Recently Brandi was featured on the website The Shadow League :
This is a story about tears and the many emotions contained within them.
It’s a tale about emotions, the memories coloring them and the sometimes daunting change of identity that comes with accomplishment.
Our heroine? An albino woman named Brandi Darby who became the first legally blind woman to medal at a USA Weightlifting event last July. And if she’s being honest with you, she’ll say it was an honor she wasn’t sure she was ready to accept.
In fact, the day she walked into the American Open Series 2 in Valley Forge, Pa., Brandi didn’t even think that making history was a possibility.
She was too busy taking in her surroundings.
Because of her albinism, Brandi has trouble deciphering objects beyond 20 feet in front of her — and everything in between is hazy at that. Still, backstage at the Valley Forge Casino Resort, she could see each athlete in all their brawn and vigor warming up their lifts backstage. She even made out the silhouettes of some of her favorite athletes from Instagram. Like Cara Heads Slaughter, an American Olympian. The sight of her made Brandi’s stomach flutter.
"The pomp and circumstance of it all is what was getting me,” Brandi told the Shadow League.
As excited as Brandi was to be in that convention hall, a part of her was still trying to find her place. The 36-year-old from Pittsburgh had only started competing in Olympic weightlifting in February. This was the biggest event she had ever been a part of. She was slated to compete in the 90-kilogram masters weight class against six other women.
Thankfully, she knew that the organizers of the event were ready to accommodate her impaired vision. They let her coach, Tom Duer to walk her up and down the steps so she wouldn’t trip over any of the cables. The judges also said they would give her audible cues instead of visual ones. That way she’d know when she had completed her attempt or cleared a weight.
With all that in mind, Brandi knew she could relax a bit and just focus on what she set out to do:
Go six for six on her lifts.
She thought that was enough to make her coach proud. But even more so, Brandi wanted to honor her father who passed away two and a half years ago. The late Charles “Chuckie” Young had albinism, too, and overcame his disability to become a competitive powerlifter.
He was her greatest inspiration.
“I only do this because he used to punish me with it when I was a kid,” Brandi laughed. “I had to do air squats and deadlifts with a broomstick when I was being mouthy.”
Unfortunately, Brandi didn’t quite make her goal. She hit four out of six for a total of 135-kilograms between the snatch and the clean and jerk categories.
She went backstage and packed her bag while the other girls made their lifts. As each of her competitors walked by, she congratulated them with a smile and a tinge of disappointment. The competitor in her was focused on failure in that moment.
But when Brandi heard that she had placed third at her first-ever national meet, all she could do was cry. She started thinking about her father and how he would have loved to see her on that podium.
Daddy’s Little Leo
Brandi often credits her dad for teaching her how to move through a blurry world. Growing up in the projects of Pittsburgh with two working parents, she was far from a sheltered child.
“We had too much going on for my disabilities to rule the conversation at the dinner table, you know what I mean?” she said.
What she means is that she and her sister split the chores equally. Her sister mopped and vacuum the floors because she could see all of the crumbs and dust on the floor. Brandi did the dishes and made the beds because she could feel the grime on the silverware and the wrinkles in the sheets.
Beyond that, Chuckie made sure that his daughter Brandi learned everything that her sister and cousins did. She learned to take the bus on her own just like everyone else. She jumped into all sorts of sports like basketball, dodgeball, softball — a lot of sports many would assume a blind person would have trouble participating in.
But Brandi was the type of kid that if you told her she couldn’t do something, she’d do it anyway just to stick it in your face. She’ll attest she’s a fiery Leo.
When 10-year-old Brandi told her mother that she was going to try out for the softball team, her mom said she was better off playing something else. Chuckie jumped to Brandi’s defense.
“Let her,” he said then looked at his daughter.
“He told me I have to set my own boundaries in order to know which boundaries are mine or which boundaries were given to me,’’ added Brandi.
