Prep for Pretty and Powerful
Our amazing powerlifting gym Valhalla strength run a fantastic novice competition every year for women, aptly named ‘Pretty and Powerful’. It’s an event where women just starting out in the sport, get in and have a crack. My coach Josh Tait from Eastside Barbell had me training hard, months in advance. It was so great to have a positive focus again after the half marathon in July and definitely assisted in boosting my post half marathon blues. I’ve said it before, you can’t fake powerlifting. You have to work bloody hard to make the smallest of gains. You have to focus on your training and nutrition and you have a coach, not only to ensure you stay on track, but to also ensure your technique is safe and building strength in the areas you need, to avoid injury.
I love exercising but I must admit 2016 was the first time I purchased a gym membership and actually went 3-4 times a week. Isn’t that insane? Probably not. Many of you are probably direct debiting hard earned cash to a gym and not attending as we speak. So why did this work now, when I’d failed before? The answer is simple. I had a firm goal, a great coach and the powerlifting community are so close and genuinely welcoming, it was really easy to get up every day and just go. Valhalla strength are also really family friendly, so if I had Piper, I’d take her with me. She’d sit safely in her pram eating snacks and cheering me on.
Testing the gym membership at Valhalla Strength
As you well know fatigue is a massive issue for me. I sleep a full night, but then require a 2-3 hour nap during the middle of the day to function. Most powerlifting competitions run all day but as luck would have it, this year Valhalla decided to break the flights into two and so I was competing all three lifts after 1pm. I was so thankful because in reality if it had been a full day I wouldn’t have been able to compete.
I was SO nervous on the day and it so happened that Sam was competing in a triathlon in Hervey Bay, so he was away. I was on my own attempting something very new. Something so outside my comfort zone and I was just terrified of making a fool of myself in front of so many people. Sam’s mum, Virginia came and watched the kids, and I drove off towards the Gateway bridge, to Northgate more nervous than I’d been in years. I kept thinking to myself “why would you choose to feel like this?” I hadn’t felt this nervous since presenting at conferences years before in front of hundreds of people. I was so shaky I nearly had a crash on the way and felt like vomiting when I arrived. But then I walked in. The Queensland weather hadn’t failed us, it was stinking hot. But that didn’t stop the buzz, the electricity in the sweaty gym. It was palpable. I was just so glad I had been talked into competing.I was placed in the first group of lifters, which initially was daunting, but became such a relief because it meant I could just get on with it and stop worrying.
I was really shocked by how much support there was from experienced lifters. The familiar bad arse faces I saw each time I was at the gym, the ones whose names were on the board for the heaviest of lifts were there. Volunteering as referees, providing support to women getting wrapped and prepped out the back in the warm up area and generally just cheering everyone on. This genuine support has been the main shock to me ever since I started power lifting.
As mentioned, I’ve had many gym memberships in the past and after a while I just stopped going and the reason was because I felt sick with anxiety walking into the weights area being made to feel small with judgemental looks and general negativity from men. There were never any women in there! These men would look in the mirrors as they visually masturbated over their bulging muscles and I was irked and intimidated. I quit gyms because other than weights, I ran. I learned very quickly you can run in the park for free! Funny now, because I’m now very aware that many of these gym strangers from years gone by, weren’tstrong as such, well not in the way that I view ‘strong’ – Sam refers to these men as those with ‘beach muscles’. Don’t get me wrong other power lifting gyms may have a different culture but Valhalla strength powerlifting men and women are strong all over. They are committed to the sport. They are committed to their friendships, they are committed to their community and they are inclusive. They are my kind of people.
Pretty and powerful
I warmed up with Josh and another Eastside barbell team mate Bianca and slowly made it through each of my lifts without a problem.
They start the Competition with Squats, then bench and finish with deadlifts. My first squat I was so nervous that I got to the bottom of squatting and just froze. Not because it was heavy, I just went into a nervous daze. Then from the sideline I hear Josh yell out “STAND UP!” Whoopsy……..Luckily it was just on the edge of being passable. On that note I actually didn’t get any red light lifts, which means you’ve ‘broken’ a competition lifting rule, which I was so proud of. I squatted 75kgs, benched 42.5kgs and then came deadlifts (my favourite). Up until the competition I’d only ever lifted 110kgs, which I was super happy with so over my 3 lifts Josh had me lift 100kgs then 107kgs and by watching the 107kgs he’d decide my final lift, after my second lift he said “I’ll take you up to 115kg ok?” I agreed and so I waited for my final lift of the competition. Sitting on the sidelines watching fellow competitors and the large crowd cheering EVERY SINGLE competitor on made me feel so happy. Then they called me up for my final lift the gym owner and fellow powerlifter said over the microphone “Erin Benjamin 130KGS” I went white as Josh squeezed my shoulders and gave his big cheeky grin. “WTF?!” he laughed and said “Go on you can do it!” I walked out there, not caring how many people were watching. I heard nothing and saw no one in fact. It was really similar to when I run just me calm, and in the zone and holy shit I lifted it! I felt electric! I felt strong and well and proud that I’d tried something new.
So many times I felt out of my comfort zone, but with the support of all of the lovely Valhalla team and most especially Suzie and Josh, I’d competed in my first powerlifting competition at 35. Just amazing.
