Friday, June 29, 2007

Sara Meeks: Physical Therapist and Masters Weightlifting Champion

I've not met her personally yet, but Sara Meeks is one person I'd like to sit down with for a while and talk resistance training, weightlifting and bone health. Sara is considered an expert in the treatment of osteopenia and osteoporosis. She is also a mulitple-time US National Masters Champion in weightlifting.

If Sara thinks occasionally training with the barbell is beneficial for herself, then why not any woman?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Wednesday Fun



Something to spice up your Wednesday and your next workout. And if you are blocked from YouTube, go here for a higher quality version. Right click on the player for full screen. It's fun!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

University of Chicago Maroons: The C-Blanket

The U of C has a rich history and tradition in collegiate athletics. Amos Alonzo Stagg was big into comporting yourself with dignity, recognizing personal integrity and excellence on and off the field. (See two neat videos of him here and here.) He and his counterpart at Chicago, Gertrude Dudley, founded the Order of the C and the Women's Athletic Association (WAA) at Chicago in 1904. These organizations are run by and recognize the men and women who participate in athletics at Chicago.

Stagg is credited with awarding the first varsity letters to athletes in this country in 1906. Both the Order of the C and the WAA continue in these traditions begun so long ago. As a four year letter winner, I received the following (in order):

Letter sweater (v-neck, somewhere in storage)
Letter jacket
Watch (lost)
C-Blanket

I will have to say that my C-Blanket is one of my most prized possessions. Both the Order of the C and the WAA present athletes with this award in the same way. All four-year letter winners are asked to come before an audience at the year-end ceremony, and your coach places your blanket around your shoulders. It is a really nice ceremony.

Here is an example of male athletes receiving their blankets many years ago. Note they are standing on a 'C' in the field and that there are stars on the blankets. Every sport has a specific color star. Captains have a special star. Each athlete also has his name embroidered on the corner:





Here is a modern-era C-blanket. The black star denotes captain. Green is for volleyball. Silver is track & field. They used to just put one star per sport, but now they put on a star for every year lettered.





I wonder when Wisconsin started their letter and blanket traditions? How many others out there have similar traditions at your alma mater?

Bucky Badger Wear

Varsity letter winners at the University of Wisconsin received the following awards (at least from 1979-1983):

Letter Sweater (one year): Never worn--way too "Richie Cunningham" for 1980. Not cool at the time. Name embroidered inside. The W is white and crisp. The AD is going to wear this to school sometime this year!



Letter Jacket (two years): Very cool to wear (football dudes wore 'em) and very functional in Madison, WI.



Letter Blanket (three years): Just a very cool wool blankie.



Ring (four years): Nice, but isn't as cool as the big W stuff, IMHO. Boring pic.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Back in the Day: Super Cool Athlete Outerwear

Muchas gracias to my wonderful husband for spearheading a "get our shit together" week of organizing things--yard, closets, basement, finances--so cathartic! In the midst of our organization, we came across these classics. Thought I'd share them with you in a few posts.

First, we have Kevin's Eau Claire, WI YMCA team jacket. Speedo brand, probably purchased between 1971-2; worn 7th through 9th grade:







Next, we have my high school letter jacket and my basketball team jacket. If I'm able to go to my 20th high school reunion in July, I'm wearing that bright orange sucker! Go Lady Tigers!





Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Work is Finally Paying Off

That was Ryan's comment yesterday after a very nice squat clean from the high hang position.

Ryan is a 16 y.o. swimmer/water polo dude who wants to learn how to snatch and clean & jerk. He's got some good basic strength and size (around 185 lbs or so), but he's not gifted with natural explosive speed or hip and ankle mobility. He's also really busy--6 am swim practice every morning, followed by tutoring service hours and then marching band drum line, most days of the week this summer. It is hard to find an hour or two, between all that and the evening swim meets.

Right now our focus is on these things:
  1. building lower extremity mobility and strength off the floor with hex bar DL's (rather than back squats)
  2. building lower extremity mobility, torso stability and a solid receiving position through front squats
  3. building lower extremity mobility, shoulder stability, torso stability and a solid receiving position with overhead squats & snatch balances
  4. creating a new motor pattern that is comfortable with the full squat snatch and clean, with light weight, from primarily the high hang/block position with occasional attempts from the floor
He is finally learning to sense when he does not keep a strong neutral spine position off the floor. His ankle and hamstring mobility is coming along nicely, although he still struggles a bit in the bottom position of the snatch. His shoulders have to compensate for his lack of ankle dorsiflexion--the torso is inclined too far forward. It's not that he can't get in the right position; his body automatically defaults to his old position (less ankle dorsiflexion/knees behind the toes) when he does a full snatch, but not in OHSs or snatch balances. We'll get there.