Even though she didn’t end up playing softball, she remembers the sheer glee of just being able to participate with other kids in activities she enjoyed — like cheerleading. Above all, she’ll never forget the day her father taught her and her cousins how to ride a bike.
“I remember having to practice riding the bike longer than everyone else because I couldn't see,” she said. “I was so distracted by everything that was going on around me that I was afraid of running into the chain link fences beside me. I wanted to quit. But my dad would just run right in front of me and say, ‘Just chase me. Just come and get me.’ Suddenly, I wasn’t as scared anymore.”
Then one day she asked her dad to take her to the gym with him, and her love for powerlifting began. Later in her 30s, she’d find CrossFit and find her passion for Olympic lifting.
Which brings us back to those tears streaming down her face at the American Open Series.
Those tears weren’t just streams of joy. They traced back to a deep-seeded fear that she couldn’t quite shake.
She was afraid of being different.
The Layers of Black Albinism
As daring as Brandi has been most of her life, she has never intentionally set out to be the first blind woman to do anything.
Because that would make her a somebody.
And being a somebody meant like she couldn’t just be like everyone else.
"I don't want to be any more different than I already am,” said Brandi. “I'm already albino. I just don’t like newly added layers of being different because it’s never easy being the odd one out.”
The idea of being “the odd one out” brings up painful memories of being left out of games of hide-and-seek with her cousins. It reminded her of the moments she thought her fair skin alienated her from her family.
“Growing up there was always this dichotomous thing where I wasn't black enough for a lot of people because I had what they perceived as white privilege,” said Brandi. “And then some white people didn't even know I was black or enjoyed the fact that I looked like them. So they would give me things like scholarships and stuff to feel good about helping out a girl from the projects. It took me a while to find myself in that balance.”
Layered on top of that is the complex guilt that sometimes accompanies black youth who achieve “success” defined by a white-dominated society. Brandi felt that her scholastic achievements strained her friendship with her cousins.
“In fifth grade, I went to private school while my cousins went to public school,” she said. “When they caught on that I was probably going to do well academically, they started accusing me of trying to ‘pass’. They used to say I thought I was better than them because I knew all of these SAT words. I'm like, ‘Y'all, when I see you, I see me. But when you see me, you see them.’ It wasn't fair.”
Brandi admits, that sometimes she felt the need to make herself small to stay close to the family she loved so dearly.
This is why standing tall on that American Open podium with that bronze medal around her neck brought a smile to her face and dropped pit in her stomach. She knew her whole family was watching her on the livestream.
“I honestly thought that they were going to think I was better than them and that somehow I’d have to prove that I'm not,” said Brandi. “I had this temptation to shrink so that I’d stay common.
I want people to know normal.”
Finding the Courage to be “The First”
When Brandi returned to the hotel from the medal ceremony, USA Weightlifting asked her coach if she was willing to do an interview. Word had got around that she had broken a barrier for blind women everywhere and USAW wanted to feature her on their website. Her Coach Tom urged her to go and Brandi once again started to cry.
“I felt insane because of all of these highs and lows,” she said. “In a way, it was so humbling to be asked for an interview because I felt like one of the gang. I already love the Oly community and I’m so happy I found a coach that lets me be independent. But at the same time, I didn’t want to do it because I didn't want to have a whole new group of people to shrink for.”
In the end, Brandi mustered up the confidence to speak to the reporter and she did so without flinching. If you ask her where the sudden courage came from, she’ll tell you it was because she was thinking of the new friends she at a conference a few years ago.
In 2014, Brandi attended an event held by the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation (NOAH) in San Diego, and it was there for the first time in her life that she made friends that looked like her.
“It was amazing,” she said. “But I was also surprised by the questions people were asking me. They were like, ‘Wait you can legally drive during the day? You travel internationally? How do you work out? Aren’t you afraid that you are going to walk into something at the gym?’”
I didn't know that I was doing things that we didn't do. I went to that conference thinking that I would find other people who had have a certain joie de vie. But I didn't find a lot of that. I found fear and doubt.”
