When I saw that there was a Kettlebell Sport competition being planned for the Arnold Schwarzenegger Sports Festival, in Columbus, Ohio, known simply as ‘The Arnold,’ the week after the All Ireland’s I thought to myself, “Ill have all the training done, what if I did well in that competition, would there be a chance that I’d meet my boyhood hero too?’
The truth is I’ve always had a soft spot for Arnold Schwarzenegger, he’s a real man’s man. He’s likeable, macho, smokes cigars, is a shrewd business man, and makes action movies where you believe he can beat the bejaysus out of anyone that crosses his path. He’s even beaten Satan in one of his movies, ‘End of Days.’ I mean, who else has ever called Satan a choir boy compared too them and got away with it?
As one of his biggest fans, owning pretty much all of his movies in every format, I’ve held Arnie nights in my house where the lads call over and eat steak and ribs, drink beer and smoking cigars while watching Commando, Predator or some of his other classics. We have a great laugh in anticipation of his most famous lines. If any of the guys stay over and we eat Green Berets for breakfast!
One of his mottos is to just do things and forget about what the naysayers think. He likes to do things that others believe are not possible thus setting out to break the rules. Nobody thought he could be the world’s ultimate bodybuilder, nobody thought he would be the highest paid actor in Hollywood, nobody thought he would be Governor of California but in every case he’s proven the naysayers wrong and he seems to get great satisfaction from it. I can really relate to this mentality. Sure he’s had some incidents in his life that show he’s not perfect but he always apologises, takes it on the chin and moves on, never shying or hiding away from negative press. Personally, I think he is a great example of a self-made man and though perhaps he is a workaholic, he has fun doing what he does and that is what is most important. When it’s fun it isn’t work.
When I saw the pan-American tournament event being promoted on Facebook, I thought it would be a great opportunity to lift bells and perhaps even get to see my hero up close and personal in real life. A win-win situation. To boot the Irish Nationals were being held the week before so all my training would be done, which was another positive. I talked to a few friends about it to get their opinion and I just went with my gut and registered. One of those friends was Colm O’Neill, a Ferrybank man, who runs a Hostel in Cusco, Peru called the Wild Rover. I visited him a couple of years back whilst on a trek to Machu Picchu and we hit it off. Since then Colm has become Mr. Cusco. He is a credit to Waterford and Ireland and more importantly, knows how to party!!! Colm said ‘go for it!’ immediately. I also talked to my brother Colin, who is a flight simulator engineer in Dubai (i.e. plays video games for a living) and he said ‘no question, do it!’ I said it to Nicola my wife too and she told me to ‘follow my dream.’ Kieran O’Sullivan my training partner thought it was ‘a great idea’ and my Coach Gan said ‘it was a brilliant idea, but make sure and wear the club t-shirt.’ I did.
So, I booked my place in the competition and then booked my flights and felt my heart palpitate, for several weeks, everytime I thought about it, working out what was going to happen in my head. Of course I couldn’t control what was going to happen but I just knew I had to be there. All I could control was my training and so I focussed on that.
The weekend before the competition in Columbus I competed locally in the Irish Nationals, held in Cork City, and I decided to compete in both long cycle and biathlon. Long Cycle is my main event but I wanted to challenge myself and see could I gain Rank 1 in both disciplines in one competition. Long Cycle is like the Olympic Clean and Jerk except instead of doing 1 rep with maximum weight, we do as many reps as possible in 10 mins without putting the bells down. Biathlon is a combination of Jerk, which is essentially popping 2 bells overhead using legs mostly leg power to drive them upward and lock them out overhead. Snatch is a single arm event where you bring the bell from below hips to overhead in one swift movement. I compete with 24kg bells in the sub 85kg bodyweight category.
Someone told me that I shouldn’t do both events and all of a sudden, those pesky ‘it can’t be done’ neurons fired and the decision was made ‘I’m gonna do it!.’ It was a big risk because if I got injured or over strained doing biathlon, I may have ruined by chances of getting on the Irish team with the long cycle event, which was my main concern. However, I felt I could do it safely and so I made that decision a week before the competition. I needed to score 130 points or 80 jerk and 100 snatch to make rank 1 on the Saturday. I jerked 80 reps and I did 110 snatch to achieve rank 1 on day 1. The next day I was tired for the long cycle event and I got a bit nervous but I managed to get a PB of 80 reps, which I was over the moon about, as I won the event getting rank 1 and secured my place on the Irish team.
