elitefts™ Sunday Edition

It is amazing what people think of themselves and of their circumstances. Often, however, what may feel like a tremendous cross to bear, or an embarrassment that you don’t want to let anyone know about, really isn’t that bad at all. When you finally speak about it, people find inspiration from it and you no longer feel trapped. Instead, you feel freed. This is an experience I know all too well. Mr. Dave Tate asked me to share this with everyone, as it’s my story about living, learning, and passing on.


For those who know me or have met me, it is no secret that I have a large red birthmark on my face. Its prominence makes me stick out of a crowd and easily remembered. What might be a surprise, though, is that my mother and I were both beaten by my father because of it—me for being a deformed child, and my mom for giving birth to one. The beatings, however, didn’t stop at home. I was also picked on for being different at school. (Kids are cruel as we all know too well). Therefore, my mom and I got out of there and went to live with her parents. Yet, even though I was no longer receiving beatings from my father, this still didn't fix the fact that I was getting picked on at school.

But then it happened. In 1991, I saw two things that would change the course of my life forever: I watched a program on TV about football players lifting weights in order to get bigger and stronger for football, and I saw the movie Rocky IV. Those two things set me on the path that has led me to where I am today. At that moment, I decided to start lifting weights. I thought that if I too got bigger and stronger, then maybe I’d not only be better at football, but people might also quit making fun of me. My birthday present that summer was a DP Challenger 110-pound starter set, and I did the accompanying workout every other day for the entire summer.

By the time school rolled around, I had gotten a lot bigger and stronger (for as strong as you can get with 110 pounds at that age), and remarkably, no one made fun of me anymore. I was no longer known as "the kid with the red birthmark on his face." Instead, I became known as "the strongest kid in school." In turn, the Rocky IV movie started me down the path of sports science (Ivan Drago was a bad ass in that movie).

Eventually, I found powerlifting and was given focus to my lifting. A guy named Jim Duree from Kansas City took me under his wing and gave me direction. He also stood in as a father figure of sorts. I went to lift with him once a month or so (he was two and a half hours away), and I did whatever he told me to do in order to get stronger. He became the one to teach me not only about powerlifting, but also how to believe in myself as well. To say that I was of low self-esteem would be an understatement back then.  Jim helped me to use weights as a vehicle to instill the self-confidence and self-worth that would allow me to excel.

Unfortunately, there was a period of time when I was simultaneously dealing with the terminal illnesses of both my father and my uncle (due to cancer) and of my mother having a tumor. However, I truly feel that if it weren’t for powerlifting and Jim giving me an anchor, the wheels would have fallen off.

Now, although I am a Division One strength coach and professor, I know that I do things differently than many. While I love the science side of it, I know that there are bigger things out there. That's why I use weights as a vehicle to help the athletes win at life. Each day I try to talk about something, teach something, and help them not only get better in the weight room and at the sport, but also in life. At a banquet, one of my athletes got up in front of the team and thanked me. He told me that what I did had helped the team not only on the field, but also in the class room and when dealing with other life situations. I am not going to lie, I teared up a bit. In turn, I also had an athlete who was very talented, but he just lacked that last little bit to get over the edge. I was helping out with his team, and his strength coach and I went and talked to the head sports coach about letting him lift with us instead of lifting with the team (which is something that I think is very important for team unity).

Away from the rest of the team, he lifted with us and we talked between sets. We disguised lessons and sports psychology as lifting technique and learning to grind. All of this was done during the off-season, and he became better and better. In fact, he became so much better that he ended up winning a championship the following year. (And I got thrown out of the bar when he did for celebrating so loudly). However, I was awakened that night by a text message saying, “Coach, thanks for what you did. Every time I was getting ready to compete, I thought about what you were saying in the weight room. I know that if it weren’t for what you did for me, I’d never have been able to do it. Thank you.”

I try to pay things forward in information to the field, but I try to pay it forward with lessons to those who I can reach. I lived it, I learned from it, and now I pass the lessons on to the next person. This is why I do what I do, and it is why I will continue to do so. I now have a cush job being a college professor. It’s possible to only work 30 hours a week, live comfortably, and have no stress. However, I choose not to go down this route. I choose to still coach. I do what I do because I want to help people. I want to win kids with weights, not win sports with kids.

Coach Nic Bronkall on the field.

I feel that I was truly blessed—I had people in my life who cared about me greatly. When we left my father, I was fortunate enough to have grandparents who looked after me while my mom went back to school and worked a full-time job in order to make a better life for both of us. My grandparents were saints. They sacrificed many of the joys of retirement to make sure that their schedules worked around my schooling, practice, sporting events, and making sure that I had what I needed to succeed in life. If it were not for the people in my life, such as my grandparents, mother, and Jim Duree, I am sure that I would have fallen flat on my face and been another statistic.

My favorite quote of all time comes from Isaac Newton who said, “If I have seen farther than other men, it is only because I stood upon the shoulders of giants.” My goal is not to be the one seeing the farthest, my goal is to be the one holding them up. And then they will do it for the next batch.

I want to wrap this up with more from the lens example. Everything is how you look at it—nothing is as it seems to be. Many people have burdens they carry with them, and they can either use those burdens as a platform to reach and help others, or they can succumb to its weight. Some of the most inspirational stories I have ever heard have come from the addict who overcame his addiction, the person who rose above poverty and refused to be held down by its chains, or the criminal who used his experience to improve law enforcement. Many people have taken the heavy burden that they’ve carried, set it down, and used it as a platform to lift others up.

Some things feel so personal and so painful that we can’t bear to open up about it. The emotions overtake the person and he begins to cry—to the point where he can’t speak and he feels like he will lose control. This loss of control is very scary to many people, but if they can get past it—past the pain and past the fear, then the burden is gone. There’s an old saying, "what is one man’s trash is another man’s treasure."  Well, what is one person’s burden can be another person’s inspiration.

Societies grow great when old men plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit. If you can inspire someone else, or help someone who is going through a similar situation, your pain was not in vain. It’s an example that others can follow and use to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. There is a chance for a better tomorrow. Take the time to hoist someone up on your shoulders, and let them see further than what they thought they could.

Be someone’s giant.

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