Brandi understands that fear and doubt, especially when you don’t have a community supporting you. For her, starting CrossFit and Olympic weightlifting was scary and a bit intimidating at times. At the first gym she signed up for, she said that the coaches were a overly cautious around her and didn’t seem like the friendliest people. But it wasn’t long before she found a home.
That home is called the PFP Barbell Club, where Tom is the head coach. He said that when he first saw Brandi, all he saw was a powerful athlete with immense potential. He didn’t even know she was blind.
“Yeah, I figured it out after a few days when she spilled her coffee four or five times on the floor,” he laughed.
Still, Tom had no doubt that she could succeed in the sport.
“I didn't think [her vision] was going to affect the way that she would perform at all,” said Tom. “It wasn't hard to work with someone who has a visual disability because that's how we all have to learn the sport anyways. The thing about weightlifting is that you don't see yourself lift. If you put a mirror in front of a weightlifter it would actually make things worse. So in some regards, Brandi has an advantage.”
This means that Brandi and her new bronze medal are showing other people with visual impairments that they, too, can be extremely competitive in weightlifting. And because of that Brandi is beginning to step into her new brand of “Somebody” — even if it scares the crap out of her.
“At the end of the day, I want people to know that as terrifying as this is to me, it's more important that people can see that you can do this,” said Brandi. “I want to go as far as I can in Oly so I can help shine a light on the possibilities because this is not just albinism. It's about changing how we view disabilities, period.”
Now Brandi hopes to compete in the Paralympics one day and represent blind athletes on the grand stage.
All to change the way we see.
Come join Brandi and the rest of the PFP Barbell Team:
Originally Posted 10/4/18
Friday Phil-Osophy is a post from Facebook from Dan Bell of Rubber City Weightlifting.
The following is meant for lifters who express the desire to be among the best in the country at the sport of weightlifting. It is perfectly okay to NOT aspire to that, but if you do and want to make your actions fit your words, the following list may be of some help.
A basic list of what it takes to make the A Session at USAW Nationals:
Spot on insight from the guys over at Rubber City Weightlifting! Thanks for finding and sharing Coach Phil!
Like many weightlifters who started the sport in recent years, I started while experimenting with CrossFit. Overall, I liked the challenge of CrossFit, but I quickly learned that the strength part of the training was my weakest link, so I decided to focus this aspect and train strictly on the Snatch and Clean & Jerk. In my first few months of training, while speaking with other lifters, coaches, and doing some reading, I kept hearing that a new lifter should compete early and as often as possible. I didn’t fully understand the idea, but I decided to give it a try, since it appeared to be common advice.
I wish I could state I enjoy practicing being uncomfortable but that wouldn’t be the truth. Sometimes reluctantly, I do practice it because I know being in an uncomfortable situation is often a place in which quality growth can happen. My first meet was exactly this, uncomfortable. It was my first time in a singlet, I felt like I barely knew what a qualifying Snatch or Clean & Jerk even looked like, and I’m lifting the smallest amount of weight of anyone in the session. It was quite humbling to say the least.
After that first meet, as awkward as it was, I knew I wanted to get out there again. The idea of competing soon after starting in the sport worked! I wanted to train better and improve for the next one.
The second meet went better but there was still the uncomfortable feeling I have come to appreciate. This time around, I felt more prepared. I communicated goals to coaches and had a better idea of the processes involved in a competition. The singlet was about as awkward as the first time, though..
I have now competed eight times in a bit over a year and a half. I now find it fun, it’s a great way to deepen bonds with coaches and teammates. So far, every time I come away with something else I want to work on, whether it be strength, technique, or most recently, the mental aspect of the sport.
