I think at this point in my career, I’m past a lot of the inspirational shit. I can only watch C.T. Fletcher videos and dudes yelling for about 30 seconds and I’m done. I mean, I get it. I was 22 once too. Dudes yelling at bars meant a lot to me, I guess because I believed it then.
I’m pushing into my 19th year of competition and I’ve watched a lot bad motherfuckers with more genetic talent leave the sport early for whatever reason. I guess that’s why I have trouble being inspired by lifters. I don’t think I compete or coach anymore because something inspires me. At this point, I really don’t know anything else but powerlifting. When I was 16 my dad sat me down and asked me if I had a plan for my life. I said, "Yeah, I want to go to Columbus, Ohio, break the powerlifting world record, and come back and teach people how to do that." He goes, "Who the hell wants to do that?" And he was absolutely, 100% right. That was the single most important conversation of my life. I’ve had a thousand more conversations just like it through my life.
Mother’s Day, 2010. I’m lying in a hospital bed at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. My girlfriend is next to me crying. My mother and father have just come in and said their piece about how they knew this would happen. All I want is for everyone to get to get the fuck out of my room so I can think. I want to scream but my mouth is frozen. I can’t see out of my right eye. My whole right side is frozen. I just had a massive stroke. At first I can’t believe it. I might be the best lifter on the planet. I’ve broken the 242-pound weight class world record seven times now. I just hit an 875 two-board the day before.
The doctor comes in, a tall skinny guy in a tie. I immediately don’t like him. He tells me that I have a 70% of chance of having another stroke and that it will probably kill me. Good. I make a will and do last rights and that bullshit, then I wait. I spend the next 24 hours hooked up to a bunch of machines. The fucking beeping is driving me crazy as I try to watch a Criminal Minds marathon. Two of my friends are in chairs staring at me so I throw them out. My girlfriend won’t stop crying so I ask her to leave as well. Then I’m all alone and the fear kicks in. Was all that work for nothing? I have 30 dollars in my bank account and I’m either going to be dead or permanently retarded for the rest of my life. Of course when the doctor sits down, it’s powerlifting that was the main cause.
I believed him, or was just sick of hearing that shit, so I stopped and I watched everything around me unravel.
The question I was asked is "what inspires you?" After I left powerlifting, my life went to complete shit. I moved constantly and searched for something to fill this giant gaping hole. I worked endless hours at bullshit jobs. I did lame-ass bodybuilding style workouts. I searched and searched and searched. What I found is that passion can’t be replaced. I guess it’s not inspiration that fuels me anymore; it’s this idea that I will not ever let the last 20 years of my life be a waste.
I will not let all those long drives out to shitty gyms to compete as a kid be a waste; those nights in Ohio living in my car, dreaming about getting on the board at Westside be for nothing. The world records, the surgeries, the comebacks, the nights alone in motels, the tears, the blood, and everything in between needs to have a purpose. I want to leave this world with a middle finger up to every teacher, boss, ex-girlfriend and family member that said I was wasting my time. I managed to crawl out from hell and make it to the top of the raw game. I want my knowledge to get passed on at seminars put on by Swede and myself. Take the good and the bad and keep progressing as a lifter and coach.
So, what inspires me isn’t a person or even an idea. It's teaching and passing on all the knowledge I’ve built through two generations of being at the top level in this sport. I’ve realized that something is missing in this Instagram and shoe-obsessed generation of the sport. I’m asked a hundred times a day how to get sponsored and what type of shoe a lifter should wear. Something is being lost as we move down the levels of this sport.
I want people to understand that this a science that is continually evolving, and when you apply it to a long-term plan only then will you get good. I want people to understand that most of this information is from over 20 years ago, so pick up a fucking book and quit relying on YouTube as your main source of knowledge. I want more people to ask me about technical cues and less about what kind of knee sleeves I have on. I want people to understand that it’s going to take years on the platform to understand this sport and all that goes into being successful.
So, I guess what inspires me is wanting to inspire others through my knowledge and passion and help this sport keep getting bigger. My career as a lifter is finite but I can coach and teach until I’m 90 years old. I want to leave a legacy in this sport.
Greg Panora resides in Portland, Maine. He is a powerlifting coach out of CrossFit CacoBay, provides online coaching, and lectures around the country. His best totals include 2630 multi-ply, 2335 single-ply, 2102 raw (no wraps), and a 580-pound (bench only) bench press.