I had a 7:30 flight out of Pittsburgh International and very little sleep the evening prior. As soon as I pulled into the airport's extended parking lot, I mean the second the arm lifted so I could drive in with my ticket, it started to rain.

Now, the way Pittsburgh International is set up, to get to the terminal from the extended parking lot requires either waiting in a covered shelter for a shuttle bus (which may or may not come in a half-hour’s time), or committing to the 10-minute walk. I don’t know about you, but carrying a bunch of travel bags 10 minutes in the pouring rain, then squeezing onto a plane, soaking wet, for a six-hour flight, does not sound appealing to me. So I chose the uncertainty of the shuttle shelter.

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Like a ray of hope on the horizon, the shuttle’s dim headlights broke through the dark, only moments after I’d dragged my luggage under the shelter. Mere mortals in the realm of travel, who only fly once or twice per year, will never appreciate the grim satisfaction that comes with those headlights, when they show up with time to spare. With that much said, I made it to the terminal without a terrible rush and even had time to buy a big coffee with some espresso shots for the flight. I’d eaten about 100mg of an edible herbal medication around the time of the headlights, which made for an interesting flight with all the caffeine.

I was wedged into a window seat, next to some teenage kid with poor hygiene and wandering eyes, trying to read what I’d type in my notes, constantly stealing glances at my iPhone screen. I covered the phone once with my hand and gave him a questioning look. He took my drift and was snoring before I knew it, but it was still a sub-optimal situation for a number of reasons. To be fair, I was already stressed out of my mind; and my emotional disposition was chaos long before we boarded the plane.

Still, I wanted to suplex this kid into the miniature toilet 10 feet from our seats. I thought better of the whole thing and played with my camera for an hour before giving in and purchasing Wi-Fi so I could work for the remainder of both flights. I was furious that I couldn’t bring Sydney with me. The extra plane ticket would’ve been too much. That’s a relevant factor in this. But I did almost get into a fistfight with the rental car guy, again. It doesn’t matter. I made it out with the keys.

And once I did step outside into the paradise that is Southern California, all of my anger slid through my fingers and I could not hold onto it any longer. I was happy.


© Erika Balasabas

My dear friend Alexander Cortes made the trip down to meet me at my hotel and we drove out to Ocean Beach. Mike’s Taco Club is probably my favorite taco spot on earth, so I never miss an opportunity to stuff my face there. This was no exception. The two of us filled our bellies with tacos and spent the day walking around, talking about life and how age changes us, as I took photos of all sorts of interesting things; from sea creatures to giant insects to puzzling architecture and antiques. That day seemed to be over as soon as it began and the coming three would leave me with little in the tank for myself. I was well aware of this fact. I went back to my room early and ate some microwave chicken and Life cereal from Target as I prepared the whiteboards for the seminar I’d teach the next afternoon.

The seminar itself went well as they always do. Gracie was kind enough to let me use her place. Everyone seemed to take a lot away from it, based on the conversation we all had toward the end. There were only around 10 attendees, throughout, but a couple of people who paid weren’t able to make it — so the cost of my trip was covered, even if barely. I set the seminar up in about a week’s time with the help of one of my lifters, Dan Clancy, and his friend, Jensen Kierulff. If I book a small seminar to cover the cost of my travel so I can coach my lifters in-person, I consider “breaking-even” to be a win. Because plenty of times I’ve had to come out of pocket to cover some or all of the expense of those trips. That’s business. I love doing the seminars and find them to be very rewarding. It all works out in the end, if you do the right thing, in my experience.

Now that I had the trip paid for, I could focus on helping my lifters: the reason I’d flown all the way from the other coast to begin with.

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© Lorena Deanda

On Saturday morning, I met Dan and Jensen over at the venue for the Kern US Open, the San Diego Fairgrounds. I arrived around the time he got under the bar to take his first warm-up for squats. Dan battled his way through this meet to a very dramatic end. I can’t say enough how impressed I am with him. He’s been running 5thSet since before he did this same meet last year, and in doing so, was able to add a hundred pounds to his already impressive total. We ran into a couple of minor speed bumps, preparing for this meet, but everything came together on game day. Even if it wasn’t exactly how we hoped.

I would say Dan achieved a truly peaked state for this performance. He was healthy and free of fatigue, though he did go into this with an irritated bicep due to a strain caused by a technique issue. That bicep tore off from the distal end during his successful third attempt deadlift of 843 pounds, which locked-in a 2,072 total, a 100-pound PR. Somehow he managed to hold on and lower the bar under control with that tendon already visibly ruptured. It was one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen, now knowing what was happening after watching the videos.

The 843 was the upper limit of the range for his third attempt, according to my formula. The second attempt of 788 looked like a warm-up and 843 would more than likely get Dan on the podium by 7.5 kilos.


© Lorena Deanda

And it did. He was able to take the podium and win money at the biggest meet in the world, competing against some of the best lifters in the world at his fourth meet ever. I’m proud to have him as one of my lifters and also as a friend. As I’m writing this, he’s already had the bicep reattached and is on the road to recovery. I see a long and exciting competitive career ahead for him.

First thing Sunday morning, my lifter and long-time friend Salina Vega finished squats with a 16-pound PR of 418 pounds. We had been back and forth about whether or not she would even be able to do the meet as a result of some nerve stuff with her back earlier in the year, which had been going on for some time. We seemed to navigate that pretty well, but her last pull certainly re-aggravated the same issue.


© Lorena Deanda

She held her own and carried herself like the professional she is; and I’m very proud of her performance. I am well-acquainted with the business of nerve pain related to the spine and hopeful this is something we can resolve by simply not loading it for an extended period of time, and also working on bracing exercises in the interim. This has proven effective for her in the past, and in many cases, in my own experience. Regardless, she is following up with the doctor and having imaging done, just to be safe.

The Kern US Open, as a whole, was an extremely impressive event, I’d say. And while there were a few minor speed bumps with the stage stuff, the meet was quite well-run and packed with performances I’ll not soon forget. There was also a bear, which was curious but satisfying. I wanted to experiment by putting someone in there with him to see what would happen, but then even more people would be mad at me. So I just left, grabbed a burrito and hit MedMen.

I was fortunate enough to be at the first US Open, however many years ago that was, coaching; and it was really cool see how far it’s come since that time.

San Diego is still my favorite place. Outwardly, all one can see is a human, writing and taking photos of things worth remembering; shrugging off specters of things worth forgetting. But I’m back at Keyhole in western Pennsylvania now, preparing for a summer full of seminars, meets, and other travels with the love of my life. I’ve never had it so good.

Header image © Lorena Deanda