After some recent frustration with my progress in weightlifting, I took a step back reminded myself I’m still relatively new to the sport and generally new to any strength training, period. This thought process prompted me to look up my previous competition numbers. I noticed I’m at almost a 50% increase since my first competition in July 2017, so I can’t complain too much 😊
Time to time we will re-post articles from other sources, this one coming from East Coast Gold's founder :
Leo Totten, MS
Totten Training Systems, LLC
USAW Level 5
Posted here first :
We all have been inundated with information on how beneficial the Olympic lifts can be as part of the strength coach’s repertoire – an effective tool in the toolbox. Many of the physical attributes that athletes need are enhanced by doing the Olympic lifts properly:
What is the Snatch and what does it accomplish? The pull pattern is basically the same as the Clean, but the difference is where the “catch” or “receiving position” occurs – overhead instead of on the chest.
Because of the pull similarity to the Clean, teaching the Snatch is relatively simple. In spite of this, some coaches think the Snatch is too difficult to teach and/or not worth the effort. A good coach is a good teacher.
Like the Clean, the Snatch has two major components to the lift, the “pull” and the “catch”. The pull works all of the major muscle groups and utilizes the triple extension producing the desired explosive power so crucial to athletic performance.
Thinking back to old exercise science classes and the force/velocity curve, different components of strength training affect moving that curve in a positive direction. Because Snatches will need to use lighter weight and move that weight more total distance, they would be training more in the “speed-strength” category as opposed to “power” or “strength-speed”. Documented studies have shown Hang Power Snatches to exude higher velocities than Hang Power Cleans. By the same token, Snatch Pulls have higher velocities generally than Clean Pulls. In a nutshell, if you train fast, you’ll be fast!
An additional benefit is that a wider grip is used for the Snatch as opposed to the Clean, thus opening up the chest more and allowing for more leg work and less back.
Some coaches are afraid of the overhead component of the Snatch. But, are overhead movements, in general, OK to be used by the coach? Obviously, screening for risk factors of all athletes ahead of time is smart to head off any problems or if a particular athlete is predisposed to shoulder issues, then caution must be taken. But, if safe and progressive training protocol is utilized, then the Snatch or another overhead movement can be effective and useful. With proper technique, proper progressions and proper loading, the athlete has an additional resource for core strength, scapular and shoulder strength and stability, as well as scapulothoracic mobility. The “catch” or “receiving position” can provide that additional benefit of core and shoulder stability.
Let’s be clear, though, that we are talking about Snatches to enhance athletic performance. Most coaches are not using Snatches to create a one rep max to prepare for a weightlifting competition (although we can help with that too! ) Athletes can use variations or derivatives of the Snatch to accomplish their goals.
A weightlifter in competition has to perform a one rep max on the platform from the floor. A majority of the time, they use a “Squat” Snatch as opposed to a “Power” Snatch. That simply means they only have to pull it as high as they need to get under and stabilize in the full squat position. A Power Snatch needs a higher pull to “catch” it above parallel.
However, any other athlete besides the weightlifter performing the Snatch can do any number of variations of the lift. Different goals, right? They can reap benefits of proper Snatches by either doing a power or squat. Both need that explosive power in the pull, but more flexibility is needed for the athlete to hit the bottom, squat position. Perhaps more weight can be used in the Squat Snatch, but only if the technique and flexibility allow it.
Flexibility might be another inhibiting factor for a proper pull position from the floor. If this is the case, the athlete can still attain the explosive component of the lift by doing a Hang Snatch from varying positions. Many athletes will do Snatches off blocks instead of from the hang, still accomplishing the goal.
If the pull is the weak component of the lift for the athlete, a heavier load can be used for just the pull itself rather than finishing in the overhead position. Any variety of start positions (floor, hang or blocks) can be used. Keep in mind when adding load, though, the proper technique AND speed of movement must be emphasized. Other slower, strength movements like snatch grip Deadlifts or snatch grip RDLs can be used where speed is not a factor, just proper technique.
The overhead position has to be strengthened as well. The Overhead Squat is one of the best exercises to improve the Snatch and is also a great exercise in and of itself. This is a great exercise to work shoulder and core stability, balance, flexibility and, of course, it increases confidence in the receiving position in the Snatch. Other overhead strength builders for the Snatch can be included in the program as well – Snatch Balance, snatch grip Push Press and Push Jerk.
