I could begin by speaking about making weight. I could also begin by addressing the head-to-head competition with Yury Belkin at this meet. However, I will begin with the intense whirlwind of thought that flooded me as I stepped onto the platform for my first squat attempt.

This was it! The culmination of hours, days, even years of training toward one thing: to be the BEST in the world, or to come as close to it as possible. I was absolutely terrified! I have touched on this before and will do so in the future, but the absence of fear is not courage. There will never be a scenario where an athlete will be completely without fear. True courage is found when a competitor pushes past that fear and places it to the side in order to do what they came to the playing field to do.

Meet Report: CETC US Open — Knowing When to Throw in the Towel

And I am confident that I was able to do just that during my performance at the CETC US Open on April 15. I totaled 2121 pounds at 220 pounds bodyweight for the number four all-time record total in that particular weight class across all federations. I kept the heat on Yury Belkin all day, which I am sure he has not felt in a few years.

Beginning in the warm-up room, my squats were feeling great. No cramping issues, no tightness, and an explosive power I was thrilled to unleash on the platform when my name was called. The only issue I came across was, on my last warm-up squat of 780 pounds, I missed the freaking rack and sliced open two fingers on my right hand. Grip has been a recurring issue for me, so this had me hesitant going into deadlifts.

I opened squats with 821 pounds and smoked it. I slowed my ascent down a bit because I felt myself shift to the right. I'm not sure if the elevated stage was having issues or if it was my own struggle with gravity, but I corrected and made the lift. My second attempt was called to 865 pounds in order to set up for a 901-pound third. To my dismay, though the 865 moved so easily, I did not make enough of a convincing effort to get to depth and was given two reds and a missed attempt. My tactician came out and I chose to retake the weight to play it safe and build a total for my third. I considered going to 881 on my third but decided against it. I came out and buried the 865 this time, and received a good lift. Two-for-three going into bench press, and close to building a great total.

My bench was feeling buttery in the warm-up room, and we decided to play some head games with the competition. Charly Joung and I lowered my opener from 475 to 465 initially but then raised it to 480. Upon seeing this, Yury's camp raised his to match mine, and upon seeing this we raised mine again by 2.5 kilograms! He saw this again, and in turn raised his again to match mine. Coming to the platform and hitting 485 was amazing, and it flew. It felt as if the bar was loaded with inflatable weights, and I did not even have to strain to press the weight. In turn, Yury struggled a bit more than he would have liked to on that first bench. My second was called to 501, and again, a smoke show. Yury hit 494 at a true RPE 10 and scratched his third. Strategy paying off.

I took 507 on my third bench, and it looked as if I was good for five kilograms more. I was incredibly happy with how my bench went, and it left me extremely optimistic about the future. Five-for-six heading into deadlift, with a subtotal that would make any respectable deadlifter shake in their cossacks.

I opened with a meager 705 pounds compared to Yury's 830 pounds, but smoked it with close to zero effort. My hands were not swollen whatsoever. My sliced fingers bled an incredible amount but none on my palm, so grip was unaffected.

We called for 749 on my second with room to spare, and I smoked it again. Yury hit his second at 870 pounds to secure a lead in front of me.

Meet Report: 2017 CETC US Open Powerlifting Championships with Ben Pollack

Now, this is where it began to sink in that I could beat the all-time world record holder, and that he was playing defense right now. I kept repeating to myself, "You are meant to be here." And by God, I was going to show the world that I was before the day was over. Charly and I called for 804 pounds for the win, assuming that Yury would be unable to hit his expected third at 904 pounds.

The bar was loaded and the hurricane of emotion came back to me. This is what I trained for. This is what I bled for. This is what I was meant to do in my life. I saw the weight and charged forward with the sort of tranquility musicians speak about when enveloped in their song, and the sound seems to flow from them with no beginning and no end. I grabbed the cold steel and felt the diamonds cut into my hands, heard my dad yelling for me to GRIP IT, and I did just that.

The weight moved — the weight I had never touched in all of training, had never thought capable of holding onto, and the weight that would solidify my name in history as the dark horse athlete to take down the Russian Titan.

But, as is with most things, the best-case scenario does not always happen. The weight got in front of me, my hands opened slightly, my hamstring cramped, and I lost the lift. I was not strong enough to beat the colossus today, but I faced him prepared to die.

This was the best meet I have ever been to — the people, the judges, the fact my family and friends traveled hours and hours to watch me. I could not have asked for a better outcome, and as Yury and I were both in the 220 class, and killing it in terms of Wilks coefficients, we both stood as number one and number two on the podium. I took home $10,000 for my efforts. Not bad for a paycheck for an afternoon of doing what I love.

I will be training with a ferocity that will be unmatched in the future because now I have had a taste of where I am meant to be. There is blood in the water that I know will lead me to what I want and who I want to become. Now is the time to relax and recover, but in the next year, I expect to push myself even harder and reach even greater heights. Yury Belkin did not know who I was before this meet, but he damn well better in his next training cycle because I know who I need to beat.

power rack