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The Dark Ages
By Donny Shankle

I don’t really like using the word plateau in the gym. By definition it implies a period of little or no change. You’ll hear it sometimes when you reach a point in your lifting where the personal records do not come as often as they used to. I get it but I don’t like hearing it. I much prefer telling myself or any weightlifter, “You’re going through the dark ages but don’t worry the renaissance is coming.” There seems to be something more positive in the analogy. I like history (especially United States history) and I always refer to the subject of history whenever I come across an area I don’t fully understand. A closer look at any history shows you how big changes were subsequent to little changes. There is an optimism to this way of thinking.

The first time I ever snatched 170 kilos was approximately two years after practicing the exercise under formal coaching. Naturally a lot of hard work went into reaching this number. Considering the current American record at the time for the Snatch was 172.5 kilos, it was a pretty good feat for a weightlifter with very little experience. It would take another seven years before I was able to Snatch 171 kilos. Later on I eventually snatched 173 kilos. It was due to all the missing I went through trying to achieve 171. This set a new standard and raised the idea of how much more can a drug free weightlifter actually lift? Also, my then greatest total of 366 kilos in competition was set in 2006. Like the Snatch, it would take me another six years until 2012 to set a new record total of 368 kilos. When I did break through my total increased nearly another 20 kilos. After I broke through this record, I couldn’t help but dance on the platform. The moment was even caught on camera and my dance was affectionately labeled the “Shankle shimmy”. I get asked sometimes why I danced such a silly jig after Clean and Jerking 208 kilos to give me that new total. I was simply very happy and somehow it led me to shaking my tail feather. What transpired between the years were a lot of ups and downs both in and out the gym which I disdainfully refer to as the dark ages. My efficiency during the dark ages had a lot of catching up to do with my physical strength. This showed in my inability to consistently reach these types of really heavy weights in training.

However, it was the training along the way which eventually pulled me out of the dark. The coaches I worked with and competitors I fought with pushed me to new heights. Every miss led to the possibility of eventually making the lift. I stayed convinced, re-entrenched my position, and fought on. When the training was done for the day I went home, sat in my chair, went over my records, massaged my aches and pains, said my prayers to God before sleeping, then went back to repeat the process. My renaissance at the time came at California Strength. Here is where the new standards were set and it was up to me to rise up and face them. This happened in spite of being called the world’s worst weightlifter.

I believed every miss I went through contained a lesson and it was up to me to use any failures I had confronted as a source of strength. The printing may have been small and hard to read but it was legible. This attitude along with great leadership from people like David Spitz and Coach Pendlay only helped to shine light on the grey to show me there are no such things as plateaus. In truth I never had that attitude to begin with and I was certainly not going to change no matter how dark the ages seemed. I might be a bad dancer but I’m not a pessimist.