Life Defined By Training

I left my job, long time girlfriend, family, and friends to live in poverty and train with the best lifters and coaches in the country. Is that strange?
–Sean

This was a response to Mike on FB when he asked “What was the strangest thing you’ve done to pursue your strength goals?” Mike felt compelled to find out more about Sean. Sean was kind enough to respond with his story. It’s heartfelt and motivating.

In late 2010, I was a college dropout English major, rugby player, and on the verge of tumbling into full blown alcoholism. I was able to function rather well considering and I didn’t drop out of school because I was doing poorly. In fact between a full load of courses, rugby practice, and two part time jobs I suppose I was a high functioning alcoholic. I dropped out half for monetary reasons and half for lack of purpose. Drinking had always helped writing and it’s an institution within rugby culture, but without any purpose in my life I began to allow it to take over more than anyone should. Fortunately, this did not last very long and I don’t intend to fool you into thinking I’m a sob story who overcame substance abuse or some bullshit like that.

What changed is that I found training. With only rugby left in life I decided to improve my strength and conditioning. I wanted to play at higher levels and one of the things that separated me from the next level was a lack of an off the field training program. A friend referred me to three things that were instrumental in setting me on the path.

I developed my lifting career and philosophy through these three components:
1.) CrossFit, the burgeoning fitness craze.
2.) Starting Strength, Rippetoe and Kilgore’s famous book on basic barbell training.
3.) A blog called 70s Big.

I started by trying out CrossFit workouts. I’ve always been a bigger guy, but I was athletic in my youth. Ten years of hockey taught me nothing about training except to skate more, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. Football taught me how bench shitty, squat shitty, and power clean shitty. I did not stay there long because I honestly found the game to be incredibly boring from a positional standpoint. My ADD despises running. Aside from being generally silly, running is in no way cerebrally stimulating. So CrossFit’s general lack of running, attention sustaining intensity, and endless possibility of movements was at least interesting. That was great for dropping a few pounds and keeping the lungs strong, but rugby requires an immense amount of power and physical strength. Let me tell you, you don’t want to be a soft corpse on the other side of a full stride Samoan.

This need led me to Starting Strength. I decided I should put as much effort into getting as strong as I could as fast with rugby season quickly approaching. The lungs would come back with some hours on the field. The instructions from the book were all right there. I didn’t worry about shin angles, varus vs. valgus, or am I producing torque. I showed up to the gym three days a week. I put my ass to ankles in the squat, I benched and pressed in a full range of motion, and picked shit up off the ground until I was completely erect (Get your mind out of the gutter). I drank 1-2 quarts of milk per training day. I ate meat and vegetables. I gained a significant amount of lean mass. In three months I squatted 500lbs. That’s not particularly impressive, but I do think it is a tribute to simplicity and consistency.

During this period of training, the third object of influence started to take full effect on my life. I followed and read 70s Big regularly. I found Justin’s writing entertaining, informative, and comforting (all the homo). There were so many articles I found interesting and useful and it’s been so long since I’ve read them that is hard to remember them all. The one thing that stuck with me and really changed my life was Justin’s encouragement of his readers to educate themselves. I followed suit and sought out as much knowledge as I could. I absorbed anything I could get my hands on: Zatsiorsky, Verkhoshanksy, Siff, Kilgore, Medvedyev, Roman, Yessis, Bondarchuk, Stone, Garhammer, Poliquin. Even some stuff from Simmons, Wendler, Boyle, and Cressey. Soviet Sport Manuals were my favorite and still remain a dominant part of my library.

I could take concepts I was learning and apply them to my training or that of my peers. It was something concrete, applicable, practical, a physical experience of science expressed. Training and sport science taught me to give a shit about cellular biology and physics, elements of my short lived education spent studying literature that I had happily ignored. I watched countless hours of film of lifters, gymnasts, and sprinters. For the first time in my life as a young adult I had an inkling of an idea about what I actually wanted to do with my life. I acquired many certifications. CrossFit started me on my path so I decided to get my L1. I eagerly awaited the knowledge bombs I’m told all seminar instructors possessed. Surely they had some secrets I couldn’t find in a book. While I still value practical experience over book knowledge, it quickly became evident to me that I was more educated on exercise science and had more time under the bar than most of my instructors. Even a certain famous figure in the early days of CrossFit who had university level experience and was renowned for his experience in Olympic Weightlifting was very much unable to answer my questions about snatch technique. This was an eye opening and I found it to be a reflection of the fitness industry as a whole.