Bo Sandoval, outstanding strength coach at University of Michigan, had this to say about including Snatches in his toolbox of exercises for his athletes:
“I implement the Snatch as a means to develop ground based explosive power systemically through coordinated bouts of concentric and eccentric actions. This lift, when executed properly, takes fractions of a second, taxes the ATP/CP energy system and requires varying degrees of athletic positioning while demanding and promoting mobility, stability, and speed throughout. Currently, I use the Snatch and/or variations with Track&Field, Cross Country and Lacrosse. I have used this movement with, but not limited to, Football players, Basketball players, Swimmers, Gymnasts, Weightlifters (of course!), Shooters, Tri-Athletes, Wrestlers, Cyclists and Bobsledders.”
So, ask yourself:
Can the Snatch be one of those exercises that fit those criteria? With proper coaching and if done for all the right reasons, the Snatch can be a very effective tool in the coach’s toolbox!
To learn more about how to incorporate the snatch into your routine ,
Email Coach Tom :
I have been working with my coach Phil Sabatini for almost a year now and I am learning more and more about weightlifting every day. This year is the first time I have had a fully planned out year and trained constantly throughout, without any breaks, forced or otherwise. One lessen I have learned as of late, is how important expectation management is during a tough training cycle .
In the context of training I am defining Expectation Management as your ability to perform lifts in relation to their time and place in your training. This training cycle in particular has been difficult for me during the last workout of the week . We currently are squatting 3 days a week at relatively high intensity. On day 5 , we do snatches and clean and jerks at above 80+ . My expectation going into this training cycle was that during these attempts I would be able to work up to 95+% on my final lifts each week with little to no issue. After my first two weeks in the program I have left both sessions disappointed and frustrated after only being successful in the 85-90% range at best. Technically those lifts have improved , but I have hit a big wall above that and things fall apart.
At this point in my weightlifting career, my legs are stronger than ever, my technique is better, but when I have the opportunity to push things my numbers aren't better. So what the heck is going on??? Am I getting worse? Should I just retire ? What could be to blame? I was fired up! Once I calmed down I had a hunch about what was going on but I had to text my coach to find out.
When I did, I found out my program for the next 6 weeks is designed to help increase my raw strength and improve my positions, NOT increase my total...yet. Once I asked I realized that the 80+ attempts were meant to stay closer to the 80% range and not so close to the 100% range. No wonder I was leaving my training sessions frustrated and down . My performance expectations for the workout were way too high when I took the rest of my training week into account. So what does this mean for my training going forward?
Now that my expectations are lined up with my abilities during my training, I can enter into my workouts with a better mindset and be present in my situation. This will help me improve my training in a variety of ways. This will allow me to focus on the things in my training that will make me better. Good positioning in my lifts and pushing the strength when I have the opportunity during my squats and pulls. This will help increase my overall attitude towards my training and identify the victories in each day. Weightlifting is hard, if I am going to be successful long term I need to be able to gain momentum by racking up these daily victories.
Here at PFP Barbell we are constantly learning and growing. Come grow with us!
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get started!
USAW just Released their 2019 Qualifying totals. Here is an easy access list of the Qualifying totals for the upcoming year :
2019 American Open Series
55kg / 123kg
61kg / 137kg
67kg / 170kg
73kg / 174kg
81kg / 199kg
89kg / 207kg
96kg / 217kg
102kg / 222kg
109kg / 230kg
+109kg / 235kg
45kg / 85kg
49kg / 88kg
55kg / 97kg
59kg / 103kg
64kg / 113kg
71kg / 124kg
76kg / 127kg
81kg / 129kg
87kg / 134kg
+87kg / 144kg
2019 American Open Finals
Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center
Salt Lake City, UT
2019 National Championships
May 9-12 Graceland : Memphis, TN
55kg / 200kg
61kg / 210kg
67kg / 235kg
73kg / 260kg
81kg / 274kg
89kg / 290kg
102kg / 305kg
109kg / 308kg
+109kg / 311kg
45kg / 120kg
49kg / 137kg
55kg / 151kg
59kg / 166kg
64kg / 177kg
71kg / 185kg
76kg / 191kg
81kg / 193kg
87kg / 194kg
+87kg / 195kg
2019 National Youth Championships13 & Under / 11& Under
Years of birth: 2006 or later
*An additional 11 & Under medal is given in the total only (Gold, Silver, Bronze)
*An additional Technique medal is given where technique is 8 out of 10 or above by Jury.
