After two and a half years of training and four state competitions, I woke up at 4 am on a brisk October morning to catch my flight to Atlanta for my first USA Powerlifting Raw Nationals. With my squat shoes, knee sleeves, wrist wraps, belt, chalk, and singlet in my gym bag and my laptop and 70 pages of review material for my Structures final exam in my backpack, I set off to LaGuardia Airport. Time until my self-set deadline to take the exam: 16 hours. Time until I would compete: 28 hours.
By 11 am, I had mastered 50 pages of lower limb and head and neck anatomy and arrived in Atlanta. The next few hours were a blur of meeting other lifters, relearning the brachial plexus, and cheering on Tessia—my friend and coach. At 6 pm, just as I was running through the material one last time, I heard a voice say “sciatic nerve.” Was I so engrossed in studying that I was having auditory hallucinations?
I looked around and saw a lifter stretching her flexed knee across her body, her face contorted in pain as a trainer described to her the path that the sciatic nerve takes through the greater sciatic foramen and out from under the piriformis muscle as he helped her stretch and roll out that muscle.
My worlds of medical school and powerlifting had been colliding all month, my involvement in each one making me more capable and knowledgeable in the other. This final reminder that the information I was learning in class was so practical and immediately applicable motivated me as I continued to study and later passed the final exam that night.
— MSSM Student Council (@SinaiStudents) December 9, 2016
At 8 am the next morning I weighed in and immediately started consuming bagels, protein bars, coffee, Monster, and Pedialyte voraciously to refuel my body. After an hour of stretching and warming up, it was time for my first lift of the day: squat. My first attempt, 215 lbs., was easy, as expected. I failed my second squat attempt of 231.5 lbs., and left the platform in a cloud of rage that only the perfect storm of self-imposed expectations, performance anxiety, and 300 mg. of caffeine can create.
Backstage, I spent 10 seconds silently chiding myself, and eight minutes dancing it out to Major Lazer while visualizing a perfect third attempt. When I pushed out of the bottom of my squat with 231.5 lbs. on my back this time, it flew up, a new personal record! Ecstatic, I ran back to the warm-up area to prepare for bench press. I hit my attempts for bench press as expected, pushing 121.5 pounds.
At last, it was time for my absolute favorite event, deadlift, a movement in which the loaded barbell is lifted from the floor to the hips. I had been smashing personal record after personal record in the gym at Aron Hall the last few weeks, and I was ready to hit another one. My first attempt of 265 lbs. (which I failed miserably at a competition earlier that year), came up effortlessly. Ten minutes later, I pulled an easy 287 lbs.—a new personal record!
As I geared up for my final attempt on deadlift and last lift of the competition, I felt waves of euphoria crash over me as I took a minute to appreciate what I had achieved in this year: Starting medical school at one of the best schools in the country and making it to USAPL Powerlifting Nationals for the first time.
When the announcer called my name, I ran out onto the platform shining with elation and confidence and victoriously ripped 292.5 lbs. off the ground. Engulfed in cheers, clouds of chalk, and hugs from Tessia and other lifters, I basked in the glory of that moment, shattering the societal expectation of docility in women by tirelessly building strength in body, mind, and spirit—adding one more achievement to my name, leaving me hungry for more.
Lucy O’Shaughnessy is a native New Yorker and first-year medical student at ISMMS with a special interest in global public health and women’s health. She is also a competitive powerlifter, fine artist, hip-hop dancer, feminist, synesthete, budding yogi, lamp collector, and bagel enthusiast.