Fairmont. I met a man in the wayward hills of West Virginia, among the mountain passes and anxiety-inducing twisting of turns. He spoke of older lifters, sweat-soaked squat suits, and his eyes flashed excitedly, keeping cadence with the on and offs of so many white lights. "Yer not a real powerlifter until you bomb out," he'd chuckle. His perfectly poised mustache parted ways to make room for his dialectical twang.

Three years later, I remember we exchanged glances across a foldable table at a weigh-in. "What you're doin' for those kids is special, Travis, and one day, you're gonna be great." How ironic those words would truly be in the forthcoming but unforeseeable future. I always try to push those days out of my mind to pretend that I just learned all this on my own, that it doesn't still sting to know the last time we spoke, "Best Lifter Travis Rogers" was called out, I walked from the room empty-handed.

But that seems like a lifetime ago…

I remember my first few meets, my first seminar or two, my first couple travels to surrounding gyms a few hours away. I remember my first podcast and speaking on sobriety and the kids' foundation. I remember meeting people I looked up to or was inspired by, only to be greeted with the haunting reality that their personalities, personas, and overall moral character were complete dogshit. That no matter how many giveaways, sponsor codes, or national championships garlanded their name that nothing could wipe away the unwelcoming and arrogant smell that seemed to seep from them and stain the surrounding equipment.

RECENT: Year One at The Bear Cave

No one gives a fuck how strong you are, whatever rank you are, or what you "specialize" in if you're a dick. Totals don't mean shit, and sure this sport is a competition, but if I said that's how I viewed it all, I'd be a liar. Take your time, enjoy the journey, learn from the veterans, bomb out, take the win, help the newbies, ask them to warm up with you. You never know who is looking up to you, and wouldn't it be a damn shame if you turned out just to be another asshole with a singlet and a status.

As a seasoned competitor, you realize how much this matters and how little all the numbers do. You begin to see it all differently, not in the PRs you hit, but the number of lives you have touched in one way or another. You shake hands with strangers who tell you they've looked up to you for years, you take photos with kids on their very first meet day, and adorn necks with best lifter medals, some of which you raised in your very own footsteps. You answer all the minute questions because you know they didn't read the rulebook and roll your eyes at the first-year egos and over-the-top setups.

But all of it makes you smile.

So many of you forget that this isn't just spreadsheets, checking boxes, and showing up. That it's not the newest colorway sleeve or redesigned deadlift slipper that will add pounds to a total, but the work you either put in or didn't. Rather than diving in and learning your own body and limits, you want immediate answers, instant gratification, and invitational tickets your first year. That you can just plop down on a class 3 total, and all of a sudden, you are qualified to be "coaching."

I'd be lying if I told you this sport hasn't changed me, but I'd be an even bigger one if I told you it hadn't made me more myself than I have ever been. This place, these people, and those platforms have given me absolutely everything. No matter how many meets, from either side of the judge's table, it takes away from that first-squat-of-the-day feeling—that cold, unnerving pang of a possible letdown, strangled by a very primal and intuitive urge to finish what you started.

But as a seasoned competitor, you begin to realize how much this all matters, and suddenly, irreplaceable, undoubtedly, you never really want it to end.

Travis Rogers currently resides on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where he owns and operates a USPA training facility, The Bear Cave. He also works as a graphic designer, 10th and 12th grade ELA teacher, and is active in the community with his 501(c)3 charity organization for underprivileged children. He is the USPA Maryland and Deleware state chairman, a national level referee, and a meet director for the surrounding area. Travis has been in the top-10 198 rankings for the last three years in both sleeves and wrapped divisions.