Two years ago I sat in a room in the middle of someplace I don’t know where Texas and listened as a panel of vegan athletes talked about their sports. It bristled around the edges of a desire I’d been harboring but was afraid to breathe life into. I desperately missed my days of endurance sports, and training.  But injuries and always being on the cusp of failing in my eating disorder recovery left me wondering if I could ever again take up a sport and be “ok.”

The usual questions about protein surfaced quickly to the panel.  I’m sure I rolled my eyes until one of the panelist mentioned calories.  He said something to the effect that it was about getting enough calories versus getting enough protein.  I was waiting for the panic to take over me—calories were my kryptonite.

But the panic didn’t happen.  I quietly raised my hand and asked the body builder on the panel how she got into it.  I didn’t know for sure what I wanted to do. I had signed up for personal training at the gym the previous fall after recovering from yet another running injury.  I hated strength training and it was the only way I saw to make myself commit to a couple days a week.

It started happening that I was adding in an extra day of basic strength training on my own… then another until I was at five days a week.  I still remember the excitement as I saw an actual muscle in my arm—just the one arm at first, but it was something.  I wanted more.

I returned from Texas and told my trainer I was ready for more.  She told me it was out of her area and set me up with another trainer who explained the difference between body building and power lifting.  I looked at her and said: “I want to be strong.”

Despite my burgeoning forearm muscle, and the slight development of one on the other side, to say I started at the very beginning is accurate.  Benching the bar (45 pounds) was a challenge, my deadlift max had been about that same weight the week before, and my squat form was so bad I wasn’t allowed to squat with weight until I could show improvement.  Nothing is more satisfying now to suddenly realize my new working weight was once a struggled single rep max weight.

I had a lot to learn two years ago—I still do. The greatest lessons learned in powerlifting aren’t in form or technique; they aren’t even in mathematics as you tiredly add up plates in your head.  The greatest lessons I’ve learned in lifting are about my own determination; how I react to both success and failure; it’s about respect for the weight.  It may not be an endurance sport as I’d been accustomed to, but it takes a different kind of mental endurance to pursue.

It’s the mental challenge as you lift a weight the body and gravity doesn’t really want you to.  It’s failing your first attempt and walking back up to the bar to try again. It’s accepting that some days you can’t lift as much as you did the week before, and recognizing the days you can lift more than you thought. It’s dedication to yourself.  For me, it’s the added battle of calories; strength sports are a world of people obsessed with macros (protein, carbs, fat) and I learned the perils of engaging in that during my first year. Setbacks happen and you get past them; lifting has taught me that it is part of the process… and we trust the process.