*Minimum attempt for 13&U is 10kg (5kg bar plus 2.5kg Plates).
*Separate athletic testing is available throughout the weekend as a separate competition
Lets get after it and qualify ! If you want to get started in weightlifting email :Coach Tom at email@example.com
Our team recently competed at the AO2 in Valley Forge. About half of our active weightlifters participated and the rest trained their butts of leading up to the meet. This was one of our longest and hardest training cycles any of us had been through. The meet came and went , overall it was pretty awesome from start to finish. However , when we got back I noticed a big change in energy around the club. I can attribute it to a few things , but I want to talk about the one that I believe is the biggest culprit . The dreaded "Post Competition Hangover"...
What the heck is a Post Competition Hangover? This is something I 100% completely made up, but I think I may be onto something . I have been experiencing similar symptoms myself since nationals and just now , 3 months later , am coming out on the other side. After a big PR or meet we can start to feel a level of demotivation and lethargy that we aren't used to and it can be a bear to kick. The thing we have worked so hard for is over and its time to get back to work. We have just spent the last few months peaking for a big event and now we are starting to come down the other side. As I am starting to feel better again here are a few do's and don't on how to recover from a weightlifting hangover.
Do: Keep showing up to workouts. As tempting as is it to skip workouts because you feel demotivated and crappy , this is the opposite of what you should be doing. The more workouts you miss , the more frustrated you will be when you decide to come back and your strength and technique are no where to be found.
Don't: Chase PR's . If you have done what you were supposed to (and your program was designed to peak you for the event) , then you are coming back down and doing foundational work . This is not the time to spend the next month doing 1RM yanking on bars hoping that something good will happen.
Do: Spend some time reflecting and figuring out your "why" . Most of your training will be focused on movement improvements and volume, its going to be hard . Take some time and reflect on why you fell in love with weightlifting in the first place. This will help you get to training more often and get more out of it.
Don't: Be too hard on yourself. This is a tough sport, now is not the time to be critical and expect to feel like a world beater every day. Understand you are a work in progress and these periods of demotivation are part of the process. Be patient and present and have fun .
This post meet hangover is a tough time for every lifter, I hope this will be helpful for you to get back after your workouts.
If you want to find out more about PFP Barbell follow the link and sign up for a free Barbell Assessment today!
*originally posted 3/12/18
When we start as weightlifters, Personal Records can be a weekly or daily occurrence, however once the PR Party stops we must work harder to stay interested and engaged as athletes. At PFP Barbell we approach each session with a few different goals in mind.
These are :
1.) Skill Development
2.) Movement Quality
3.) Strength Improvement
4.) Mental Toughness
As athletes we cannot expect to improve each on of these qualities every training session. However, if we strive to improve each on we can gain small victories by simply improving a 1 or 2 of these qualities each training session we can expect to become better weightlifters over time . Weightlifting is an extremely mentally tough sport so these small victories are crucial for us if we want to stick with the sport and train past plateaus . Now lets cover specifically what each on of these qualities are and how we can improve them during each session.
1.) Skill Development : This one is something that almost every lifter can do in each and every training session. Skill development includes improving on any skill needed in weightlifting. These things could be working on your start position, practicing a better rack position on your lifts, or learning a new variation on your lifts. Making a conscious effort to improve basic weightlifting skills in each session is a great way to ensure continued progress in your training . This accumulation in skills will eventually lead to an accumulation of PR's once you break through your plateau.