Following this I got involved with a group of people who wanted to open an affiliate. Coaches were still few and far between then, especially in the market where the gym opened. I should not have been allowed, in my opinion, to coach then, though it did allow me to gain the practical experience I now have and I did simultaneously undergo an internship with a Sports Performance Coach. In my effort to become a better coach I went to acquire my USAW Level 1. Justin had posted articles about discussions with someone named Glenn Pendlay who happened to be instructing a course 5 hours away from me at a gym called California Strength. That man completely ruined my life and made me fall in love with Weightlifting. Glenn was, and continues to be, a very knowledgeable and easy person to speak to. This was the first time that I personally was able to kinesthetically understand the snatch and the revelation was life altering. Since that moment I began chasing kilos.

I made subsequent visits to California Strength, usually in week long increments to observe the lifting in person and discuss with both Coach and the lifters training ideology. In the Weightlifting community I had stumbled upon, perhaps, the most humble and hard working resource of training knowledge in all of Exercise Science. Aside from my visits to Coach, certifications, clinics, and internship I continued to be a largely self-educated coach and self-coached weightlifter. I stopped coaching at a CrossFit affiliate and after an unsuccessful attempt to open my gym I took up work coaching at a Velocity Sport Performance. This was rewarding in some aspects, and good experience with diverse populations but my heart was never really there. The one thing that stayed consistent in my life was training. As the famous Henry Rollins quote goes, “The Iron never lies to you.” I kept showing up and so did the barbell. Through knee surgery and other injuries, I kept showing up having good days and bad days. The barbell taught me consistency, diligence, and confidence. I carried myself with respect and applied the stubbornness and resourcefulness the barbell had taught me to all aspects of my life.

At the beginning of 2013 I decided to go back to school and here I am a little over a year later still going with a 4.0 so far. In early spring MuscleDriver USA announced that they were holding a tryout. They had done something similar the previous year and I decided against going as I did not think the odds were good for me to make it and there were too many elements of life which were uncertain. I regretted that decision every day thereafter. I was not going to repeat that mistake. Due to a few injuries my lifting had not progressed much from the previous year, but I began training with a distinct purpose. I was going to show up, lift weights I had never lifted before, and go 6/6. Looking back, the ferocity of my training at the time was maddening. After multiple flight delays and a mix up with my rental car reservation I made it to the tryout. I PRed in Snatch, Clean and Jerk, and Total, going 6/6. If I wasn’t going to make the cut I still wanted to go out knowing I had done everything I was capable of. After flying home, I received a call while at work the following Monday from a phone with a Texas area code. The voice on the other end was Coach Pendlay, inviting me to join Team MDUSA. “I think you’ve got potential.” It’s one of the two nicest things he’s ever said to me I think.

I packed up my car, left my long-time girlfriend, my family, my friends, my athletes, and job to drive across country into the unknown and live in poverty. I have never felt so full of purpose. Everyday I am coached and educated by two of the best coaches in American Weightlifting. My training partners and friends include National Champions and legitimate Olympic Hopefuls. I am afforded the opportunity to show up 9x a week and push my body to it’s limits and learn further lessons from the barbell. Though I have goals for certain levels of achievement in my sport, at this point it’s less about hardware and more about the journey. I am still forever chasing kilos.



You can follow me on instagram @seanmrigsby and check out heavymetalsc.com to stay up to date on projects and my perspective on Team MDUSA.

Sean tells an amazing story. I suggest you take a good hard look at yourself in the mirror, this time not hitting a front double-bi, and decide how you want to approach your life. Whether it be training, work, or a project.

7 thoughts on “Life Defined By Training

  1. Thanks for sharing your story – I love watching you and your team mates in the MDUSA training videos. I love the commentary when you lift…Sean can get just about anything overhead.

    I am really hoping to see you at the PanAm games – I already have plans to take some time off to watch the weightlifting. Look for me in the front row (with a Canadian shirt on) cheering for you.

  2. I got to know Sean when I lived in Valencia and we trained at the same gym. I’m proud of him and proud of his journey. He is a friend of mine and there will be more to come from him as he progresses further in his lifting. The progress Sean has made is a testament to his commitment to his training. What Sean has written here is not sexy, but something better…the truth. I think its a great story and a lot of us can learn from it.

  3. What a fantastic story. Good for you.

    Seeing that list of authors, it occurred to me that I’ve never heard of several of them. I wonder if 70sBig might develop a “recommended reading list” of some kind. I personally derived a ton of inspiration from John McCallum’s “Complete Keys to Progress.”

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