No great story starts easy, does it? We can’t sit here and say that our adventurous spirits should search for the easiest paths ever taken and want to settle to a tale that starts off with, “well it wasn’t that hard at all” do we? I sat here over and over and began to recollect all the paths taken to get here. The time lines, the losses, the shit sandwiches, the late nights, the money loss, the ego hits and the heart breaks. I began to list the names of those who stood with me and those who eventually left. I had my list of failed attempts, financial blunders and planning errors that extended this journey so much longer. I did, I promise. I know you can envision me with lists of notes spread on the floor, with note book opens and newly acquired glasses going over penciled details. Can you? Well if you did you’re wrong haha. It’s not that those notes don’t exists, its merely that if a life is lived with purpose, the notes are engrained in your soul.
My notebooks and scrap papers thrown across the ground are instead replaced with long drives home, sleepless nights, and bottomless pints at the bar. One doesn’t merely forget where they came from and it is certainly not easy to forget all the fuck ups along the way. They sting. They sting the way a heart break leaves a painful scab on your heart that we can’t help but fucking pick. They settle and nuzzle their way into the back of your mind and have a nasty habit of re-appearing at the worst possible times. And here, with “notes” thrown across my floor I reminisce on how all this started.
Times were different back then and as old as that makes me sound, I think it’s fair to say we can all start a story like that can’t we? The Miami Throwdown was known as the Thanksgiving Throwdown back then and it was the second biggest powerlifting event after Raw Unity. Raw powerlifting was just starting to make a serious name for itself and you could catch big names walking around the Port St. Lucie Civic Center a couple times a year. The back gymnasium had a plain white wall with a basketball court made of cheap material that made walking on in a sticky tripping hazard. The large square room would be home to several throwdowns and before back room filming crews, 55 inch tv’s, robust egos, 4 warm up racks and proper ventilation, we called this place home. The civic center would pack in over a 100 lifters in a day, as Florida Powerlifitng was beginning to grow, and driving home at 2:30am was not an uncommon occurrence. Before Instagram would dictate attempts and arguing with refs, we barely had enough bars to go around and warming up a 700 pound squat with a regular power bar was not only natural, it was what it was and you made it work. I’m sorry, did I mention we had to walk 2 miles in the snow to get here? Uphill both ways? Well it happened, I was there.
Throwdown was my first major meet and after competing in a small RPS meet, with shoes I still own by the way, I was able to bring a larger squad to the Throwdown. Although anxious, this time I was not a visitor in the back, instead I was a coach of 4 athletes (and lifters) and I was excited to make a name for myself but I must have made it obvious, huh? Bright eyed, bushy tailed new guy who was walking around trying to find his way. And as it should be, I was treated as such. We were never disrespected; on the contrary, we were pleasantly tested with cues, questions and vigilant observation from senior coaches, judges, and lifters. I had to earn my stripes and eat my shit sandwiches as I was thrown into the lions den of Powerlifitng events and had to hold my own. At the time I had been training and coaching for 5 years and despite the confidence in my ability, I remained humbled and steadfast. We loaded plates, lent out belts, chalked backs, baby powdered legs, wrapped knees, shook babies and kissed hands. The Battle Axe clan may have been 5-6 deep back then but we certainly remained true to ourselves.
As we packed up that night about 12:30pm (yes meets always ended past 5pm back then) to begin the drive home, I remember quietly walking past the seats. The room had now emptied out for the most part as some lifters stayed back taking pictures with medals or finalizing drug tests. There was still the distant funk of a room used to push the human limit and despite how uncomfortable it sounds, it smelled great. I walked through the chairs looking at all that had happened that day and never having hosted a competition in my life, I remember telling myself one day this too would be mine. Call it cockiness, ambition, or insanity but I promise you this happened. You can see it can’t you? Walking with a book bag over my shoulder, looking into the distance, barely paying attention to what is going on around me and talking to myself like a crazy person. Smirking and laughing and nervous as shit all at once. If you imagined this, well guess what? You’re right. It happened, I was there.
