Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Invictus Games cannot take place in 2021. But, we’ll be back! The Invictus Games will be held in 2022. Until then, we will all make the best of it. The athletes from the participating countries who have been confronted with the postponement of the event, will continue to train for their favorite sports. With the support of all of us. In the coming months we will be highlighting one sport at a time, through interviews with Invictus participants. For episode 6, which is about powerlifting, we spoke to Heidi Dalhuisen (the Netherlands), Katrin Tukkia (Estonia) and Beth King (the United States).
By Edward Swier
Powerlifting. It seems to be one of those sports for which only power athletes get excited. But nothing could be further from the truth. In the run-up to the next Invictus Games, there are always team members in every participating nation with no history in the sport, and often (initially) no huge muscle mass, who throw themselves into this specific branch of weightlifting, with success! Eventually, everyone masters the technique, and eventually everyone scores – at his or her level – his or her best possible result.
During the Invictus Games, one of the many varieties of weightlifting is practised as standard: the bench press. In this form of powerlifting, the participant lies with his or her shoulders on a bench, after which he or she first lowers the weight – which is previously in a stand – to the chest and then releases it until the arms are extended. This is not only a question of strength, but also of technique.
The power of Heidi
Heidi Dalhuisen: “In itself the technique does not seem difficult: you pick up a bar, take it from the rack, lower it and push it up again. However, there is a lot involved in getting as much power as possible under the bar and pushing it up as efficiently as possible. It’s not just about strength in your chest or arms. What about bracing, for example? That is a term for bracing literally your whole body. You don’t just do it for the sake of it.”
“I have been working for the Ministry of Defence in the Netherlands since 2004. In 2010 I was deployed to Tarin Kowt in Afghanistan. Due to my experiences there I suffer from PTSD. I have been following an intensive treatment programme for a number of years. In addition, I broke my wrist in 2011 in an accident with my own horse. Six operations later, my mobility has been severely restricted and my wrist joint is immobilised. This restriction is annoying, but not nearly as bad as my PTSD.”
“Because my wrist is immobilised with a plate and screws, it severely restricts my movements and the transfer of power in my arm and hand. However, the fact that I can powerlift proves to me that I am still ‘in the game’.”
“I did not do powerlifting before. I picked it up because it is one of the sports at the Invictus Games. However, I did start doing CrossFit in 2015. There are a lot of elements that appeal to me athletically, because of the complexity and the explosiveness. Those elements, which fit my person very well, are also in powerlifting.”
“Unfortunately, because of all the Covid-19 measures, I hardly see my fellow team members of the Dutch Invictus Games team. That is really a loss. But fortunately, I can continue training. My guidance team ensures that I can train within all measures that apply. At ‘BOX – power and stamina’ in Hardenberg, they coach me 1-on-1 through a team of #sportsbosses (specialists) on both sportive, physical and mental level.”
“My trainers at BOX have prepared a schedule for me and I stick to it. Sometimes they have to push me enormously, but at least just as often they have to restrict me. I really want more, better and heavier every day. They help me to keep the progress as great as possible. Of course, I have worse and better days, but those are inherent to training. We all have our days and feel stronger than ever before. Hopefully that day will also come at the Invictus Games and I will put down my best result there!”
“By the way, I find it very scary to participate. I have to perform, I can’t hide behind anything and ‘suddenly’ I am the centre of attention. Simultaneously, it is a huge challenge to do that anyway.”
Recovery and self-reflection
“I really want to use the Invictus Games in my recovery process. This is a tough goal in itself because I have a pretty high-performance drive that regularly gets in my way. But that is precisely why I chose powerlifting and indoor rowing. They challenge me mentally and physically, and hopefully help me achieve my goals. Sport is very important during my recovery process. If I don’t exercise, I notice that I have less energy to get through the day. Training regularly helps me to channel my energy so that I can also work hard on my recovery. On good days, it encourages me to keep going and on bad days. It allows me to vent my frustration, which can sometimes be a relief. It also contributes to a daily structure and discipline, creating more peace in my head. And because you become stronger, your self-image gradually changes for the better.”