After that I was buzzing for days, but it took a lot out of me and it wasn’t until Thursday that I felt like I could even lift a bell again. On Friday morning I flew to Columbus, Ohio from Dublin and got there at about 6pm. I bought an Irish t-shirt to wear when I got there which had Ireland on the front and Murphy’s law on the back, perhaps tempting fate, I’d find out later on just how appropriate this was. Total travel time was about 12 hours with the time difference. I checked in to the Hampton Inn at the airport in Columbus, a great little find. The Hampton put on a shuttle bus to the centre and back, which was incredibly handy and saved me well over 100 dollars over the weekend so I had a shower and went straight over to the weigh in at the Greater Columbus Convention centre. I weighed in just over 83kg. Game on.
I helped myself to a well earned philly cheese steak and went back to the hotel… I put my head down around 9.30pm and was asleep in seconds. I woke up at about 4am doh! I filled up on a big brekkie and went over to the convention centre. There was free WiFi there so I was in touch with friends and family at home through facebook and the support and encouragement I received was phenomenal including a message from my old pal Keith Barry, the great magician, who may have hypnotised me to do well. It’s what he does.
I met some lovely people at the event from the American Kettlebell Association at the opening of the event and got myself into the competition mind set. I was up on flight 7 ( a flight in kettlebell sport is a 10 minute set with athletes competing on several platforms) so with 2 mins between each flight that meant I had about an hour and a half to warm up and prepare.
I was anxious and thought about taking the trip over on my own, the pressure to do tne training justice etc. My good friend David Burke, a hypnotherapist in Waterford, told me to make sure that I am in a state where I physically drop to the floor after the set or I haven’t done my absolute best and given it all. He told me to become like Arnie in his movies, the terminator, a cyborg all that sort of stuff. We have a joke in Kettlebells about turning BEAST MODE ON and there are stages you go through during a flight such as the first 6 minutes, the work minutes where you build up some numbers, then there’s purgatory, minutes 6-8 where all sorts of things go through you mind, mostly your body saying ‘drop these fuppin yokes you mad eejit!’ I try and relax through these two minutes if possible, slowing down slightly, and then after these two minutes up it’s make or break time. You the find out if there’s anything left in the tank and if there is you flick the proverbial BEAST MODE switch to the ON position and just go for it, hell for leather. This works for me because the mind is no longer active you just go for it and try get a bonus few reps. The following video shows my last 2 mins.
During the set I lost track of my count because the counters were overloaded due to wireless signal issues, and the clock counted in reverse, which I wasn’t used to. The judge gave me 91 reps at the end of the set, which surprised me. I was ecstatic with the win and felt like the trip was already worthwhile, but there was more to come.
After this I explored the convention centre. There were huge bodybuilders, sexy bikini models, and athletes everywhere selling protein, sports gear etc. There were sports events going on everywhere, karate, gymnastics, powerlifting, strong man, fencing, even table tennis! Arnie is a big fan! (see budweister ad). This opened my eyes and realise how amazing America is at running events correctly and taking advantage of sales opportunities.
On my way out of the arena, action hero Jason Statham walked past, he missed the opportunity to get my autograph ;-). Little did I know that he was with Arnie, so as I was walking out of the area, Arnie was walking in!!! He gave a speech right in front of where I competed with the kettlebells and I missed it. Murphy’s law was in full effect. I was gutted! One of the lifters I met, Joey Ifft, showed me some photos of Arnie and my heart sank. ‘What an idiot!’ I said of myself However, I had bought a ticket for the Arnold Sunday showcase, taking place in the Hilton across the street, so I knew I had one more opportunity to see him before I left.
I went back to the Kettlebell area and watched some amazing Athletes compete. Over the day a world record was broken by Svitlana Krechyk (70 lc with 32kg bells), and there were some amazing athletes from US, Kazakhstan and Australia at the event competing including Goncharov Yevgeniy who did 83 reps LC with the 32kg bells in the professional men’s event. Not many in the world can get numbers like this! It was a pan-american open tournament but there was an international element to it. It felt great to be part of it and to see such great kettlebell athletes in full swing (pardon the pun). During the presentation I got a fabulous medal and cup and I wondered how the hell I was going to explain this to the TSA at airport security on the way home. At the end of the day I took park in the Jerk relay, which was great fun and then I got a well earned pint. It was a fantastic competition that was extremely well run by the American Kettlebell Alliance (AKA). I hope that I get the opportunity to take part in a Kettlebell event on US soil again in the near future and that some more Irish Kettlebell lifters travel too next year.
