Brady Stewart: National Champion

Brady Stewart: National Champion

Aug 23, 2013

The 2013 USA Bench Press Nationals has definitely been my most favorite competition.  As you continue reading, you’ll understand why.  I’ll also share some personal feelings on my performance and the stories from August 16-21, 2013.  Be sure to check out the pictures at the end.

I’ve been hitting a lot of competitions in the past few years with a good friend of mine Josh Hunt.  He is also a host with me on Berserker Strength Radio, training partners, and fellow MTG and comic book nerd.  So nerdy, Josh has a room in his house dedicated to comic books he has deemed…the Nerdatorium.  Shane Hopkins tagged along with us on this epic adventure.

IMG_1649Josh and I departed from St. Louis on Friday Aug 16 at 6am.  I stayed over at Josh’s that night instead of my home in Germantown since Josh lives closer to the STL Airport.  We got up at 3am.  I am not a morning person whatsoever, but it did feel good to get out early, sleep on the plane, and arrive in Atlanta, GA around 8:15am.  We took the MARTA Rail to Midtown and cabbed it up to the ‘W’ hotel.  I gotta say that this hotel was swanky.  It was very modern and expensive looking.  Luckily the location of the hotel put us in prime distance to many cool restaurants and bars for the post national’s tradition of rebel rousing with the Texans.  (Josh and I became honorary Texans back in 2011)

Upon our arrival we were greeted with many texts from another one of our friends…the ever legendary “JEFF SNYDER!”.  We checked in, dropped off our luggage, and met up with Jeff and friends at the JR Crickets in the attached food court.  We had a short reunion with Jeff, Alex Smith (who did not greet me with choco-chip cookies), Ryan Carrillo, Dave Doan, Darci Doan, Dana Rosenzweig, and others.  It was a great time seeing all of our competition friends again.  My only regret is that I can’t see these people more often.  I’ve never felt closer to such a nice, honest, and fun group of people.  We spent most of our Friday by weighing ourselves several times at the competition scale, eating, laughing, and catching up with our fellow competitors and friends.  I also met for the first time Marvin Bishop, Tom Murray, and Pete Grohoski…all Iron Authority athletes and incredibly strong, professional, and nice guys!

Saturday was the first day of competition and the day before I competed.  I knew that Cydney ‘Cici’ Smith (Iron Authority Athlete) was competing this day, so I went down to check if she needed any help.  Her husband Rick Davis has helped me a couple of times in the past and has always been there for me when I’ve competed.  I wanted to make sure that I would repay that favor if Cici needed the help.  Glad I did, because she needed an extra hand.  Pete Grohoski and I together were able to give Cici proper coaching and handling.  If you don’t know who Cici is, she has one of the most impressive setups I’ve ever seen on the bench.  It is a sight to see.  You can tell she has spent countless training sessions perfecting it.  She ended the day with second place in her division, went for the win, but just barely fell short.  She showed a ton of determination and mental tenacity on her 3rd attempt.  Like the true athlete she is, Cici would tell you herself that she wasn’t happy with her performance that day weighing much less than here weight class limit, but I know that Pete, Rick, and I were proud of her.  She gave it all she got and did extremely well considering.

After the lifting on Saturday, Josh Hunt, Ryan ‘El Mesa Fuerte’ Carrillo, Shane Hopkins, and I went to the ATL Art Museum.  They did a great Dutch exhibit featuring the second most popular painting in the world.  ‘The Girl with a Pearl Earring’ by Johannes Vermeer.  It was a beautiful paining that seemed to draw your attention to her slightly expressive face.  We also visited the other Dutch artist’s works as well as the abstract, contemporary, American, Greek, and Roman sections of the museum.  It was an awesome experience.

Saturday night I made sure that I was relaxed, lightly fed, and clear minded going into bed.  I did the early equipment check earlier in the day.  This gave me one less thing to worry about the day of the meet.  I sometimes have a hard time sleeping at night in general, let alone before a competition.  I did however get lucky and achieved a full night’s sleep.

Sunday Josh woke up early to make sure his weight was good and I lingered in bed not having to weigh in until 12 noon and competing around 2pm.  I relaxed with some tunes.  I got up around 9am and made my way down to the venue.  I checked on Pete to make sure he was ready.  I set Pete up with Shane to help, but somehow they lost each other in the primordial mess that was the warm up area.  Luckily, I went in to check on Dana and Pete still needed help.  Having only one handler at a national meet is a tough job.  Cici was back there helping out and they needed someone to watch competition and run attempt cards.  Pete also decided to make a shirt change.  He luckily had me, who is awesome at putting bench shirts on.  He came out after a troublesome second attempt and hit a 2.5 kilo personal best and lifted 262.5k on a third.  I know Pete was proud of that.  Congrats Pete!