Katrin does almost everything
Katrin Tukkia: “I have been doing sports all my life. It started with running, cycling and swimming. And at the moment I do ‘almost everything’, except ball games. About five years ago I also started powerlifting, it was part of my training at the gym. At the time, I was concentrating on indoor rowing and the question arose: why not try powerlifting? That was a challenge, by the way. Due to the trauma I have to my left arm; part of my little finger has been amputated. That is one of the reasons why sport is so important in my life. It plays a key role in any recovery process.”
“Moreover, I don’t find the technique of powerlifting difficult or anything like that. But you do have to keep your head very clear. Training with weights also makes your body change. I believe and hope that I have become stronger and more muscular, I like ‘strong girls’. In any case, it makes me feel strong and powerful. Indoor rowing and powerlifting support each other. They are both good for the upper body. You do notice that one day it goes better than the other, which also depends on where you are in terms of training. For example, is it a build-up phase, or a recovery training?”
“Even though I could meet my teammates recently, my training has changed because of Covid-19. But that had several reasons. Among other things, I have been able to do less because of inflammation in my shoulders. We have a pretty good gym on our campus, which is across the street for me. I have also been training at home. I am looking forward to travelling again and, for example, coming to the Netherlands for the Invictus Games.”
Beth regained hope
Beth King: “At the beginning, I found powerlifting literally overwhelming. I had never done any weightlifting before. There were so many things you had to think about. Like: how do you put your shoulders on the bench, how do your hands grab the bar, what is your neck position and head position, how do you regulate your breathing. But the more I do it, the easier it gets. And more fun. I started powerlifting in November 2019, as the last of a series of sports. When I first started preparing to participate in the Invictus Games, I thought I was just a cyclist. When I started doing that, I felt like I was reborn. I got my freedom back, I got hope again. After some encouragement from teammates and coaches, I added a sport each time and surprised myself that I could do much more than I initially thought. Now there are six. And that’s enough, because you also have to find the time to train for it.”
“The goal is to train six days a week, but that is not always an attainable goal. Because of my medical problems, some days getting out of bed is a challenge. I have to respect that I give everything I have when I can, but some days the best I can do is respect my body and rest. I was injured during a mission over the Pesh River Valley in Afghanistan. I was part of the crew of a Chinook that was hit by a rocket launcher. This resulted in Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and damage to my vertebrae.”
“I am in the gym four days a week. There, I can train the muscle groups I need for powerlifting, among other things. But I also want to practice in my wheelchair at least two days a week. Although the Covid-19 measures make it a lot harder to train, I have been resourceful and, among other things, I still make my rounds. Unfortunately, I don’t live near any of my teammates, so all my training is solo. What also has a big impact is that almost all events have been cancelled. Normally I use those as a measurement, to see where I am and how much needs to be done to reach my goals for the Invictus Games. That is more of a guess now.”
The most challenging
“For me, powerlifting is probably the most challenging of all sports. Because of my neurological problems, the right side of my body is considerably weaker than the left, so lifting the barbell evenly does not come naturally. Nothing but my training, my time and my dedication will help me get there. So, what I get out of it is directly related to what I put in. Although, anything is possible. I think that’s why I fell in love with powerlifting. My first lift was only 80 pounds. I was not happy with that result, so I started training harder. But, you have to accept that progress is slow. If you think you can make jumps that are too big, you will fail. Thanks to the help of my coaches, I have discovered that it is possible to make progress, and that has made me a lot more self-confident. Sport is very important for my recovery. It has also made me realise that I can still do anything, that I just had to adapt a little. I am not less than the person I was before my injuries. I don’t have to make myself small. It’s a pity I didn’t find that out until later. Actually, I should have taken up sports right away, that would have helped my recovery considerably.”