I'm taking a whole-part-whole approach, as we tease out the bad habits of arm-pulling and hips shooting up on lift off. The weights are light; we are completely rebuilding his squat motor pattern from square one. In a few weeks, we'll venture into the challengine world of low hang/block work to really work on the transition of the knees back under the bar. But right now Ryan doesn't have the hip mobility or torso control to start any lift in that position, so we focus on other points.

Ryan is great to work with. It is fun to watch him progress and patiently allow me to teach his body to be adaptable to the demands of the sport of weightlifting.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Team (?) USA Struggles at Jr. World Championships

USA Weightlifting sent 5 athletes (4 men, 1 woman) to the Junior (20 and under) World Championships this past week in Prague, CZ. We did not send full teams; the thought was to send only those athletes who had the best chance of placing high. So, the qualifying totals were set high and only those who made 100% of that total were allowed to go.

Well, 2 of the 5 athletes "bombed" out of the competition; that means they failed to make one snatch or one clean and jerk. Another athlete totaled 20 kg under the qualifying total he made at the Jr. Nationals in March. Another athlete totaled 15 kg less than she made at the American Open Championships in December. The final athlete to compete, Cameron Swart (105+ kg), finished 5th, making a PR clean and jerk (187 kg) and total (337 kg). He was the only athlete to meet or better the qualifying total. Out of a possible 30 attempts, "Team USA" made only 7 lifts.

The most troubling part of this story happened a few months ago. The US Nationals were held May 11-13. Normally, USAW forbids athletes who are scheduled to compete internationally from competing in an event 30 days prior to the international event. However, the BOD decided to waive that rule this time around; I'm not sure exactly why but it probably had something to do with the fact that by not competing at Nationals, these athletes would NOT be eligible to qualify for the Senior World Championships or the elite athlete stipend ($500 per month).

Why did they not just allow these athletes to use their Jr. World total for these things instead of dangling a possibly devastating and confusing carrot in front of them? Money? Jr Worlds? Senior Worlds? What the hell is more important?

Three athletes chose to lift at Nationals. One hit a lifetime PR and qualified for the Senior Worlds and I guess qualified for the stipend. Excellent work. But, it also put him in the physically challenging situation of attempting to peak THREE times within a 16 week period. He peaked at the first two and evidently did not attempt to peak for the Jr Worlds, making only 2 lifts, 23 kg below his total at Nationals, finishing 16/27. A statement by USAW president Dennis Sneathen on the GoHeavy forum confirmed that this athlete was not training to peak in Prague; he was now focusing on his first Senior Worlds in September.

The other two athletes who lifted at Nationals bombed at the Jr. Worlds.

Now, there are always circumstances that can lead to sub-optimal performances on international trips: food issues, fatigue, injury, torn callous, etc. Maybe the athlete/coach picks opening attempts that are a bit too high. Athletes get international jitters. These are all learning experiences that can be beneficial to athletes who are looking to the long term. And all of these kids are capable of representing the US at the highest level in the long term. But did we really do these athletes a favor by letting/forcing them to compete at Nationals? Did we put them in a position to be successful in Prague? Does anyone care? Who's business is it to care?

And then why send an athlete who is knowingly just going to train through a Jr. World Championship? Valuable experience? Maybe. He's been to two other Jr. Worlds and the implication by the executive director of USAW in his report prior to the Jr. Worlds, was that this athlete was at his strongest and he was looking to improve upon his previous finishes. Should anyone have had high performance expectations for this event? His personal coach obviously thought otherwise. What gives? Might be nice for everyone to be on the same page. Then again, maybe it is none of our business.

Are there any expectations by USAW or the USOC of these junior athletes? Should there be? Is Team USA Weightlifting simply a group of individual coaches and athletes with their own performance goals? If so, and we are sending people to give individual athletes the experience, why not send full teams, so more of our best can also get that experience? Any coach knows, you have to compete against the best to learn how to beat the best.

The Russians, the Chinese and the Columbians were obviously not training through the Jr. Worlds. And I'm pretty sure they would scoff at the idea of any junior athlete not working toward putting as many Jr. World Championship medals or high finishes into their developmental experience as possible.

By the way, Cameron Swart, the only athlete to PR and achieve 5th place, did not lift at Nationals. He trained to peak at the Jr Worlds and that's what he did. In his coach's garage. Yep. 5th place at the Jr. Worlds and he trains in Tim Sword's garage in Houston, TX.

Joint Health and General Physical Wellness

I think I've mentioned my musculoskeletal wellness dream world before, right? It is a land where health insurance covers the following:
  • Dental health (dentist) check up every 6 months
  • Nutrition/diet health (dietician) check up every 6 months
  • Musculoskeletal health (physical therapist) check up every 6 months
Teach and remind people how to floss, what good food choices are, how to move well with exercise, etc. and they can hopefully keep their bodies as healthy as possible.