2.) Movement Quality: This quality is the immediate follow-up to skill development . Movement quality is when we take skills we already have learned and work to hone and perfect these movements. This can be anything from keeping the bar closer to you during the lifts, proper weight distribution in your feet , working on proper head position, proper bar path , or any other of our established weightlifting skills. Weightlifting is a sport in which our goal of perfect movement is not actually attainable to by focusing on small improvements in our movement quality it ensures long term progress. Fall in love with the process and results will come.
3.) Strength Improvement: This one can be fairly straight forward however we can find strength improvements in a variety of ways. The obvious things are hitting a new 1rm in an exercise ,but since this is an article about what to do when the PR's stop coming this isn't what I mean. It could be a new 5 Rep max or 10 rep max, the ability to hit a high percentage at multiple sets, or even an improvement on the weights used during accessory work . Do not discount your progress in any of these things. As you train your 1 rep max may not change for months or even years, trust the process, understand their is no such thing as being 'too strong' and celebrate every victory.
4.) Mental Toughness : This quality is one we should be able to improve every single session. Weightlifting can be a grind at times. We have long , hard , detail oriented workouts that at times can be mentally taxing to complete . Toughness can come in many forms . We can can improve this through pushing through a tough workout, coming back to make a lift that we've been missing in training, or as simple as completing our workout with intention on a day when we really don't want to be there.
As you grow and develop as a weightlifter our primary goal should be to raise our Minimums (The amount of weight we can hit any day we work up to a heavy single in each lift.). The sports is about being consistent and hitting lifts on the platform. However, lets be honest everyone loves a PR party. Lets fall in love with the daily training it takes to get there.
Your first victory starts by finding a good coach!
Email : Tom@pittsburghfitnessproject.com
Get Started Today!
Originally posted here :
Pittsburgh native Brandi Darby made history at USA Weightlifting’s American Open Series 2 in Valley Forge, PA. At 36-years-old, she became the first legally blind lifter in recent history to win any medal at a national level weightlifting competition, earning a silver and two bronze medals in the women’s over 35 category. Darby competed in the 90kg weight class. Her best lifts were a 65kg Snatch (silver) and a 70kg Clean and Jerk (bronze), bringing her total to 135kg (bronze).
Despite this accomplishment, Brandi says she’s never aspired to win medals in the sport, but rather be an example to others who may be hesitant to try weightlifting because of a disability.
“There are a lot of us who don’t have the confidence to try this or any sport because the challenges seem bigger than the possibilities,” Darby told USA Weightlifting.
Like many of today’s weightlifting stars, Darby found the Olympic lifts through CrossFit. “We had a love hate relationship,” she said of the CrossFit classes she took while in college. “One day I came in and saw an 800m run on the board and died a little inside.” With a disdain for running, she signed up for the Olympic lifting classes instead. “It was love at first lift,” Darby said. “They sat down between lifts and the volume increased with every set. It was like the Disney World of fitness.”
With a newfound love of weightlifting, Darby says her first challenge was to find a coach that didn’t feel burdened by her disability. “My vision will never change, but I do have control over how I’ll be treated,” she said.
Darby eventually began training with Coach Tom Duer at the Pittsburgh Fitness Project Barbell, a USAW member club. “Now that I’m with a coach who isn’t deterred by my vision, I worry more about environmental things. Will I be able to see the judges and their cues? Will the lights on stage be in my eyes and distract me? What stair, cords or apparatuses might I trip over because of my lack of depth perception?”
Despite her apprehension, Darby began competing at local weightlifting competitions in February of 2018, eventually qualifying for her first national competition, the American Open Series 2, where she became the first blind weightlifter to medal at a USA Weightlifting sanctioned event.
“I want to thank USAW for cultivating a culture of inclusion for people with disabilities like mine,” she said. I’ve tried a lot of sports in my life, this is the only one I didn’t quit for lack of support.”
