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Erick recounts his walk to his first lift at the Arnold Classic.

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It is the USA weightlifting Arnold Weightlifting Championship. The men’s 94kg  session. Most people that are here have been competing for years. Me, less than a year. I am by far the most inexperienced one here. However, that doesn’t matter. I am here to make my mark on weightlifting.

The bar is set. The announcer calls your name and the attempt. “Erick Huertas, with an eighty three kilo opener.”JP Nicoletta, a veteran lifter exclaims. There is only 10 steps between you and that bar. In this attempt goes a year  of training, seven months of preparation. A weight cut of four kilos, which includes extreme water and dieting. Constant emotional ups and downs, all coming down to the next few seconds. One minute on the clock.

First step. I arise from the chair, take the first step with my left foot and begin walking towards the platform. The first thing that comes to mind is technique. Steady start, back straight chest up. Slow first pull, speedy second, quick turnover. Catch reception, stand up, lock out, white lights. It sounds simple, but it never is. The snatch is the most technical movement in weightlifting, also my weakest point. Whatever my deficit is, I can make up for it in the clean and jerk. Step two, right foot. White lights, three little lights that will make or break you. Three human beings that control the colors, white or red. With the lift entirely in their hands, this meet, my pursuit of nationals, trials, Olympics. Sometimes the judges will give you some leeway, but not today. There are three international judges heading the table today. Even the slightest violation in technique will get red lights.

Third step. Left foot. I take a deep breath, remember why I’m here, why I started. My Marines, my fellow Sailors. I breath out and look around the crowd staring at me. My singlet, black and red, my green uniform shirt with a red cross on the front. There’s very few service members in this sport, especially ones that may make it to the Olympics. The ultimate goal could be twelve years away, but I’m still focused.  Fourth step. I stop. My coach gives me last words of encouragement, “This is easy weight Erick, you can hit this eight days a week. Stay tight and remember your extension.” This is what I need to stay successful in the lift. Good extension. He slaps my shoulders for one last warm-up and shouts in my ear. It is time to continue my journey to the bar.

Fifth step. One step away from the chalk bucket, halfway to the bar. The nerves start surging through again. Weightlifting isn’t a sport of emotion, save that for after the lift. That’s why some people aren’t here, too much emotion. This is all strength and technique, that is what makes or breaks you. We’ve all seen lifters of the highest caliber bomb out because of emotion. Today, right now, that is not me. Six for six, a perfect meet. Something that even the best of the best struggle to do at any given time. That is my only goal, not to place, to have a perfect meet and qualify for nationals.

Sixth. I am at the chalk bucket. I insert my hand into the bucket and close my eyes. I take a large breath in through my nose and hold it. Strong pull, tight hang, quick turnover, reception, stand, easy lift. I breathe out and look at the clock, 43 seconds left to make my attempt, plenty of time. I glide the chalk around my hands and around my taped thumbs and fingers so I can hold on to the bar. I start to block everything out, the other lifters are gone, the announcer is gone, my coach is gone. I put my shoes into the rosin well under the bucket to ensure I don’t slip. I check my wrist wraps to make sure they are tight. I adjust my knee sleeves one last time. I look in front of me at the twelve foot by twelve foot platform. In a beautiful hardwood finish it says,  “Rogue.” I clear my head once again. It is time. I turn around and continue to the last few moments of my journey.

Seventh and eighth. I am at the platform, my next two steps will put me at the bar. I close my eyes take a deep breath in with my nose, Strong pull, tight hang, quick turnover, reception, stand, easy lift. As I exhale I let out a large shout to remove any tension there may be. Most lifters do this to get hyped up before attempts. I continue eliminating everything. The loaders of the bar, gone. The judges and jury, gone. It is time for me to make my final approach, a buzzer sounds, I look up,  twenty nine seconds.

Ninth and tenth. I have arrived at my destination. It has only been slightly more than half a minute, but it has been an eternity. The spotlights shine in my face, I eliminate the crowd. Outside the platform, blackness. The only sound is that of my breathing, everything else is gone. It is just me and the barbell. I breathe in and close my eyes. I roll my shoulders back and breathe out. I reach down to get my Snatch grip. my right hand surpasses the ring on the knurl, I fold my thumb behind the barbell and wrap my chalky fingers around it. I pull several times to make sure I have a solid grip. I scale the barbell with my left hand and get into the same position. My hips shoot up as I get one last stretch of my hamstrings. After a brief moment, I bring my hips back down. I look at the clock, fifteen seconds. I look to double check everything. I roll my shoulders back and puff my chest up, I sink lower into my hips, I grasp tighter on the bar. My core is tight, as is the rest of my body. In the position to the point where it is difficult for me not to lift. I want to explode upwards, I want to lift now. I breathe again and try to be patient.

This is it, my first attempt, all the blood sweat and tears go into this moment. This also sets the tone of the meet. I could miss all three attempts and be out, I could hit all three. I could miss all my clean and jerks and not post a total. I could bomb out on my first big meet. I breathe again erasing all negative thought. Easy weight, easy. Strong pull, tight hang, quick turnover, reception, stand easy lift. I get tight one last time, my head gets into a neutral position and my tongue sticks out. I am ready. I hold in the position to stay tight and to not over-zealously pull. I stay still as if somebody is trying to take a picture of my starting position. Five seconds, Easy weight. Four, strong pull. Three, this is why I’m here. Two. One. Lift.