I did a little check up on my 75 y.o. mother-in-law this week. She walks and swims for her exercise, but her L hip has been a bit painful, especially early in the morning, when she walks with my father-in-law. Ended up doing a few gentle distractions and posterior glides; taught her a pretty nice little home exercise program (HEP) that included supine and standing hip mobility work, sit-to-stand, single leg stance, yellow band side steps/monster walks and side step ups. We also did some fun balance work with the agility ladder, and experimented with the weighted vest. I think we'll get her a 15 lb. vest and see if we can't get her off the Fosomax she's been on over 5 years for low-grade osteopenia.

The next morning, after a fabulous evening of dinner and drinks celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary, she reported a significant decrease in her hip discomfort (from 8/10 to 1/10) with the morning walk. And I'm pretty sure the numbing effects of the wine and gourmet hot chocolate with Bailey's from the night before had worn off.

This morning she's still very happy, without any joint discomfort. Now, you can all imagine what happens with most 75 y.o. women who go to their general MD with hip discomfort; they get x-rays, some meds and are sent to an orthopedic surgeon who then may or may not suggest a hip replacement if the problem is severe enough. These are the people who usually only get to see a physical therapist AFTER a hip replacement, not before. They are not usually sent to a person who can do a thorough (or even basic) musculoskeletal evaluation and instruct them in a weight-bearing exercise program that addresses balance, bone/joint health, stability and safety.

Unfortunately, most people in her situation get trapped in the merry-go-round of doctor visits, tests, meds, doctors visits, more meds, more tests, chronic pain, surgery, more meds, less function, more meds, less function, and so on and so on.

If only our health care system really valued education and practitioner-patient interaction that didn't involve fancy, expensive technology. And state laws allowed, physicians supported and insurance companies paid for direct access to physical therapists for physical wellness.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Wave the flag for Old Chicago


Had a great time this weekend in Hyde Park. Saw many old friends and colleagues. Swam in the Myers-McLoraine pool and got in a workout in the Bernard Del Giorno Fitness Center. The Ratner Athletics Center is just outstanding. The building is filled with images and trappings of the history of physical education and athletics at the University. Jay Berwanger's Heisman Trophy now has a proper home. Makes me so proud to know I also earned that C blanket.

Got in a little schmooze time--with Bernie and Gerry Ratner--at the University Club during the Order of the C reception. Hit the Medici and Salonica. Stopped in to salute Hanna Gray in all her glory in Hutch Commons.

This little postcard goes out to all of our Chicago friends, with special thanks to Rosie and Brian. Thank you for taking great care of us this weekend. We miss you, your wisdom, intellect, mentoring and humor. You remind us that coaching is a noble endeavor, and that brains, athletic skill and personal integrity are not mutally exclusive traits.

And for the rest of you U of C geeks, Hyde Park is still very much Hyde Park; but the University is physically growing by leaps and bounds. It was great to observe the beginning of convocation for The College--although it doesn't seem quite as formal being outside. It is still wonderful; every undergraduate has her/his name read and shakes the President's hand. It is a fabulous rite of passage for all who make it. And with the anonymous 100 million dollar gift last week, more special young people will be able to experience a Chicago education.

Nice to know the life of the mind now has a much better place to take care of the life of the body. The U of C gets DIII athletics, and its place within an academic institution, right. Chicago athletes go on to do great things in life, whether it is join Teach for America or clerk for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, like Chicago All-American baseball player Mark Mosier (A.B '97, J.D. '04) is currently doing. I wonder how Kim Ng (A.B. '90, softball infielder) is doing as assistant GM of the Dodgers?

Amos Alonzo Stagg and Gertrude Dudley would approve.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Dear Tracy...

"Thank you for your application concerning the Assistant Resident Coach position at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO. Another candidate was chosen for this position based on his experience and skills."

Well, there it is in black and white. Finally--after almost 4 months.

This was a very interesting adventure. I was encouraged to apply by a few key people and so I did, knowing I was a long-shot for these reasons:
  • I barely meet the Senior Coach criteria (athlete production).
  • I do not have any strong connections (BOD members as mentors) to really argue my case.
  • I am a female in a male-dominated sport.
I DO NOT make the last two points not out of any resentment; in the real world we all know it is "who you know" that often makes the difference in getting a job. Outsiders, for whatever reason, aren't often let in to small groups or organizations.

