? It’s just not something you have a copy of, in the UK, unless something’s gone horribly wrong. I’ve got a copy of an x-ray or two, just because the radiographers were really nice, and agreed that they were interesting, and, oh, why not, here you go, etc.

But the IPC wanted official written records, with the evidence of why I have so little muscle power in my right leg.

No records = no classification = no ranking = no qualification.


Oh, there’s a process for getting medical records in the UK. There are standard release forms, and everything. And that process takes between three and seven weeks. SEVEN WEEKS. Seven. And everyone I needed to talk to had gone home*.

Cue: one horrible sleepless night of stress.

Next day, after a lot of phone calls, the generous help of BWL, and some huge acts of kindness and photocopying by the lawyers at the Infirmary we turned the 40 day process into a 23 hour miracle. I got the notes, bwl got images of the notes, and IPC got the uploads. I am amazed, and so very grateful that this happened. And still more than a little stunned that this didn’t derail everything.

Now I’m just waiting to find out if the IPC is happy to accept the paperwork….


*except Matt. Who talked me out of full headless chicken mode and back into someone who gets things done.
**This was a lot more sweary than “yikes” at the time. A lot. Of course.

Posted by Katie in competition, training, 0 comments

No points for trying

In which I realise that something has changed significantly: there is no longer any “try”. On the platform, there is only a good lift, or there is no lift. There are no points for trying, no marks for effort, no bonus for working hard, and no Miss Congeniality award. And there’s definitely no sick note from your Mum.

In the run up to the British, and my first chance to qualify for consideration for selection, it’s easy to fixate on numbers. In any competition, it’s easy to fixate on numbers. And those numbers can become a barrier, looming up and blocking the light, blocking the way past.

The number of kilos lifted. The weight of an opening attempt. The weight of the increment between second and third. Body weight. AH points (or Wilks points, if you’re IPF. Sinclair, if you’re a weightlifter.) Height, speed, time, distance, power. Points. Every sport comes with numbers, somewhere.

“Don’t worry about the numbers. Just go out there and lift. Try your best.”

Aye, right.

But, I do worry. (This is ok. Worrying is my default setting.) I worry about the numbers, because it’s only about the numbers. The numbers get me onto a list. It will be a list of one female lifter or zero female lifters. I’m not competing against another person to be considered for selection–that’s a whole other post, about how this sport needs to grow in Scotland–but against a standard I need to reach. If you’d asked me a few months ago, I would have laughed and given you a really self-satisfied smile. I was on track to sail past the minimum. Then life happened. It tends to, right when you don’t need it to.

All the reasons to make a mess of things are no excuse

So, when I was sitting on the floor of the gym on Friday, swearing and not-crying-it’s-a-high-pollen-count-honest when I messed up when I tripped over a number, I realised that a switch had been tripped. The excellent Mister Parkes was trying to cheer me up and make me feel better, reminding me that I was doing pretty well, and trying really hard to get back, considering the rough few months I’ve had.

Because it’s true–I’ve had an awful few months. And I got grumpy (sorry, Ben), because none of that matters.

Oh, it has had an effect. A huge effect. It trashed my training, my sleep, my emotions, and my focus for three solid months. It contributed to a horrible mess at my last competition. But it doesn’t matter. For now, the only thing that matters is the numbers. When I walk out onto the platform and lie on that bench, I have three attempts to meet some numbers.

“Trying” is not the polite term for being a bit rubbish

“Well…. I’ll try,” carries more than a whiff of assumed failure. It wobbles with doubt.  (I am so trying to avoid going Yoda as I write this, but, you know. “Try” and “do” are just not the same.)

It took me a long time to learn to value effort, and the repeated failures inherent in trying, or to apply the “fall down seven times, get up eight” mentality to something other than recovering from surgeries, and re-learning to walk.

At school and college I was in a peculiar atmosphere where trying was the last thing that should show; success only counted if it was effortless. The reliable advice to “try, try, and try again” was swapped out for something more along the lines of “fine, then, try, but either impress us or stop wasting our time.” (I never said it was a positive or supportive atmosphere. This was, for example, a school where we worked out other people’s running average percentages after every exam, and the enviable grade in your report was a 10E for as many subjects as possible: a perfect score, but with no visible effort.)

But lifting taught me that trying counts more than I ever imagined. No one gets strong without effort. No one is born strong. Even Jennifer Thompson tells the story of being unable to bench a 20kg bar at the beginning. No one reaches their potential strength without a lot of work, repeated work, for years.