The years would pass as most things do in life, they begin to feel out of reach. As the state of powerlifting began to expand so too did the population, demand, competition size and change in venues. The demand for larger shows, cash prizes, sponsors and expectations of athlete performances sky rocketed. During this process Richard Ficca would become state chair after the USPA was dropped on his lap out of nowhere ( but that remains a story for another time). We finally began to pick up stride as Raw Unity faded away but Battle of the Bay took its place as the largest show in Florida. Thanksgiving Throwdown remained a steadfast second place and every meet in the state was selling out in weeks, if not days. The community began to grow and despite different gyms existing and rivalries growing. Florida was beginning to make a large statement not only in the south but nation wide. And then 2019 happened…
I won’t get into details, names, or situations but most of you reading know what happened with who and how. If you don’t, I’ll put it simply… People began to see other people and the Florida relationship status simply read “it’s complicated”. Now whether you “unfriended” me after that I can give 3 shits about but the fact of the matter remained, Florida powerlifting was not only divided, it was in tatters. With major lifters, coaches, and gyms at odds the air reeked of bad blood and finger pointing. People began to choose sides and from an outside perspective I began to think, what would happen with the big competitions? What would happen in the warm up rooms, or PR stories leading up to a meet? What would happen to the post competitors beers or the war stories told at the dinner table before opening day? We all sat and wondered, was it even worth it? Was it even lucrative to host meets? What if the powers that be just gave up? What would you do? What would I do?… Well I know exactly what the fuck I’d do… Make Florida Powerlifitng great again, right? Easier said than done but not if that is all you’ve thought about for 7 fucking years… Take a second. Recline your seat, prepare for take off and ask for a complementary whiskey on the rocks. As the stewardess comes by and sneaks you a second tiny bottle on the house, extend your legs and let your mind expand into what 7 years looks like, what it feels like. What it tastes like and what it takes from you. The 747 air bus of your mind has taken off so let me bring you back down for a second and enjoy that buzz as we eventually prepare for landing.
Seven years is a long fucking time man but it’s not. It is when we count the hours and days but its a blink of an eye when you tally up the experience, expectations, and courage gained from it. As luck, circumstances and the will of the Gods would have it, Miami would host its second USPA meet as the first was not given to me and understandably so. No I did not take this personally. No I did not think was a blunder or an insult. No I did not go on social media and start a “Long Post” alert about being all up in my feelings . Instead, I Shut the fuck up, planned, didn’t sleep, became DEEPLY competitive as I always do and waited for my opportunity to take action. The Battle Axe gym was given the chance to host the Thanksgiving Throwdown in February of 2019 and to say the moment was forever engrained in my mind was an understatement. Engrained? Nah, lets say it was tattooed into my SOUL. It was my time… it was OUR TIME.
As in all things in my life, I don’t like to be second at anything . I HATE IT. I hate tying, I hate third, I hate fourth (which isn’t even a placing), I hate participation medals and I hate being the only one in my class. I like to fucking WIN and or at the very least, my effort be second to none. I worked tirelessly as days quickly turned to weeks and months. Time was flying by and finding a location, set up and proper venue was beginning to build pressure. I did not want the newly named MIAMI Throwdwon to be at a gym, or hotel, or conference room, instead I wanted this location to bring the sport and it’s lifters to light. I wanted our efforts to be screamed from the rafters, reposted, bragged about and spoken about for years to come. I wanted us to be recognized as not only a bad ass sport but as bad mother fuckers. I wanted the yells of the crows to ring off the walls and the warm up room to be electric with energy. I wanted it ALL…
Please welcome entering from stage left, The Tank Brewery.
Five months of planning, emails , phone conversations, anxiety and such a relaxed attitude from Tank left me in a whirl wind. Could it be happening this easy I thought ? With Rich being very experienced and coming with a steadfast team, I know the actual lifting portion was going to be aces but the rest was up to me and my team. Although I had already run one of the BEST strongman competitions in the south (FACT) that did not make me an expert at Powerlifitng events. So before I let those little whispers of doubt creep into my life, I began to act. This was my time to not only prove to the community that Florida Powerlifting still mattered but to show us all that what really mattered was the sport and that it would never die. I dove into preparation feverishly as I would not let this show simply slip into the cracks as just another meet, instead I wanted us to be the BEST. Countless hours of prepping floor plans, set up, team training, equipment check (of which I continue to thank Gorilla Bench for), chairs, tables, hours of operation, chalk, bars, warm up room set up, table set up, beer hours, food hours, staff needs, location details, parking, hours of operation, entry, retail, vendor space, sponsor highlights, shirts, athlete questions… Shall I go on? I won’t cause fuck that.