But that's fine. On the other hand, I
  • have tremendous academic background in kinesiology/biomechanics (two master's degrees).
  • have experience coaching (albeit mostly in other sports) young people at the high school and collegiate level.
  • know how to educate an athlete/patient in changing/learning new motor patterns.
  • know how to use the latest technology to review and analyze athletic movement.
  • am passionate about using the technology to help other coaches do what they need to do and I'm pretty damn good at it.
Yes, it would be a progressive leap for some organizations to take in someone who has a very different skill set; one that compliments the current staff and maybe expands their horizons, versus duplicate it. But the job also had elements of contributing to the development of coaching education materials and I thought my skills would really be desired here. Thus, the title of "assistant" and my hopeful interpretation of it. But no go. They wanted the nitty-gritty weightlifting coach-like person. I'm sure this individual will do a great job at the OTC.

Maybe I did not argue my unique case strong enough during the interview. I am not very good at tooting my own horn.

I was advised by several well respected international-level coaches/friends to not bother to apply. Who, with your skills and experience, would want to live in a dorm, eat dorm food, supervise a group of sometimes challenging junior athletes and be paid less than $20,000 a year--all away from your home and spouse? Well, I seriously considered it a chance to contribute to the sport, expand my horizons and learn as much as I could about weightlifting, and try to make a difference for some really talented athletes who are going for it all. Others saw it as indentured servitude with elements of babysitting.

And now finally I can move on. Who knows what opportunities will arise because I did not get the position? There's lots of stuff to do. I've been invited to work with Stephanie Ciarelli at the 17 and under girls camp at the OTC in July. I have worked with several coaches and athlete's from a distance--several '07 PanAm/World Team members/National Champions and one Jr World Team member--and hopefully can continue to give them what they need to improve. I'm meeting with my 16 y.o. newbie tomorrow to continue his training for the summer. And finally, we WILL get my friend El snatching even more so she can kick butt at the Pan Am Masters in July!

Kevin and I have our flights to Beijing next August and have put in our requests for tickets. We'll be there cheering on the Team USA weightlifters who compete, and making it the adventure of a lifetime.

It is my hope that USA Weightlifting does more to mentor and support the few female coaches that are in it. Stephanie Ciarelli is the first woman to be appointed as the women's National Junior Squad Coach (an unpaid position, appointed this year). Anna Martin is currently working with the athletes at Northern Michigan University in the program there. Give these women coaching and learning opportunities; they will not disappoint.

Friday, June 01, 2007

What should Mr. Speaker do...

...for knowingly exposing people (six plane flights in two weeks!) to his particular strain of TB?

I say we sentence the personal injury attorney to a lifetime service as a public defender in an urban or rural setting of our choice (once his TB is cured or he is no longer contagious), at the current federally mandated minimum wage of $5.15 per hour.

He "hopes people forgive him" for possibly exposing them, unknowingly, to a potentially fatal disease? Mr. Speaker, I hope your conscience, if you have one, haunts you for as long a the potential for TB haunts every person you came into contact with.

But Robin, commenting on the WSJ law blog says:

Why so delicate? Andrew is an Anapolis drop-out (or kicked out), at least he finished his undergrad elsewhere, who works for Dad - a politically connected Atlanta attorney.

If he had been anything but a well-connected Atlanta mucky-much…they would have shot him on the tarmak.

Comment by Robin - May 31, 2007 at 2:59 pm

And his father-in-law works for the CDC studying TB? Truth is truly stranger than fiction.

USA Lifting Magazine Article


For those of you interested in the sport of weightlifting, please check out the latest issue of USA Lifting Magazine. Click on the May 31, 2007 issue to find some very interesting articles, including one by me. I put together (on a whim the other morning) an informal discussion of the snatch velocities and trajectories of two US athletes, Cheryl Haworth and Norik Vardanian.

The magazine is entirely developed by volunteers, in an effort to create informative and instructional content--content that many feel USA Weightlifting should be providing to it's members, but is not. FYI, you can finally access the first online versions of Weightlifting USA, the NGB's quarterly, official magazine here. (Warning, the link is directly to a fairly large PDF file, so it may take a while to load.)

Joe Prusacki, the developer of the Weightlifting On-Line Magazine website, actually does the dirty work of putting the text and images together. The majority of the photos are provided by Bruce Klemens, weightlifting photographer extrordinare. You can order photos and see some of his classics here. Marty Schnorf, a generous coach from Charleston, IL coordinates the compilation of results and articles, as well as provides the Iron Grapevine commentary and overviews of big competitions.

The community of weightlifting in the US is VERY small and we all know or know of each other. So if my writing seems a bit informal, it is because it is going out to the many people I know and exchange ideas/comments with through the GoHeavy forum. GoHeavy can be a wacky place at times, but if you ever want to find someone in weightlifting or ask a question, you can ususally get that information by posting on GoHeavy.