Mind Over Matter in Life and Lifting, by LaToneya Burwell

I started lifting to cope with my mother’s chronic illness.

In February, my mother was fighting End Stage Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). I say “fighting” because neither one of us was ready for her to go nor were we going out without a fight.

The day we received the heart-breaking news was my first time pulling a deadlift. I remember walking up to the bar filled with so much anguish and fear; but when I pulled there was a sweet and painful release. And that wonderful sound of the iron hitting the floor was like a refreshing bell of faith; clinging and bringing hope.

I pulled and slammed, pulled and slammed until my spirit was renewed.

As I continued lifting, I made a deal with my mother: if I continued to hit Personal Records (PRs), she would continue to fight. Our pact was solid! I soared with my newbie gains –adding 10 pounds to my lifts each week and my mom overcame a health challenge. It was a rhythm that was designed purely on my goal to gain more strength to give to her when I visited the hospital. I believed my chi sustained her.

My mother’s mantra was “Mind over Matter.” She scribbled this on her notepad showing it to a bewildered Pulmonologist who looked at her in awe, two days after her lung collapsed for the second time but she began breathing on her own.

With lifting, my mind controls my body. I have the power to pull the weight I want to pull. It’s just mind over matter—pull that fucking bar LaToneya.

I am a natural introvert who is also extremely shy and accommodating. Prior to lifting, I’d observe my surroundings without communication and I made myself smaller to make others feel comfortable. I previously had a “superwoman complex”—I wanted to do it all without asking for help—even if it sacrificed my emotional and/or physical health.

I used to think that asking for help demonstrated weakness. To be a powerlifter, I need proper rest, peace of mind, and support.

Lifting has made me assertive. My needs are essential and I have become an advocate for obtaining and protecting my needs. I do not sacrifice my needs to make others comfortable.

If I need rest, I say “I’m tired.” If I need support with childcare, I ask for it. If I need a hug, I ask for it. I no longer worry if I am perceived to be weak. I lift heavy and I lift often. There’s no person in their right mind who would call me weak; so I definitely don’t think that of myself.

As a lifter, my confidence has soared. I still have a “superwoman complex” but it’s not self-deprecating. I am a Superwoman because I am manifesting a power in my body and mind that is phenomenal!

I teach my daughter, Scarlett, there are three keys to a successful and happy life:

1)    Be you: I don’t fit into a box. I destroy the box. I am a woman who wears stilettos, skirts and lipstick. Yet, I also have callouses and I prefer the texture of chalk on my hands rather than lotion. Some people don’t understand me and what drives me and that’s ok. I am not here to impress anyone. I am here to challenge myself every day. I am my authentic self for the first time in my life. Because of that I am happy and successful. True success and joy are measured by how true I am to myself. I am teaching Scarlett to be Scarlett and not try to imitate or emulate anyone.

2)    There are no limitations: This Universe is abundant. I believe my blessings are coming every single day and in every single way. I would be a fool to limit myself. Scarlett has witnessed how many supportive opportunities appeared once I began lifting—the right coach, the right gym, the right community, etc. I am teaching Scarlett that no matter what you want to do, you can do it and the Universe will align the opportunities. All you need to do is seize them.

3) Education is key: I have a Master’s degree in Urban Studies; which I accomplished while Scarlett was an infant. I tell Scarlett the story of me nursing her while completing my thesis on my laptop. The running joke in my family is that she earned her dissertation  in “Sociopolitical Impact of Media Criticism on African American Women in the United States” at the ripe age of a one year old. Scarlett has watched me continue my professional education with workshops and certification courses and she is surrounded by my plethora of books. She is now watching me research and learn everything I can about strength training. Her greatest take-away is you must learn and educate yourself to succeed in anything you do.

I train with my partner “Negan” (“The Walking Dead” joke) aka. Chris.

Chris has been a lifter for over 10 years. He is my co-coach and he is more brutal than my primary trainer. In the gym we are not in a relationship- he is just “Coach” and he’s mean AF. We train together two days a week. Chris gives me the extra push and tweaks my programming to help me sustain my newbie gains. The best part of this relationship is he buys me new lifting “toys” (belts, accessories, lifting shoes, wraps, etc) in the color pink (my favorite color).

When I am feeling cranky or overwhelmed from a challenging day at work or with my children, he encourages me to spend as much time in the gym as I need. For a mom, this is a beautiful gift—gym time, manicure time, spa time, eating in peace and quiet… On these days, he gives me four to six hours of uninterrupted “Me Time”.

The only catch is I have to complete all of my working sets.

I encourage him when he doubts himself and I offer some lifting insights. I also encourage him to stick to a regular training program when he wants to just be a Maverick and randomly pull or press PRs. (FYI, his 5 rep max in DLs is 505lbs.) I pride myself in helping him make the decision to train for powerlifting instead of bodybuilding. He was amazed that I could eat what I want and not gain weight while he was busy counting macros and starving.

I greatly want to participate in Pull for Pride 2018! This is where it all started and I can’t wait to pull another PR on your platform! I met amazing ‘swole sisters’ and a reunion would be awesome!

In October, I am competing in the Iron Maiden Competition at Hercules Gym in Syracuse.

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