I used to think many people were born with “heart.” Some sort of spark that, once ignited, made possibilities endless. A perceived ability to give everything you have, because you care that much about a particular outcome. An overwhelming feeling of need or ultimate goal attainment. That primal drive to be greater and reach farther than those around you, in both life and competition. That it could not be taught or drilled into people, but more so a quality that they just had, and in possessing it, made them better. That fire or aura you could feel and see around those individuals that could not just simply be explained. That being said, as I have grown into the sport more as both a competitor and coach, I have concluded that it is not so. It is because we associate the term and word with an emotional response and driving purpose, when it is, in fact, the opposite: the act of leaving emotions and connections behind, if only for a short while. A humanity switch, if you will, the only trait being that ability to flick it on or off.

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There must be a factor that shuts your body down, that tells your mind to stop, to give in or not take a certain risk. It is not so much what the people are born having, but what they were born without, that segment of DNA that utilizes empathy and relationship connectivity, to make judgment calls, is simply not there. It is instead replaced with nothingness, a burying blanket of nonhumanity. A certain space that is traveled to, that takes parts of them and does not let go, the splitting of one as two. It is often hard for not only that athlete, but also those around them, to cope with this situation because of cold demeanor it often entails. I find it ironic that as much as we contribute this emotion to fire or heat that it is, in its most primitive form, an icy, emotionless state of being.

Many attribute this feature to rage or fury. How can one conjure such unimaginable anger from simply will alone? I used to believe it, too, that I was so ill-tempered at the world I could just stare intently at a bar and make it happen, but that’s not true. I do not harbor massive amounts of hatred against others or have been so ungodly wronged in life that this ruthlessness is all I know. How barbaric it must look and feel to other eyes, a burning question of “What has been done to him to make him that way?”

Would it not be easy to convince those that this was my vice, my way of channeling my hatred into a productive force? Yet that is simply not the case. It is not even mastery or a skill that one has learned, but an impulse that is not controllable and is triggered by a specific scenario. It does not happen outside of that event.

Even so, this is my ritual.

It is the complete lack of caring, a dark inhumane inhabitant dwelling beneath the surface. For in those moments, that space and time, the individual cares for and about nothing. No cheering friends, no adoring family, no general sense of safety, or well being. It is simply a movement executed by mechanics without any pilot at the controls. An operation with no internal negotiation; they are simply not home, with the product being mild invincibility. Seconds later, it is over, and all comes crashing back to reality, looking at yourself and those around you. I often have a hard time splitting the two, when it is all said and done.

It creeps in – swiftly eating away,

A humid, black pit of uncertainty


Until – Nothingness

This, too, consumes me

The splitting of fiber and fur.

Tearing outwardly, otherworldly,

All these desperate attempts,

To further separate these two selves.

It is not conjured out of goal reaching, or to achieve something more, but rather, the next logical step their body must make to adapt to a condition set by this other part. It is detached, compartmentalized, like two sides of a coin. The ability to trust, love, and understand, but also the capacity to disregard health, doubts, fear, or emotional connections within a certain space and time.

It is hard to deal with the repercussions of such mindless actions, mainly the affection of those closest to you, whether it is your best friend, training partners, or spouse. Showcasing true brutality, viciousness of pure unfiltered disregard for anything and everyone, can change the perceptions of you to those who matter most. It hurts to know that you are distant from those you love the most and try so very hard to not let them see the cracks, the unfolding and breaking away of two different selves. It is hard to know you are two different people and personalities. This often keeps me awake, the rummaging of idea after idea, each scenario recast and replayed like so many faded film reels. I often wonder if those who have “heart” have also the ability to explain what it is, or detail the very thing the very thing others physically see and would define as said “heart.”

You can feel it coming on: an abrupt pacing, a flustered body language, sudden quietness. It is almost eerie as things stop. It is a welling up, a stomach brought to a blistering boil, a tearing of flesh and sinew, an internal combustion of sorts. I believe great athletes are ones who allowed this to take hold of them, that they could and would make that sacrifice, and those who dwindled out, made the choice to abandon that side of themselves for a more unselfish character. You can tell when they are in a room, feel their presence, an individual masking more than one. The desperate, trying to further split these two people from a singular collective space. They disconnect with other competitors, often sparking conflict in my own experience based on different goals and values as a lifter.

It is in this flipping of a switch, the action of shutting out the surrounding moral connections, that is the most detrimental and concerning thing about this process. The inability to recall such actions or perceive who you were only a matter of minutes ago, creates a vortex, a confusion of thought between the two selves. Each unable to obtain information from the other, by way of disconnect, yet at the same time like a magnet drawing the two personalities together. It often makes me wonder how long one can go before they are no longer distinguishable and there is no on and off, only a constant buzz of unapologetic action. How can one explain, or put it into words? What light can there be in something so undeniably dark? These are things I often fear, for nothing has made me more whole, than all these attempts to tear myself apart.

Header image courtesy of Project Invincible 

Travis Rogers works as a high school educator teaching 10th grade English language arts and strength and fitness, as well as running a strength and powerlifting club after school year-round. He frequently takes his students to state and regional competitions in the USPA and RPS powerlifting federations and competes regularly himself. He recently totaled 1,800 in sleeves at 198 at the 2019 RPS North American New Jersey championships.