Friday was a sunny day, but not oppressively hot. Unloading all of the equipment from Gene's trailer did make me sweat, though — me and everyone else helping, which was a crew made up of mostly Keyhole Barbell lifters, but also a couple of rag-tag groups of 5thSetters from Illinois and Maine. One of their names you might know: Greg Panora. He insisted on helping, even though he hadn't slept after the drive in.

I never mind physical labor. It makes me feel alive and distracts me from the thoughts and feelings stillness brings. We worked and unloaded everything, piece by piece, out of the trailer and up onto the loading dock of Tedesco's Body Shop. Three monolifts and as many competition benches, deadlift platforms, countless bars, tables, and all sorts of staging equipment. That was the facility I booked for the inaugural 5thSet Black Meet. The gym's employees were very helpful as well. I say inaugural because this would be the first time it has held that title, though last year, just a short drive from where we worked, there was a similar event on the same weekend, just as full of my lifters. This time it was officially my meet. The first of many, I hoped. But would a rose by another name smell as sweet? Time would tell.

 RECENT: Training Terminology

We loaded all of the equipment into the building during the afternoon, but had to keep it to one side of the large open floor plan so classes could be run until 8 PM. At that time we returned and finished with the setup. We were out of there by 11, with everything ready to go for the morning but with only eight hours left before we needed to be back.

image1 (18)

And back we were. Bright and early, I pulled into the parking lot in the morning with some of my helpers who traveled from out of town and stayed the night at Keyhole. From the second I stepped out of my car, people were hitting me with questions and I did my best to get everyone squared away. Luckily, I have a solid system for coaching at meets. With my formulas for attempt selection, third attempts are multiple choice and the rest is autopilot. It's hard for someone inexperienced to mess things up and, for me, next to impossible. Aside from one of my lifters, Levi Cater, who competed a few weeks prior and just didn't want to miss the meet, everyone PR'd. Most of them on every lift.

A post shared by Sin Leung (@sinjatakespics) on

Like my heart, Sin Leung, who even after losing another potential 30 pounds towards her total with her very easy third attempt deadlift being red lighted on a technicality, was still able to PR about 70 pounds above her best raw total. It was her first meet in wraps. She totaled 1005. We will take that. Chicago 5thSetter Sandy Jiries started the day with a 72-pound squat PR of 435 and looked like she was on track for an easy 1100-pound total after hitting a 16-pound bench PR of 230. Sadly, she tweaked a pre-existing back strain during warm-ups and had to settle for her opener, which was 47 pounds less than her current deadlift PR. This was all still good enough for a 47-pound total PR of 1050, and the rest is money in the bank for next time. Don Stemen managed to total an easy 1800 pounds his first time without wraps, coming dangerously close to his best-wrapped total and setting the bar nice and high for the next time the wraps come off. For bench and deadlift he broke current PRs, and of course, the squat was a PR, this being his first meet without wraps. My former intern-turned-Canadian-Keyhole-Barbell-nomad Aneta Wilga totaled 870, naked knees, for an unreal 90-pound PR. Michael George-Reichley PR'd his total by 35 pounds, too. Many other 5thSetters kicked ass and PR'd at the meet.

A post shared by Aneta Wilga (@awilga) on

I don't want this to turn into a list of numbers, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Will Richards put together his first 2000-pound total. My hat's off to him for that, and to Greg guiding his way with solid 5thSet coaching. I can't say enough how proud I am of Greg as a coach. I'm also very proud to say that, with the help of Gene, Ame, and RPS, the meet ran smoothly and my own people made sure every single lifter who stepped on that platform was safe in the hands of some of the strongest and most capable spotters anyone could hope for. Aside from a bit of confusion about a squatter wanting the mono cracked on his opener, I didn't see one screw up.

Which reminds me: As raw powerlifting has grown in popularity, the amount of freak talent that's come out of the woodwork has been mind-boggling. It's hard to keep up. I'm sure most of you reading this have heard of the young phenom Larry Wheels, but how many of you have heard the name Chris Weist?

Well, you will. At only 22 years old, he came through and smoked a 915-pound American record deadlift that had the entire building on its feet. This secured him a 2080-pound total. He upped the ante and went for 940, which was a near miss, but that will be there before long. I have zero doubt. Or how about Oran Smith, who bested our own Greg Panora (he should've slept instead of helping us unload) with a 610-pound raw bench press at just 28 years old? Keep an eye out for big numbers from him. He's already totaled over 2000, as well.

Like I said, the meet ran smoothly, so most people were out of there before dinner time. Those of us running the show, however, couldn't leave until everything was loaded back into the trailers for Gene to bring home. That added a couple of hours to the day. I was running on only a few hours sleep, hoping for a nap that never came. After eating dinner with everyone, I spent some time with Sin, Greg, and Will before getting on the road to Cincinnati for the Women's Pro Am the next morning. I drove all night just like last year, the chief difference being that it was actually me driving the car this year. My helper from the previous trip was decidedly unavailable, apparently on her honeymoon, having just married a one-eyed longshoreman, whom I must admit looks strikingly similar to a marginally younger (but not young) Sean Connery — like in that movie where he broke out of Alcatraz. Congrats and best wishes to them both.

Meet Report: Back-to-Back XPC Finals Super Heavyweight Champion

But don't cry for me, Argentina. Her hotter, more youthful replacement—Instagram meme queen and big-booty-heartthrob Kelsey Clifton—was waiting with open arms and my Dunkin' iced coffee in the parking lot at the end of my six-hour all-night cruise. This would be my 47th (I think) iced coffee in two days, and I'd taken enough modafinil to cause the skin to peel off of three large men, according to Google. The Pro Am was a blur, clearly.

(I was joking about the modafinil, but not the 47 coffees. I really drank those. Somehow I was still able to coach and actually make myself useful.)

Ellen Stein, the 5thSet matriarch, was lifting in the first flight. Luckily, my friend Jimmy Pacifico and his girlfriend Emily came out to help with wrapping, because I was not on my A game, to say the least, exhausted from sleeping only three hours in about as many days. Big thanks to them both. I was able to hold it together better than I expected, though, and I know she was grateful to have me there. Ellen went nine-for-nine, as usual, continuing the 15 or 20 meet streak of progress, carving out another seemingly impossible 10-pound total PR with 1035 pounds at 132— and she's 65 years old. Needless to say, she won her class and some of the money, which is never a terrible way to end the day.

Screenshot 2018-05-09 09.56.04

Jordan Buchla, another 5thSetter out of Hellbent Barbell in Connecticut, was all set for a performance I didn't want to miss. I love that whole crew and facility. Jordan is one of those lifters who are entirely incapable of hiding the joy on their face when locking out a lift. She was glowing for every lockout. It's really hard not to get behind someone like that. Long story short, she was able to add 130 pounds to her total in six months and still leave plenty on the platform.

My motivation here can be summed up in a single sentence: I love powerlifting. People stay up for days straight so they can pretend to be homeless at Coachella; of course, I'm willing to do that and more for the sport and people I love. I wouldn't miss this shit for the world. An incalculable number of "lifters" have come along and professed their commitment and undying love for this thankless sport in the time I've been a part of it. The vast majority of those people don't even lift anymore. I'm still here.

I've still never had it so good.