Learning to love the grind

The work is a pleasure. I like the grind. I like being able to do things that I used to be rubbish at, and able to do them just because I kept on pushing. I like lifting, again and again, and not giving up. And I like that I like this, rather than pretending I didn’t care about it, never wanted to be good at it anyway, stupid lifting, huh! (Etc., etc., continue hair-tossing teenage sulk at will.) It was a bloody glorious discovery–that trying wasn’t a sign of weakness, and that going from completely rubbish to slightly less rubbish was an achievement rather than a slightly sordid secret. (I know, most people figure this out when they are still at primary school.)

Putting in the work is valued, because that’s what makes progress happen. It’s the only thing that does.

A post shared by katie cooke (@slowlight) on

(There are two videos of ring push ups in that instagram post above:
some progress to kind-of-Archers after three months of daily practice,
and some horrible first wobbly attempts at just plain pushups. With bonus swearing.)

And obviously I like the results: building up until I can rely on a weight that previously flattened me, and then using it for a warm up. I like these numbers–the increments and measures of progress, kilo by kilo, rep by rep.

Sometimes those increments slow down or stop–when life gets in the way, or the numbers get in your head, or something else dumps you out onto a plateau–but the trying, and the working still matters. It will still pay off, eventually. It’s a cliche, but just keep showing up, keep trying, keep working, even when it’s going slowly, or going horribly, or going nowhere.

“Just trying” has got me a long way, and I am absolutely not going to stop.

And then we hit Yoda territory…

So it seems weird that there is a stopping point, a cut off where it suddenly doesn’t apply. You try, and the trying matters. And than it doesn’t. There is only doing, or not doing. Good lift, or no lift.

Then it will be right back to trying, and working, as soon as I’m off the platform. Trying to get stronger, trying to get better for the next one. But out there? There are no mitigating circumstances, just getting it done.

All the points for trying

But aye, here’s the slow donkey getting it at last: while there are no points just for trying, all the points come from the trying (and the failing) you did before. That’s where the trying pays off.



Posted by Katie in all the feels, training, 0 comments

Better late than never

My PhD supervisor once told me that I should never let anyone tell me that I’m “too old, too female, or too disabled to take my sport seriously.” I think about that whenever I start to worry I’ve left it too late to get good, and love to read about other people finding their sport. Got any good links or articles to share on older strength athletes? Please drop me a comment in the form below…

I’m far from the only late starter–at every competition I go to, I see more and more women lifting, and more and more masters-age women are taking part for the first time. And it’s fantastic to see others finding the joy of their own increasing strength and power. (Though it’s normal for us to regret not discovering it before.)

I love that it’s not just more women lifting in a traditionally male-dominated sport, it’s more older women tackling big damn weights. While it’s still usually touted as a way of losing weight or building a great arse–and, with a nod to us old biddies, a way of increasing bone density and staving off osteoporosis–it’s a sport that’s accessible for people starting from scratch. You don’t have to start young. Which is just as well, given the worldwide pattern of women dropping out of sport:

Girls who don’t get into sports by age 10 have just a 10-per-cent chance of being active as an adult, and the rate of participation over 15 has dropped to record lows, according to the [Canadian] report.

With the decline in participation in sports that particularly affects girls in their adolescence, some of us spend half a lifetime without taking part, and then, when finally finding the right sport, fall headlong in love with it. Even after a long gap. The Globe and mail as a pretty good article on Women taking up sports later in life, just for the love of the game. (And the Fit is a Feminist Issue blog, the original source of this link,  is a great source of articles and links asking all sorts of interesting questions about participation, empowerment, and fitness.)

I’m looking forward to the next podcast from the always wonderful crew at This is Female Powerlifting. They’ve recently recorded an episode with masters lifters–new and experienced, which should be out soon. Hurrah!

I’m hoping that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg‘s twice weekly weights session gets a nod. 84 years old, and benching 70lbs for reps is no joke.

Justice Ginsburg does 10 pushups and she does not do the so-called ‘girl pushups

from interview with her trainer in Politico

And then, in case there was any doubt about how long you can lift, you have true wonders like body builder, personal trainer, and model, Ernestine Shepherd who had, in her words, been a “slug” until she started to get active again 56, and first took up bodybuilding at 71.

Got a story to share? Please, drop me a link or a comment below.

Posted by Katie in linky goodness, 0 comments
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