Dana was also lifting in that flight and I unfortunately didn’t get to help him like I wanted, but he did well.  Also competing in the morning session was Josh.  Josh had decided to drop a weight class and in the meantime lost some size everywhere making his bench shirt fit a bit loose.  He ended with I believe 185k and 1st place in the Military Division.  Josh is a good training partner and friend.  I am glad to see him undergoing this transformation of bodyweight reduction and re-composition.

Here we go.  Now it’s time for me to weigh in.  I met with the other athletes in the venue hall.  Had some chuckles and waited.  Half of my time was spent listening to Jeff declaring who he was going to murder for saying something ignorant or annoying.  This offered me some validation for my own feelings toward the same people (all in fun of course).  I had a high lot number so I was one of the last to weigh in for my weight class, but giving me an attempt advantage during the competition.  The weigh-ins were very slow.  The slowest than I’ve ever been a part of.  My feelings during this space and time could have been amplified by my hunger and dehydration.  ‘BRADY STEWART’ was called.  I stripped for the judges, stepped on the scale, and I was thinking “I seriously did not just weigh in heavier that Snyder did I?”.  After the weigh in, I found Jeff who normally walks around at 285 lbs ask what he weighed and sure enough.  I outweighed my big buddy Jeff.  He gave a grin that only the most devilish 4 years olds can give for doing something their parents can’t even fathom.  Jeff then proceeded to call me a “fat ass”.

For those of you that do not know the JEFF SNYDER.  He is a Norse demi-god in human flesh that has somehow sired Chuck Norris, Van Damme, Sly, and the Governator while being only 40 years old.  I guess when you are JEFF SNYDER you make whatever you want to happen happen.  JEFF SNYDER’S only fear in the world is dying.  This is understandable.  When asked why he is afraid of death…I was given the most honest and heartfelt answer from JEFF SNYDER declaring ‘Because I’m awesome…I love my f*cking life’!

After my ever-history-repeating post weigh in encounter with Jeff, I went back to my room and started rehydration and eating.  Josh called and ordered me a bacon cheeseburger.  In record ginger timing, Josh seemingly had my burger in the room shortly after he called.  I managed to eat half, drank about 40 ounces of water, CLIF bars, and my pre-workout supplement.  He was being overly enthusiastic for me getting to compete.  I secretly think he knew I was going to lift well that day.

I left the room at 1:45pm to a crowded and swampy warm up room.  Thankfully I had plenty of help between Randy Earle, Dana Rosenzweig, and Jim Klostergaard.  Those guys always help, always there for the athletes, and are the living embodiment of kindness.  Randy gives liftoffs that feel like you are in a benchpress-monolift (if one exists).  Dana and Jim accurately load the bar every time and make sure that I am ready to lift when I say I am ready.  I shared the bench with Jeff and Tim Moon as well as a few others.  When I was done Dennis Cieri demanded that I leave the warmup room in fear of me dehydrating even more.

The warmups felt great.  I noticed that the weight was getting closer to my chest than in training with similar weights, so I opted to change my opener from 305k or 672lbs to 300k or 660lbs.  Good move on my part.  I like to get on the board.  It was also one of my wife Beth’s strategies for me.  She told me matter of factly that I must get on the board and that 660 is a better number for me.  Thanks sweetheart.  You always know what is best for me.

I’m going to attempt to Tarantino this story with a backstory from just 6 days before the competition.  I try to go on a 2+ mile walk daily and reflect on my training, competition history, and mindset.  I had very dreadful feelings about the upcoming nationals and almost admitted defeat as I didn’t really believe in myself or my abilities.  My last performance was the 2013 IPF World BP Championships and I just knew that I was going to win, but I ended with the nightmare of bombing.  I knew I was the strongest going in and ended with NOTHING.  I now believe that this was God’s way of knocking me off my high horse and teaching me that nothing is deserved, but is earned.   This was a huge blow to me as an athlete.  I started thinking that maybe I was never meant to win the big one.  I’ve been so close many times, but always fell short…always failed to win that elusive Gold Medal at nationals.  What happens next, I can’t really explain in exact detail, but was one of the strangest feelings that have ever come over me.  I never ‘heard’ a voice tell me this, but it was more of an external feeling that came over me that was so powerful that I am tearing up as I type this.  As I was somberly walking, something came over me and I felt as if God was saying “Brady, if you will not have faith in yourself, at least have faith in me (God).”  At that very minute I could feel my skin crawl and goose bumps hit me in 90+ degree weather.  My heart felt like it started beating with new purpose.  I wasn’t lifting for Brady anymore.  I was lifting for God.

Instead of the weight on the bar being this dismal object of my nightmares, it became my Goliath and I was David quickly running to the battlefield to face this giant.  300K or 661lbs on the bar…I stopped caring.  I set up, got positively aggressive and destroyed the living crap out of that giant.  Now, I’m on the board and can have a little fun.  Dana ran my numbers and went to a 307.5k or 678lbs press on my second attempt.  This would have put me in 1st place.  I locked the weight out, but not to the liking of the judges.  It was turned down.  No problem though.  I didn’t care.  I was going to go wherever I needed to win.  Other athletes bumped up from their attempts to over 700, but I decided to stay with the 678 for my third attempt and put the pressure on them to hit their attempts.  As I went out for my third attempt I prayed as honestly as I could and felt that signature Brady Stewart Bench Pressing aggression fill my very being.  I thought to myself that I will never give up on this lift.  I’ll pass out or die before I stop pushing.  It was all a blur.  The crowd was gone, it was just me and the bar.  Received the handoff, weight felt great, I got the command to start…then press…I fought that bar every centimeter, my right arm locking slightly after my left…command to RACK!  I couldn’t look at the lights for fear of the judges calling me on some sort of infraction.  GOOD LIFT!  2 whites…1 red.  I am now in first at this point with three extremely strong men ready to take it from me.

I immediately knelt on one knee and prayed.  I did pray to win, but I also prayed that my competitors put it all out there.  If I win, I want to win fairly and evenly.  I could hear the announcer declare that the bar was loaded for my fellow competitors and friends.  3 lifters were attempting 705-711 after me chasing first place.  All men are capable of hoisting this amount of weight.  They were John Bogart, Tim Moon, and my good buddy Jeff Snyder.  I could hear the announcer declare that Brady Stewart had dodged his first bullet and still in first place.  The next lifter came, another dodged bullet.  Someone had come up to me and said that I had just won.  I said that I hadn’t won yet as local Georgia favorite Tim Moon attempted 711.  I couldn’t watch.  I could hear the crowd yelling for Tim and then I heard a collective sigh from his disappointed fans in the crowd.  I had just won the USA Bench Press Nationals…

I instinctually started bawling like a teenage girl whose parents took her cell phone.  I couldn’t stop the tears, I sounded like Ron Burgundy after the bad man punted Baxter off the bridge in San Diego.  I was hugging friends and was shaking violently.  I just did the very thing that I thought of achieving several times a day for the past 6 years.  I faced my giant…and I won.  I’ve always felt like an underdog and looking back I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I called Beth and could hardly get a word out before my voice would crack.  I wonder if she could even understand me.  She told me that she knew I could do it, that I’ve worked hard, and that she was proud of me.  I love that sweet caring beauty of a woman!

After Worlds in May 2013, I asked Dave Doan about how I should handle bombing during the post competition banquet.  Honestly he told me it wouldn’t be my last time, but he also looked at me with a straight face and said ‘This year, you will win nationals’.  I’m not going to lie, I didn’t believe him either.  But somehow, my hero, Dave Doan knew it.  I’ve always looked up to Dave as a competitor, friend, and family man.  To have him say that and materialize before me makes me wonder if Dave has some sort of supernatural ability.  Thanks for your encouragement Dave.  I’ll never forget your kind words from that evening.  You will always be my favorite bench presser of all time.  Oh yeah…he and I also shared a chocolate chip cookie after nationals!  Wonder how he knew about my love of these tasty little treats.  Is it because Dave himself is a Berserker?  Or maybe he is so sexy that he can see the future?

That wasn’t all of it either.  There was much celebration with our Texas brethren, lots of food and drink, laughs, and adventures.  Please listen in on Berserker Strength Radio Adventure #28 for more stories about this EPIC weekend…

There are so many people to thank.  I could not have achieved this on my own.  I know I will forget several people from the below list, but nevertheless, if you feel that you have helped me in any way…I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Beth Stewart – for always believing in me…I love you more than anything.
Josh Hunt – for your friendship
Scott Baquet – for your sometimes amazing and sometimes terrible handoffs
Shane Hopkins – for being a good training partner
Shaun Bales – for all of your help over the years
Dana Rosenzweig – for coaching me over the years
Mom and Dad – for being there for me whenever I needed it
Robin – for believing in me
Ryan Carrillo – for telling me to focus on being great
Brad Eastman – for showing me that there is no limit to the human spirit
Dave Doan – for picking me up after Worlds and for being sexy
Jona Leo – for your support, help, and encouragement
Jeff Snyder – for your honest friendship, CONGRATS ON WINNING MASTERS AND BEST LIFTER
Titan Support Systems – Best powerlifting equipment on the market
Scott Underwood – for your ART Jedi Tricks
Matt Swanson, Jeremiah Patton, and Chris Thacker – training partners extraordinaire!
4Life Nutrition – for taking me to the next level
Complete Supplements Belleville – for your years of support

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