Raising Iron Apples

TAGS: raising kids, The Region Barbell Club, self-improvement, powerifting, competitive drive, matt ladewski, hard work, life lessons, consistency, parenting, strength training


I am a tree. My kids are my apples. They can grow up to be crab apples, rotten, full of worms. Or in the best case scenario, they could become iron apples.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree so I try to be the best example I can be. My kids have always been around the gym, from my garage gym in Buffalo to my current gym, The Region Barbell Club in Munster, Indiana. Both were raised around the iron.This is written to my kids, Hannah and Noah, ages nine and seven. I don’t know when they will read this but I want to share what I wrote for them. Some of you have little ones in the same situation and I hope they learn the same lessons from you.

To Hannah and Noah:

There are many lessons to be learned in the gym. Above and beyond the normal life lessons, I want you to learn how to treat, interact, and respect other people. I hope you learn a few things by watching me in the gym. I am not the greatest lifter in the world. I hold no world records and in 20 years it’s highly unlikely I’ll be remembered by more than a few people. But you will always remember me, and not for my lifting accomplishments. I am trying to plant the right seeds, water them enough, and just maybe you will grow into iron apples.


When you were little, every Sunday afternoon was max-effort day.  “Do we have to go to the gym?” you would ask.  And the answer was always the same, “Just for a while.” Somedays between sets I was helping you building forts, kicking soccer balls, changing your diapers, or handing out snacks. But we were always there. I doubt right now you understand why we had to go to the gym. Someday you will understand that training is important to me and to be good at it, I had to be consistent.

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If I wanted to make progress and get better, I had to be consistent. In your future when you strive to be great at something, consistent effort will be required. If you want to be a better softball player, musician, scientist or anything else, you can’t try one day, week, or even a month and then stop. You need to keep working toward that goal consistently. At times you will easily take steps and other times you will feel like you are standing still. No matter what, you have to keep trying.

Hard Work

If you push yourself physically hard enough, you could throw up or even pass out. Self-improvement is hard. Once you know where you want to be and you want it bad enough, you will have to work hard to get there. And once you get there, you may see a little further down the path and it will take even more hard work to get there. Don’t be afraid of the hard work. It will make you better. But make sure you are doing the right work, too. If you want to end up downstream, you don't want to paddle upstream just because it is hard.


There is no doubt in my mind that you are both competitive. Today when Family Feud came on TV, you picked teams and cheered every time they scored points. Racing, swinging the highest, holding your breath the longest — you name it, you make it a competition. I love this about you because I have felt the same way. I have also been competitive. This is not to discourage you, but you will not always win, get a trophy, or receive the recognition you deserve. In most cases, there is only one best. When this happens, keep competing. You don’t need perfection but look to better than before.

In all of the powerlifting meets I have done, I have had one perfect day, and you could argue that I should have pushed my limits harder. Other meets I have done poorly and even bombed out. No matter the outcome, I always knew I could do better and make more progress.The competition kept me honest in my training. Without it, I would have gone through the motions. Without my name on that meet entry form, I had nothing to keep me from staying comfortable. Get uncomfortable and compete, not for accolades or for trophies, but for yourself.

Taking A Shot

When I want to break a personal record, there is a chance I will miss it. There is also a chance I will make it. If I have been consistent and worked hard, my chances greatly go up. If you truly want something good in your life, you need to take a chance. That goes for asking out a girl, moving for a job, or putting it all on the line to own your own gym. No matter what you decide to pursue, you will need to take a chance. It won’t always work out, it won’t always be easy, but it will be worth it. Bet on yourself. Bet big and bet often.

No Smoke

Having good training partners are of the utmost importance. The best ones do not feed your ego. They tell you exactly how close to depth you get and if it was a good lift or not. They don’t blow smoke up your ass and lead you to fail at the meet because your squat wasn’t close. You need to be a good partner and tell the truth. This doesn’t have to be done in a mean way. It can be done constructively without attacking. Tell the truth even if it will hurt you some. The pain of telling the truth will be less than a lie, causing you to bomb out of an important meet.

Stop Being Careful

As an adult I know you are going to fall, get hurt, and cry — and I will tell you to be careful. I tell you this in the wake of my mistakes so that you can avoid the same pain I went through. But learn to take chances. Do stuff that scares you. Go outside your comfort zone. Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Don’t let someone else put limits on you because something scares them. If you go after something and get uncomfortable, you are on the right track. Don’t take this as an excuse to be reckless. No matter what, you set your own limits. People will always tell you to be careful because what you are doing is outside their comfort zone. Too many people settle for status quo. Take a risk. You might lose but you may win big.

Helping Others and Giving Back

The last few years I have been blessed to compete in the Relentless powerlifting meets. These meets raise money for kids with life-threatening illnesses. You have been there and seen what a little hope can do for someone. Use your powers for good. That might be time, money, or just spending time with someone who needs it.

Our family has a tradition of giving back and I hope that continues with you. Your great grandmother helped raise over a quarter million dollars to fight breast cancer. Opa (grandfather) helped organize and run the Indiana state and World Special Olympics Games back in the 80’s. Now it is my turn via Relentless. Find something and give back. It will be more rewarding that you can understand. If by chance someday you are in a situation where you need hope, there will be people give it to you.

My kids are great and have brought great reports from teachers, neighbors, and other parents. I can’t promise they will always make the right decision. I can only hope to teach them right and mold them into great people that when I am gone they make more right decisions than wrong ones. I want them to live a life that they can look back on and be proud. May they be lucky enough to have children someday so they will be able to use these same lessons to raise their own iron apples.


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