elitefts™ Sunday Edition

Most sports and great athletes have many things in common. The biggest of these is the mental challenge that sports bring and the ability of great athletes to rise to the occasion. This is one of the reasons why I have such respect for so many different types of sports and athletes.

As a sarcastic SHW powerlifter, I have and do make fun of many sports because it's just my sense of humor. Take triathletes for example. I think they have something seriously loose in their brains, but at the same time, I'm utterly amazed at what they can do. The reality is that I have a ton of respect for all athletes and love hearing their stories. In fact, I think you can learn many things from great athletes even if they don't compete in the same sport as you do. This is mostly due to the attitude and mental disposition that it takes for an athlete to become great no matter what the sport.

One of my favorite stories that I think all athletes can respect is about a cyclist called the Flying Scotsman. He was a cyclist from Scotland (hence Flying Scotsman) named Graeme Obree who twice, broke the one-hour cycling record. For me, I think his story is great because he was a true underdog. He suffered from some serious personal issues like being bipolar and was also a relative unknown in the world series when he first attempted the hour record. He wasn’t backed by big sponsors and a friend helped him raise enough money just to attempt it. Graeme also shows the great power of human mentality and attitude.

The one-hour record is basically a cycling record done in a velodrome where the goal is to ride as many kilometers as you can in an hour. Graeme had to book and pay for time in a velodrome in Norway in order to go for the record. He also designed and made by hand the bike that he rode (nicknamed Old Faithful). It was based around a new riding position he came up with that he felt would be more aerodynamic and efficient. He even used bearings from a washing machine because he felt that they would be better than standard bicycle ones. He later said that he regretted talking about this because people seemed to look down on his athletic abilities because of it. Graeme had said that the one-hour record fascinated him because it was one man against the clock.

On the day of his attempt at the record, Graeme rode hard but fell short of breaking the record. He had booked the track for 24 hours though and told the judges that he would be back to attempt it again the next morning. Of course, they all thought he was crazy and that there wasn't any way he could do it. That night, he drank huge amounts of water so that he would have to get up and urinate regularly. When he awoke, he stretched, did some light exercises, and drank more water. The first attempt had been hard on his body and he didn't want to tighten or seize up on the second attempt.

The next morning, he arrived at the velodrome and broke the world hour cycling record! Graeme has been quoted as saying that the difference was purely a mental state. On the first day, he was a mouse, and on the second day, he was a lion. He had beat the world record on his second attempt on a bicycle that he had made using a riding position that he had thought of. This was an amazing feat done by an amazing athlete who knew how to use his brain just as much as his brawn.

By breaking the record in the fashion that he did, Graeme gave a firsthand display of how important mental state is for an athlete. I think this is so important in all sports and I think you will find similar mental toughness in all great athletes. That being said, in terms of powerlifting, especially multi-ply powerlifting, mental toughness is huge. It is the difference between getting huge PR lifts and missing them. I've seen so many lifters fail at weights that they should've had because they didn't have the mental toughness or attitude. I've also seen lifters lift more than they are capable of because something deep in their brains makes them believe that they can do it. You have to believe in yourself and believe you can do what you want to do. You have to push all negativity away and surround yourself with only positivity. It should never be, “I would like to do this or I hope to do this.” It should be, “I'm going to do this.” The brain is the strongest muscle in the body because it controls your body. It can make the body fail or succeed.

Something else I find interesting about this story is what Graeme said about the washing machine parts on his bike and people thinking less of his athletic ability. I think it's crazy that anyone would think less of his ability. Just like mental toughness is part of being an athlete, so is optimizing everything about your sport. No one bags on a home run hitter or golfer for being a swing technician. No one complains about golf club or tennis racquet advancements. A bicycle is part of a cyclist's equipment. He had the brains and guts to try something new. From what I've read and heard, his riding position was very advantageous in many ways, but extremely painful as well. In my eyes, this makes him even tougher and stronger because he had to deal with pain in his attempt at the world record—this demonstrates how much he wanted it.

You can still see riders today using cues from the riding styles that Graeme came up with. A great athlete isn't just a physical machine. A great athlete uses all his attributes to get the best performance that he can. This includes physical training, mental training, optimizing technique, and making the most out of the available equipment.

In my eyes, Graeme Obree is an amazing athlete who we can all learn something from. He was an underdog who wouldn't quit fighting and overcame plenty of personal issues. He was an innovator in his sport and had the heart to do it his own way without fear. He had legendary mental toughness and the ability to push himself past barriers and where people thought he could go. I only wonder what could have been had Graeme found powerlifting instead of cycling as a child.