In 1983, my sixth grade geography teacher was Spero Tshontikidis. In addition to teaching, Mr. Tshontikidis was a competitive powerlifter in the ADFPA. He brought powerlifting to our school and convinced the principal to allow him to start a powerlifting team. The first day he mentioned it to the class I thought powerlifting sounded cool and decided to give it a try. After all, what eleven-year-old boy doesn’t want to grow up to be big and strong? Spero taught us how to squat on the first day of powerlifting practice. I had never touched a weight let alone squat. I remember my hips and hamstrings were so tight that I had to put my heels on a 2″ x 4″ in order to hit proper depth. I did three sets of ten reps with 95 pounds. On the way home I noticed my legs getting a little sore but I thought nothing of it. The next morning I woke up and tried to get out of bed. I took one step and fell flat on my face. My legs were so unbelievably sore that I thought I seriously injured myself. I had never experienced such excruciating muscle soreness. I convinced my mother to let me stay home that day. The following day I crawled back to school and told Mr. Tshontikidis that I didn’t want to be on the powerlifting team and I would never squat again. He tried to change my mind. I didn’t budge. Spero would later coach me on the junior varsity football team where I blossomed into the team MVP as a freshman. Meanwhile, he continued to encourage me to lift weights.
Though our school had a powerlifting team, strength training was never emphasized for the athletic teams. Occasionally after practice some of us ventured into the weight room. We were clueless. Typically, without a proper warm-up, we would test our manhood on the bench press – each of us trying to outperform the other. We never considered squatting or deadlifting. Then after a few sets of bench presses, we would usually grab some dumbbells and do some curls. We reckoned, “What could possibly be more important than working your chest and biceps?” All we cared about was making our T-shirt muscles look bigger. We were all young and ignorant about proper strength training. We lacked a focus. More important, we lacked discipline because we were not consistent. Contemplating my youth, my shortage of focus and self-discipline was a colossal mistake. The lack of strength training, at an early age, is one of my biggest regrets.
When I graduated high school in 1990, I began training with purpose. I wanted to get bigger and stronger for college football but didn’t know how to proceed. I asked around and finally met my uncle’s personal trainer. At the time, Victor Furnells was a competitive bodybuilder. All I knew was that he was big and strong. I trusted him and followed his advice. He soon became my mentor. He always told me that the two greatest pains in life are discipline and regret. At the time, I didn’t understand those concepts. Most 17-year-olds lack discipline, especially when it pertains to training. Likewise, most high school kids have few, if any, regrets in life. He regularly admonished me about the peril of not taking strength training seriously. He said it was unrealistic to expect continued progress if I wasn’t disciplined enough to remain consistent with my training. He reminded me that if I lacked self-discipline, I would regret it later. Reflecting upon my youth, it all makes sense now. As the famous 1972 hit song by Johnny Nash goes, I can see clearly now, the rain is gone.
Webster’s college dictionary has eleven definitions of the word discipline.
For the sake of this discussion, I prefer to use the meaning of discipline as: the rigor or training effect of experience or adversity. Regret means to feel sorrow or remorse for an act, disappointment, or fault.
Experiencing life without ever exercising self-discipline ought to be a crime. Obdurate behavior comes back to haunt you and remind you of where you could have improved. Most people resist challenges and want things to be painless. Exercising self-discipline is an arduous task. Undisciplined people are usually devoid of self-respect and respect for others.
If you last a lifetime without regret, consider it a miracle. Discipline hurts. However, exhibiting discipline during worthy pursuits is only temporarily painful. The pain only lasts amid your journey toward the objective. Once you have achieved your goal, the pain is obsolete. While the pain from self-discipline is transient, the agony from regret is perpetually hurtful. Remaining remorseful for a wrongful act or sometimes for the lack of action, gashes you like a knife wound. Once you think you have vanquished your regret and your laceration heals, you look down at the scar only to be reminded of a missed opportunity.
Success in athletics, achieving supreme fitness, and staying healthy all requires self-discipline. Remaining disciplined necessitates steadfast persistence. In the arena of achievement, you either stand unwavering in your quest or falter and succumb to the pain of self-control. Discipline connotes repetitive behavior. Moreover, it routinely obligates one to either deprive themselves and/or go the extra mile. Being on time for work every morning, preparing your meals in advance, double checking your homework assignments, staying after practice to work on your skills, keeping meticulous financial records, spending adequate quality time with loved ones, sticking to your diet, not missing workouts, going to bed at a reasonable hour, reading your bible every day, and keeping your word are all prime examples of exceptional discipline. To me, discipline is doing what you’re supposed to do even when you aren’t up to the task. Though not a fan of competitive bodybuilding, I appreciate and respect the discipline that is required when dieting for competition. In organized team sports, anyone can stay after practice when the coach releases you early and you have spare time. The real indication of discipline is staying late after practice when you’ve just played your best game. Anyone can succeed during the good times when the obstacles are few. The true measure of a man’s character is where things go badly, the odds are against you, and your back is against the wall. This is when you find out what you’re really made of.
It has been said that life is a journey not a destination. Fixate on and appreciate the process rather than the outcome. I played football at many levels – from boys’ club as a youngster, through high school, my freshman year in college, and one year of semi-pro. Of the time I spent playing and practicing, traveling to games, and watching game film on our next opponent, it was the camaraderie I shared with my teammates on the practice field and in the locker room that I enjoyed the most. Even today as I compete in powerlifting, as much as I relish the competitions, I prefer training hard in the gym. The countless hours centered on the singular goal of becoming as strongly as possible, make it all worthwhile.
My favorite inspirational quote is by Theodore Roosevelt.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
This quote has coached me to live life with fervor and to harbor few regrets. I don’t want to be the one always saying, “I wish I had done this or I should have done that”. Accordingly, I try my best to work relentlessly regardless of my goal. Then, at the end of the day, I can sleep well knowing that I did all I could. The best time to tell someone you love them is right now. Do not waste another moment. Procrastination is the badge of fools. Cherish your family and friends because one day they’ll be gone. Speak with sincerity. Chicanery leads to nothing but discordance. Those that matter can tell the difference. The time to start eating better and cleaning up your diet is today. If you want to feel and look better, why wait until tomorrow? Do it now. Stop missing workouts. Your training partners depend on you as much as you depend on them. Consistency is paramount to accomplishment. Travel more. See the world. God created the most awesome planet for us to explore and enjoy. Do not wait until you’re too old to travel. Compete! Always measure yourself first, then evaluate yourself against others. The only degree of improvement that matters is the one you make. Be disciplined. Once the goal is attained, the pain of sticking to the plan subsides. Pain disappears, satisfaction arrives, and contentment washes away the possibility of regret. Aim even higher the next time. Our minds limit us more than our bodies. Believe in yourself.
Roosevelt added, “With self-discipline most anything is possible”. For the past thirteen years, powerlifting and the pursuit of strength have been at the forefront of my physical endeavors. I have had my share of injuries and possess a high tolerance for pain. However, it is nice to differentiate between good pain and bad pain. Instilling self-discipline begets good pain that ultimately transforms to fruitfulness if you endure. Missed opportunities engender regret. Regret evokes bad pain. Last year I trained tirelessly for the USAPL American Open Powerlifting Championships in Scranton, Pennsylvania. My training went well but I was definitely not at my strongest. On Sunday, December 2, 2007, while warming-up in the squat, I tore the Vastus Lateralis muscle in my right leg. The pain was immense and my leg still hurts to this day. Nevertheless, I am content tolerating the physical pain because I cannot imagine the mental anguish I would feel had I chose not to compete.