Where was I? Oh yes, It was show time wasn’t it. Now I could go on and on about how the show actually ran but for that I think I will dive deeper while doing my podcast but I will tell you this. The show surpassed my expectations and my expectations are typically unfairly high. The meet ran perfectly didn’t it? Where you there? I fucking hope so. No lifter was hurt due to bad calls or spots. BOTH male and females worked the plate loading like machines. The Battle Axe Clan organized, ran, detailed, managed and staffed not only the Church and Battle Axe platforms but also the entry, back rooms , bathroom and retail space. Judges made more than fair calls and you know what? I saw them having a good time. No sleepy judges on chairs or the fatigue that normally creeps in on day two, instead I found athletes and judges alike electric with desire and you know what? HAVING FUN.
The audience danced back and forth from the bar to the platforms cheering and filming without hesitation. Smiles and iPhones (cause who owns an android am I right?) were beaming from squat, to bench to deadlift. Cheers rang off the walls like I had dreamed as we saw PR’s get crushed and records get broken by seasoned and rookie lifters alike. The back room was palpable with ambition and courage as men and women set their game faces before battle. War drums beat inside the souls of both lighter lifters to our heavy weights alike, who bent the bar under the unforgiving iron and red kilos. Sweat dripped off the back of spotters and loaders and lifters as kilo after kilo smacked into each other causing a tremendous cacophony of beauty and rage. Baby powder was used OUTSIDE the lifting area as both caging the beast and unleashing the wild animal of lifters ebbed and flowed along side following the rules and being respectful. Savagery was witnessed as both men and women shook the audience with their war cries as tears fell equally from both genders as political views, biases, prejudice and disagreements were thrown aside for the betterment of sport… for the betterment of ourselves. We were all equal under the iron they say, and there was no better proof than at the Miami Throwdown.
What we witnessed was not a come back, it was a fucking statement. That despite the history, bullshit and drama we had experienced, the sport would never die. That the very barbell that got us off the couch, saved us from bullies, build our courage to get our first date, build our will to bury our loved ones... the very same barbell that helps us get up in the morning and puts us to sleep with pain has never gone away… the very same barbell that to many of us, has saved our LIVES was there for us all along and all she needed was a spark to the flame within us all.
Set your tray tables upright, take your chairs off recline by lightly pressing the button on your arm rest. Make sure all your electrical devices have been placed safely in their compartments and prepare for landing. After 7 years of work, hardships, eating mud and nose on the grindstone I have let action speak for itself, we have let The Miami Throwdown yell its own future and what she said was that she was the fucking BEST. From staff, to sponsors, to vendors, to location, to lifters to shitty ammonia tabs that were picked up tirelessly throughout the day. Meets are made in the trenches. The sweaty warm up shifts, bloody shins, lost smelling salts, used belts, painful knee wraps, nervous shits, empty gatorade bottles, half eaten meals and pissed stained carpets. They are made off the fires of effort, the very same roaring inferno that lead us to the platform in the first place. They are made in the small personal stories that transform into colossal PR screams. They are you, and me, and them and not the fucking bullshit. They are now and forever and the Miami Throwdown will dance amongst the Giants as she takes her place as one of the best meets to visit the south, the nation and the world.
THANK YOU to the all the lifters, Tank Brewery staff and facility, judges, loaders, spotters, vendors, sponsors, therapists, family, friends, spectators, USPA and gyms... we could not have done this without you.
THANK YOU to all those that believed in us, wanted us to succeed and persevere... you are forever a beacon of hope to anyone chasing dreams.
An EQUAL thank you to all those who wanted us to fail, fall short and fizzle out… you are appreciated just as much and I hope you live forever.
Lastly and from a sincere and profoundly deep place in my heart I would like to thank THE BATTLE AXE CLAN. I have never seen a group of men and women come together with such passion, fervor, love and commitment for the greater good of not only those around you but to the sport, your gym and your coach. You guys continue to be a reason and beacon of light for many, whether you know it or not, and a lighthouse on the stormy seas of my life. Your ability to hate failure more than you love success is indicative that maybe I have done some good in my life and you all continue to be a reason for me live just a little longer with passion and purpose. I could not have done ANY of this without you and I am forever grateful. One way ticket, side by side, forever... until Valhalla or the gates of hell. THANK YOU.
We are The Battle Axe Gym, welcome to the Miami Throwdwon MOTHER FUCKERS!!
Never Stray from The Way