After this I went to the char bar across the road to have a pint with another of the lifters from New York City and enjoyed a bit of craic there with some locals. I sensibly went back to my room earlyish then so that I’d be fresh for the Arnold showcase in the morning and for travel home the next day. There were snow warnings too so I wanted to avoid those. Again when I got back to the room, after touching base with my wife Nicola, I was asleep within minutes of hitting the pillow.
I woke up the next morning a little later and had a relaxed morning. I looked out my window after having a shower and it was white outside, about 4 inches of snow! YAY! I was worried that my chance to see Arnold and my flights would be cancelled, but then I thought, what happens happens. I relaxed, packed my stuff up and went for breakfast. I had a waffle with cinnamon sugar, it was beautiful, just what the body needed after Irish Car Bombs the night before, but I digress.
I took the shuttle to town. The driver flew in regardless of conditions and I got the convention centre. I got a few souvenier t-shirts for my family and went across to the Hilton to go to the Arnold showcase not knowing much about it. I got there early and got a seat 3 from the front. At first there was a talk by Jim Lorimer, a lovely gentleman who spoke at length about Arnold’s character and about the event and how it has grown from strength to strength over the years and how it is a testament to Arnold and part of his legacy. It was very interesting and eloquent.
At about 11.15 Arnold came up through the audience and went on stage. I nearly burst with excitement. I was like a little kid going making his holy communion because people were going to be invited to ask questions and I had one prepared. The question I had ready in my mind was this: “Arnold, I’ve come all the way from Ireland to ask you one thing… will you do the Predator hand shake with me… then I’d walk up to him and say to him “Arnold… you son of a bitch!” and clasp his hand in the arm wrestling position causing his guns to flex and a sonic book to go off exploding all of the windows in the building… Sorry, my imagination was running wild at that point…
See the original clip with Carl Weathers below.
I had my arm up for about a half an hour waiting to asked a question and have it answered immediately. It was actually tougher on my shoulders than my 10 minute kettlebell set and when I was just about to be asked some d#ckhead in front of me stuck up his hand and asked a boring question instead LOL. He’s probably actually a lovely guy and it probably wasn’t a boring question at all, but he’s the d#ckhead who stopped me getting my question asked. Anyway, apologies for the profanities. THE ABSOLUTE DUCK HEAD! 😉
In truth, it didn’t matter whether I got to ask a question or not, being there was enough. I’d probably have just got caught like a rabbit in head light and just said something stupid anyway like ‘Arnold’ followed by long pause and a mis timed guffaw, followed by another ‘Arnold?’ and a then a high pitch squelching noise and another nervous chortle. Anyway, the main thing is that I got to see my hero in person and listen to him speak for an hour sitting just 5 metres from him. He made eye contact with me a few times so I felt he was speaking to me directly. How many people get to experience that with their hero? The following clip of video that I shot at the event sums up the trip for me, what Arnold is about and and why I did it.
After this I got the shuttle back to the hotel, collected my bags, went to the airport and started my travels home. Turns out with the snow my flight was cancelled. I managed to get another connecting flight but it ended up leaving an hour late so I was fretting that I’d miss my flight to Ireland. When I got to Philadelphia Airport I ran to my connecting flight, it was about a mile away, but I ran past it about another mile and then had to sprint back with the suitcase full to the brim with clothes and the trophy which weighed a tonne. I got on the plane sweating like mad, I pitied the poor guy next to me. Then another chap coming from another connecting flight did the same. The guy between us was surrounded by two sweaty betties the poor unfortunate soul. Then, as it turns out, this plane was experiencing technical difficulties so we had to switch planes, so I needn’t have run at all!!! The new plane left an hour and a half late but all was well. It gave me a chance to change my t-shirt too. I put on my Murphy’s law t-shirt… how appropriate! I guess this balanced out the good luck I had over the weekend.
Overall I had an amazing trip, I met some wonderful people in the American Kettlebell Alliance, I got to compete in a sport I love and winning my event was a real bonus (If you’re interested in kettlbells there’s loads of clubs popping up everywhere, I train at Tactical Fitness SC, Tramore, Waterford).
Finally, just before travelling home I got to spend an hour in the company of my boyhood hero, well I still feel like a boy and he’s will always be my hero, even though he doesn’t bleed according to one of his mates from Australia.
You see Arnold aint got time to bleed because remember, if it bleeds you can kill it! and you can’t kill a good thing.
I’ll be back!!!
Ps See you at his new movie, Sabotage, coming out at the end of the month.
Here’s the trailer:
Here’s a few shots I took with my phone over the weekend: