❤️Bordeaux is the Perfect Pause

My adult children, Benson, Natalie and her fiancé, Kevin, and I planned a trip to Europe earlier this year. Barcelona was number one on my list and France was number one on theirs.  Bordeaux became the starting point as my son, a competitive weightlifter, has a following in Bordeaux.  This is the new reality of global connectivity and, even though Benson doesn’t speak French, he has folks some 4,000 miles away that follow his weightlifting career on social media. I was hesitant about Bordeaux since its notoriety is wine and I’ve been sober for over 5 years.  I assumed, incorrectly, that there would be a preponderance of wine tasting rooms. I wasn’t sure how I was going to navigate it but to my surprise and delight, Bordeaux is such a beautiful, tranquil city I never thought twice about drinking and just relaxed into the pace and storybook atmosphere.  It was the perfect pause.

My daughter, Natalie, my son, Benson and I in Bordeaux

Here is why Bordeaux is the perfect pause:

It’s a pedestrian city.   The only car I was ever in was the taxi from the airport to our rental apartment. The rest of the time I was mostly on foot or on the tram.  Between the cobblestones, ancient gates, pedestrian plazas and narrow streets, you are more likely to get run over by a skateboarder or bicyclist than a car.  This makes for a much slower pace. The busiest street with vehicles was along the la Garonne River on the Quai Richelieu. I realized that not being hyper vigilant about cars and constantly looking both ways to cross the street is like a sedative.

Incredible accommodations.  Somehow, when I booked the rental apartment, we scored a fabulous two bedroom apartment with a wraparound balcony, 14 foot ceilings within spitting distance of the Porte Cailhau (built in 1494).  We were there in mid-August with afternoon highs in the mid-90’s and while we had fans, there was no air-conditioning. There were many a lazy afternoon, laying on the couch staring out at the Porte Cailhau waiting for Rapunzel or Sleeping Beauty to appear; somehow the heat just wasn’t that bad. We had an evening routine of opening all the floor to ceiling length shades, 7 sets of double French doors, and letting the river breeze cool off the apartment as the sun set about 9 pm.  The Place du Palais, a pedestrian plaza, was right below our apartment and as the sun set, it came alive with a wandering saxophone player, and the murmur of crowds chatting over food and drink at outdoor cafes.  I went to sleep every night with the buzz of laughter below and the cool breeze blowing in through the open balcony door. I was in the juxtaposition of being a part of street energy below yet curled up in bed. 

The public spaces.  We were in an easy 10-minute walk to many palaces, gates, parks, gardens and walkways.  There was the picturesque Plains de la Bourse de Bordeaux surrounding the Fontaine des Trois Graces next to the Miror d’eau.  The Miror d’eau is the world’s largest reflecting pool and covers 3,450 square meters.  It is quite the attraction, especially during the summer, as children and adults are skipping, skating, crawling and strolling through the water all day long.  It is vibrant and was filled with energy and laughter throughout the day and evening.  The walkway along la Garonne, was very wide and throughout the day there would be musicians, skaters with boomboxes and all walks of life strolling down the thoroughfare.  The Monument aux Girondins sits on one of the largest squares in Europe and has a Lady Liberty at the top of the fountain. There were countless places to wander.

The Place de Palais below our apartment in Bordeaux

Deep history.  Bordeaux was first established in 300 B.C by the Celtics and has been inhabited and/or conquered by the Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, Franks and English. We happened into the Bordeaux Cathedral (Cathedral- Primatial Sainte-Andres de Bordeaux).  This amazing cathedral was initially founded in 814.  Last year I had read several books on English Queen Consorts and had read about Eleanor of Aquitaine. Imagine my surprise when I read that the 13-year-old Eleanor married the future Louis VII of France in this very cathedral in 1137. She became Queen of France, later divorced (when she was unable to bear him a son) and married Henry II and became Queen of England and mother to King Richard the Lionheart and King John of England (author of the Magna Carta).  As I roamed the streets of Bordeaux, I was captivated by who had walked these streets before me.

The food.  There are shops, and pubs, and markets, and restaurants, everywhere.  If you can’t find a boulangerie on this block, walk one more and there will be one.  Or a cafe with cafe au lait and the local favorite pastry, Canelé.  I admit, I gave up on trying to be 100% plant based while in Bordeaux.  We had platters of local oysters from Arcachon Bay and all kinds of cheese.  Natalie managed to go to the local farmers market and grab some amazing goat cheese.  The streets were constantly transforming throughout the day, where in the morning Chez Fred would be set up as an outdoor cafe with coffee and baguettes at 9 a.m., beer and wine with charcuterie by mid-day and by midnight all the chairs, tables and umbrellas would be packed up and gone without a trace and the Place du Palais would be empty.  We stopped by an ice cream shop that made artisan ice cream and Natalie had rose flavored ice cream topped with dried rose pedals.  The array of food was amazing; simply amazing

Bordeaux was the perfect pause because the pace is so laid back. I had no agenda. No place I had to be.  The small television in the corner of our apartment stayed dormant.  The section where we stayed was not a central tourist hub although there were plenty of people taking pictures of the Porte Cailhau throughout the day and evening. In fact, I can’t remember hearing English spoken in shops or in restaurants (except for us). I felt unplugged and floated through the day with hardly a plan.  It’s a place to be present and in the moment. 

Anatomy of a Weightlifting Competition

My son, Benson, has been lifting heavy things above his head for at least ten years (mostly for wrestling and football in the beginning) but he has been doing it as a sport for about eight years. It’s been over two years since I was actually at a weightlifting competition in person due to the pandemic.  Benson and I drove to Columbus, Ohio for The Arnold which is a giant competition of bodybuilding, weightlifting, gymnastics, running, wrestling, strongman and boxing (to name but a few).  Columbus is awash with physiques from all walks of life but it definitely is skewed to large muscle-bound men and women strolling the streets in athletic wear. I calculated more that once the weight limit of an elevator while descending with four or more herculean bodies on board. Being at The Arnold was quite the experience.

My son, Benson Robles, competing in the Snatch at The Arnold.

My children have both been athletes and participated in sports for the majority of their lives. Soccer, football, water polo, track, and wrestling, I’ve been in the crowd (or lack of a crowd) for the last fourteen years. I’ve driven three hours to see my son compete in a wrestling match to only see his hand raised because he didn’t have an opponent.  I’ve sat in the bleachers for my daughter’s soccer match where there was just my father and me in attendance for the visiting team. I’ve flown to Miami, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Atlanta, to see my son compete in weightlifting competitions.  I’ve sat nervously on my phone streaming a competition hoping and praying the connection won’t drop and listening to commentary that you don’t hear when there in person. It’s strange to hear someone talk about your son strictly from a sport perspective. Someone you will never meet but they are critiquing your son on the merits of his techniques.

Here is the anatomy of a weightlifting competition:

Weekend

Most, if not all, the competitions are on the weekend.  Some start on Thursday and they are all over by Sunday (local one-off meets are typically only one day like Saturday).  The men and women who are the lightest and lower qualifying weights go first. So, women that are 55 kg and men that are 61 kg start the competition, but they are arranged by categories like 55 H or 61 N.  The letter of the category indicates where this group is slotted in the competition.  So, a later letter alphabetically indicates that they have a lower total lifted (weightlifted) in prior competitions, so they are slated to go earlier in the competition, in this case on Thursday.  My son’s category was 96 A.  That means he is in the 96 kg competition, and he is in the final flight of the competition because he has an A (the most weight lifted) category, and participants in the flight are likely to be on the podium. He was slated to lift at 10 AM on Sunday.  Benson is usually at the meet with teammates or comrades from the same gym and will usually see some of the other competitions before he lifts but definitely after he has competed.

Leading up to Sunday

Leading up the competition is mostly down time and eating.  We traveled by car all day on Friday. Benson got together with his teammates on Friday night after several folks had already competed. So, every competition has a group, smaller competitors that have already gone, those competing the next day and those like Benson, still trying to time his workouts, eating and sleep up to the competition. Benson has historically had to eat (a lot) to maintain or “make” weight. He’s had times in his athletic career where he would be doing burpees and/or tapering off food and water before a weigh-in but this time he was comfortably in the range.  He went to lift on Friday when we arrived and then slacked off on Saturday.  I don’t completely understand the schedule, all I know is to go with the flow; if he’s hungry we head to a restaurant (he normally orders two entrees) or if he’s tired we hang out in the hotel room. Benson knows what he needs and I just sit back and wait for instructions.

Competition Venue

The day of the competition the weigh-in is usually two hours before the time of the competition. I dropped Benson off at the venue to weigh in and then we went back to the hotel.  I personally prefer an early time so there isn’t a lot of sitting around overthinking things.  Benson has lifted as late as 8 PM which makes for a very long day. We arrived back at the venue at about 9:45 AM.  Athletes and coaches have lanyards that have their credentials and time slot; they go behind the lifting platform while the audience, like nervous moms, sit in the stands or folding chairs depending on the venue accommodations. This was an enormous competition because it had several age groups and competitions going on at once.  So Junior, Senior and University students were all competing on 6 platforms.  Every other national meet I had been to had three platforms, this was big. There were curtains behind the main lifting platform and weights, chairs and mats behind where the competitors and coaches that can’t be seen.  When I watch the competition on live stream it is very frustrating because you can’t see who is waiting to come up next or hear who they are calling up next.  In person, you can hear what’s going on and, more importantly, see that your son is waiting in the wings with his coach to go next. 

Weightlifting Poker

Each lifter gets three attempts at the Snatch (going from the ground and above the head in one movement) and three attempts at the Clean and Jerk (going from the ground to your chest and then another movement above the head).  The weight on the bar always starts at the lowest weight and with each attempt must either go up in weight or stay the same.  The weight NEVER goes down.  To be clear, it is three attempts total at the Snatch.  So, if you miss your attempt on the first snatch, you can try at the same weight or you can try at a higher weight.  If you miss, they usually will assume that you will come back to attempt the same weight.  Most lifters (and their coaches) will usually wait out the two-minute clock before saying they want to try a higher weight (if you miss an attempt and have to follow yourself because no one else is lifting that weight, you get a two minute clock). If you just missed, you want as much time as you can muster before attempting again.  This creates what I call Weightlifting Poker.  If you are trying to beat your other competitors, you must be willing to go up a kilogram in hopes that the other guy won’t be able to make it.  So, if three guys have said they are trying 150kg and the first two guys miss their attempt, the third guy can win at 150kg unless the other two lifters have another attempt; then they can go one kilogram higher on the next lift.  During the competition, it’s a constant change of who the next lifter is as lifter and coach try to figure out, their best lift, how the other competitors are doing so far and if they have enough rest in between to make the next lift. At the Arnold, I would say that the platform that Benson was competing on, had at least 50% red, meaning that at least half of the lifts were missed. It was exciting and nerve racking to watch not knowing which lifter would prevail.

In the end, my son took three silver medals.  He had the second heaviest Snatch at 142 kg and the second heaviest Clean and Jerk at 172kg and the second heaviest total (add the Snatch and Clean and Jerk together) of 314 kg.  He barely missed a 175kg Clean and Jerk for Gold. As I sat in the audience, I overheard some guys talking about “Benson Robles” being the one to beat.  Pretty cool at a national meet. The entire competition is a ballet of skill, might and mental fortitude. I’m so proud of my son for his tenacity, hard work and endless training that has brought him this far.