Come join Brandi and the rest of the awesome PFP Barbell team by clicking the link to get started : www.pfpbarbell.com/get-started.html
This past weekend, several athletes from PFP Barbell competed at the American Open Series II in Valley Forge. It was an incredible experience and a little challenging to put into words.
Since my last competition at the AO1 in March, this was the longest amount of time I had spent training for a meet (22 weeks!). I had focused much of my time getting stronger and working on improving technical errors. Attending the Add to the Atmosphere Camp with the East Coast Gold team in Virginia was a huge help to expose weaknesses and fix where I was making mistakes. During my competition, I reminded myself of everything I had learned over the past few months and trusted my technique to get me through and make the lifts.
The AO2 was held Friday through Sunday, and I was the 3rd lifter from PFP to compete on Friday. It didn’t feel real. I trained for 3 months just for this one day. It was time to prove to myself and my team what I had learned and what I was capable of. This was my 3rd time competing and definitely the most physically prepared I had ever felt for a meet. Something that surprised me was actually how calm I felt. Previously I had always felt anxious and nervous leading up to a competition, but this time was different. I was relaxed, confident, and actually excited to get out on the platform and put some weight over my head.
After Gerald and Andre’s session, it was my turn. I began warming up in the back, taking my time to make every lift as best as I could. I looked at the screen and saw my name and my opening attempt slowly creeping up towards the top. Finally, it was go time. As calm as I had been ended abruptly as I stepped up to the bar. My heart was racing and I couldn’t slow it down. Thoughts of “what if you miss?” and “don’t bomb out” crept into my head. I took my first attempt at 48kg – rushed it a bit, caught it way forward on my toes – and had to settle back down to make the lift. Luckily, I was able to save it, but making my opener helped me calm back down. I had a number on the board now!
My second attempt at 51kg was my best snatch of the day – smooth and steady. Finally, for my 3rd attempt, we put a lifetime PR of 54kg on the bar. It was nerve-racking to put a weight I’ve never hit on a national platform. I ended up missing it, but I know it’s there.
After the rest of the women’s 58kg group finished their snatches, we began the clean and jerk session. Personally, I prefer clean and jerks because I am way more confident hitting these lifts than my snatches. My opening attempt was 68kg, which I hit without a problem. Next up was 71, then 74. My all time best clean and jerk is 74kg. Cleans had been feeling very strong lately, but the jerks were sometimes hit or miss. Some days they felt really good, and other times I couldn’t make anything over 90%. Nearing the end of my session, I went out to the platform to take my attempt at 74kg. I pushed my doubts away and made my last clean and jerk at 74. It actually felt surprisingly easy enough that Tom and Maggie encouraged me to take another attempt in the training hall at 76kg! I made the clean but just missed the jerk out in front. This was a good sign that I definitely have more in the tank.
Overall, I had two competition lift PRs and PRed my total by 7kg! I ended up improving my snatch from 48 to 51 and my clean and jerk from 70 to 74 for a total of 125kg. I had moved from the F session to the D session which meant no 5:30 weigh-in time! That was a big win for me, along with weighing in at a better weight this time (last time I was 2 kilos underweight, compared to this meet where I was just under my competition weight of 58kg).
This weekend was such an incredible experience not only for my performance, but just being surrounded by so much support from PFP, East Coast Gold, and my family. My parents, aunt and uncle came to support me, which was really cool to share that experience with them. I couldn’t have done any of this without my team at PFP. My coaches Tom, Maggie, and Dom were busy coaching a tremendous amount of athletes this weekend (along with Maggie and Dom competing themselves as well), and gave every person their full attention to set them up for success. Not only did my coaches help me warming up, counting attempts, and motivate me in the back, but I could also hear the rest of my family and teammates cheering for me from the crowd. I couldn’t have asked for better people to surround myself with. One of the coolest things about weightlifting is how supportive the environment is and I’m truly honored to be a part of such an amazing team! Looking forward to get back to training and hit even better numbers at the next competition.
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