New years resolutions
So with all bar one 2016 New years resolution being completed I began writing my 2017 goals. I didn’t get strong enough to be able to do chin ups in 2016 so that was rolled over to 2017. But I did run a half marathon and compete in a powerlifting competition just to name a couple! So I wrote out a huge list, so excited about getting set to tick them off. My coach was set to train me up to compete in the QLD states for powerlifting and I was ready to be strict and tough on myself to be ready by April. I returned from Christmas holidays pumped, and got back to the gym straight away.
I went back to the gym on the 3rd of January and just remember feeling ‘meh’. I shrugged it off thinking it was too much indulgence over the Christmas break and pushed through. Then the next day I was meant to train with Josh but ended up messaging him and rescheduling because I just didn’t feel well. Little did I know that again the next day we’d have another bump in the road with my health.
I went to bed at 11am the following day for my nap as usual. Both kids were at Suzie’s family daycare. Sam was working, but said he’d be home to collect me so we could pick up the kids together. I set my alarm and off I went to sleep. Next thing I remember was Sam laying next to me in bed smiling saying “Baby? time to wake up”, in a soothing voice. I smiled and rolled closer to him and pointed to the ceiling and spoke. Next thing I was in the bathroom and Sam was on the phone saying to someone “she had a stroke in 2011…..” I said “Jack don’t call anyone I’m fine. Don’t make a fuss.” I sat down next to him on the bed and he hung up the phone. He had that look on his face I’d seen before. Terror. Its happening again. I felt sick. I went straight into ‘I’m fine’ mode trying to make him feel comforted. My kids were at daycare. They expected me to come collect them. I cant be sick again. This cannot be happening – not again. I’d made it past 5 years, why was this happening again .The ambulance came and Sam explained to them that I had been talking jibberish, I was disoriented and had called him Jack. I was on the verge of tears. I remembered nothing. Sam went to organise the kids as I was driven to Princess Alexandra hospital and he promised he’d be there to meet me soon.
I lay in the acute section of the Emergency Department (ED) reeling at the thought that this was happening again. My main thoughts were how selfish I was to have children when I knew there was a possibility I’d get sick again. What if I died and they grew up without a mother? What sort of person makes such a selfish decision? Me apparently. The staff were absolutely AMAZING. Some of the things these doctors and nurses have to deal with is absolutely disgusting, but they do it with great respect and kindness. I was in the ED overnight awaiting a bed and both of my neighbours were drug affected. I’m talking, pacing, screaming, freaking out, spitting, had to call security and tie them down – affected. But not once did I hear the staff treat them with disrespect. Nursing particularly is such an amazing profession I wish I could say I could do, but wow they put up with such a lot and see such a lot and don’t get paid even NEAR what they should. The doctors were so supportive of the nurses. They had their backs. It was so wonderful to see how the team worked together. All individual people, succeeding as a collective, just like Valhalla.
I had had a suspected TIA (Trans Ischemic attack or mini stroke) so they were very quick to have a CT, MRI, and an EEG completed. I was then transferred up to the stroke ward. I thought I’d seen the last of the wretched place. But I was wheeled in and as I passed each room I saw them. The white hair. The wrinkled skin. The sad sick faces of the many elderly patients affected by stroke. They wheeled me into my room and by this stage I hadn’t slept (due to the drug affected people) for 16hours. I was slurring my words. I couldn’t understand the requests of my nurses. I couldn’t tell them what had happened – my memory was gone. I was a zombie. I felt so scared again. Through the fog, Sam came in and out and once came with the kids and my mother in law. I will never forget little Jack’s face. He was so concerned. We’d prepared him extensively for my 4 day stay in hospital when Piper was born. But this was so much for his poor little heart to understand. For him to not have me there as usual, do the normal usual boring things that are so important to a 3 year old left him carrying a lot of emotions. Emotions we are still working through 8 weeks later. Piper wanted to just touch me, be on me and snuggle with me. When they left I cried so hard. Fat ugly tears. The tears you let come out for all to see when you’re a child. I felt so angry and ripped off. I felt like I was letting down my babies and putting everyone out . I was worried about my parents and siblings and how they would be feeling hearing I was back in hospital. They’d all just seen me well at Christmas, and a lot of wounds from the time of my stroke were finally healing – particularly for my poor parents. I was worried about Sam’s mood and how he would cope after this latest scare, and if it would bring his PTSD back. I was just so tired. I sat there on that bed cupping my crying face in my hands thinking that if this was confirmed as another stroke, that for the first time, I didn’t think I could keep soldiering on. Keep being positive. I just knew it would break me. I’d worked so hard.
I stayed in hospital for 4 days and on the final day my neurologist came in and sat with Sam and I and delivered the best news. I have epilepsy. I know right? Best news you ask?! Well yes it is because a TIA would have meant more brain damage and would honestly have left a dark scar of sadness on my heart forever. I don’t think I could have come back from it. Maybe I could have, but I would have entered a pretty dark place again. I knew that for sure. It seems my stroke five years ago has left behind scar tissue. The scar tissue is actually a good thing because its closed off any exits for the three blood clots still in my brain. The brain is an amazing organ it has created new paths around this blob of inconvenience. However, what this scarring means is that seizure activity seems to be more likely and is drawn to such areas. The CT and MRI confirmed there was not evidence of another stroke, but the EEG showed a large amount of seizure activity.
SO. My name is Erin Benjamin and I’m an Epileptic.
So for those who know me and have seen my interpretive dance skills, I now have an excuse – BOOM!