Tenacity and Grit: Lessons from my Son.

My son Benson has always been a gifted athlete. Although I don’t like that term, because gifted implies that it’s all in his DNA. As if the DNA fairy godmother waved a magic wand and suddenly he was running in the North Carolina State Championship Track Meet with little to no effort. There has been a lot of effort. Hard work. Hours and years of hard work. Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps and Lebron James all have worked hard. Sure, there were Tiger’s hard driving parents and his commitment to golf, Michael Phelps’ abnormally wide wing span (and his mother cheering him on) and Lebron’s height. Those are all part of the package. But at the core of it all is tenacity and grit. It takes tenacity to show up every day, regardless of the circumstances and work; as well as the grit to overcome adversity in order to continue forward. My son has both of these qualities in spades.

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I am writing this after a roller coaster weekend of watching my son compete at the University and U25 National Weightlifting Championships in Ogden, Utah. I am not exactly sure when Benson first started lifting weights. There are plenty of sports that he excelled at, most which had weightlifting as a part of the regime. He was an outstanding football player in high school and an all-state champion in Track and Wrestling. These sports usually have some sort of weightlifting as a part of the preparation. The first time he decided to compete in what is termed Olympic Weightlifting (as opposed to Powerlifting or Body Building), had to be sometime during his freshman year of college at the University of Miami. It requires technical aptitude, strength, grace and resilience.

This is what I have learned from my son:

Show up. Benson always shows up. Two years ago, we were in Northern California for Benson’s twentieth birthday. He is a native Californian and it was his first trip back to the West Coast in over a decade. It did not matter. He was at the gym practically every day. Random gyms. Unknown gyms. He was scouting places to work out and he worked out. There are no excuses for Benson. It’s a rainy day. I was up late last night. I have a ton of work to do. My friends are going to the beach. I’m on vacation. He shows up and does the work. If you want something? Show up.

Support. Regardless of the sport, Benson always has a team supporting him. It might be a coach, team mates, family or friends. As the saying goes, it takes a village. I’m proud to say I am a part of that village. While he does all the work, he has a crowd of folks in his corner cheering him on. It amazes me that I attend at least three competitions a year on the national scale and there are rarely parents in the audience. I’ve seen competitors without even a coach. Support is more that just cheering. It’s knowing that what you do matters to more than just you. Someone is invested in your failure or success. It’s the emotional buoy to get you through. Have support.

Grit. During the U25 National competition, Benson missed all three of his Snatches. I was disheartened. I wanted to go back into the training area and give him a hug. There was no way he could be the overall winner without successfully making at least one Snatch. His forte in competition has been the Snatch and now he only had the Clean and Jerk left. How in the world do you come back from that? I saw several other athletes bomb out on all three attempts. It was a war of attrition. He came back to successfully complete two clean lifts in the Clean and Jerk. That is grit. The ability to rally back. To not slide into the abyss of defeat and wallow there. I’m prouder of the fact that he rallied back than for his eventual Gold Medal. Find your grit.

Focus. Benson is single-minded. When I arrived at the competition, I sat next to him in the audience of the preceding weight class. We did not speak. He with his hood and headphones, me with my smart phone. We went out to dinner the evening before and I asked about his plans. He said, “I don’t know. I’m not looking past tomorrow.” This is a lesson for me. Focus on the immediate goal. The project that is due. The exam. Your workout. Month end. The drive home. Know what you want and focus on it. As for me, for the last ten months, it’s been sobriety. As a friend told me, “Just don’t have a damn drink.” For Benson, it is the competition at hand. Not the one next month. Not reliving the two bronze medals from last year. It’s about this competition right now.

I am amazed that Benson could rally back from the extreme low of failing completely in his first three lifts to come back and get the gold medal. That grit. That tenacity to succeed after failure. That is what I am most proud of. So even if you do fail, dust yourself off and stick with it. Success is around the corner.