Interview With Cheryl "Diesel" Clodfelter of East Coast Barbell Interviewed By Mike Westerdal of CriticalBench.com - August 2008
Photo Courtesy of SAS Digital Memories - p) 863.559.3917
CRITICAL BENCH: Thank you for this interview opportunity Cheryl. It was a pleasure meeting you at the APF Intramural Meet in GA a few weeks ago. Great job judging that day! We're ecstatic to find out what makes you tick Cheryl! So, tell the readers a little bit about yourself.
Thanks, Mike. The Intramural was a fantastic meet. Tommy, Jon and the crew at NGBB brought together a lot of talent. I enjoyed sitting in the judges chair that day. After all, it's the best seat in the house for seeing the action. As for me, I'm 46, reside in North Carolina, and have one daughter, Emily, who is 23 and my reason for being. Since 1997 I've been employed with Hutchison Allgood Printing Co. as a graphic artist in the prepress department. I work nights.
CRITICAL BENCH: How long have you been powerlifting? How did you first get introduced or started in the sport?
In October of 2004 I attended the GNC Show of Strength in Atlanta. I had really made the trip for the expo and bodybuilding, but that day the powerlifting was attracting huge crowds so I went to watch. Just so happens that is the day Travis Mash beat Ed Coan's total, and the crowd was electrified. Watching that day I became hooked. I came back to North Carolina, started training the three lifts, and did my first meet 13 months later, in December 2005.
CRITICAL BENCH: Sounds like an exciting day. I know you're not supposed to ask a woman what her weight is, but may I be so bold as to ask what weight class you compete in? What federations have you competed in?
No problem. There's nothing like competing in a sport where they introduce you by telling your age and weight. I've competed raw in the 181's in the AAU and APF, and equipped in the 198's and SHW, APF and IPA, Elite in both classes. I actually jumped up just so I could say I was a SHW, that and to put a deadlift on Michael Soong's All-Time list in that class. And I didn't like where I placed on the list (18th at SHW), so I'll do it again at some point.
CRITICAL BENCH: You totaled Elite at your first equipped meet in May of 2007. Tell us about that experience and how you felt.
You know, totaling Elite was never much of an issue going into that meet; the main focus was on finishing. I first put on equipment just after the Arnold in 2007, and within the first month I ruptured the tensor fascae lattae in my left hip while squatting. If you've never seen this injury you can't imagine just how gross it is. Everything that used to be packed neatly in my hip was now bulging out the front. But I kept training, it healed a little, then about 4 weeks out I reinjured it.
This time my sports chiro/ART practitioner used Graston to help the swelling and speed healing. But going into the meet I couldn't squat. I watched videos, used visualization and made a deal with the Doc to only take one squat at the meet. I did take an opener about ten days out, but that was it. Meet day I passed on my first attempt, got 415 on my second and then took the gear off and iced the hip down. I went on to bench 225 and pull 515 for 1155 and Elite at 198. Thankfully the injury did not affect me much in the deadlift, pulling modified Sumo. So, there was never any big celebration or fuss over the Elite total. We did, however, celebrate the 515 deadlift.
CRITICAL BENCH: Wow, what a way to start off. What is your favorite lift? Let me guess, is it the deadlift? Afterall you do own the WPC World Record in that lift!
And an IPA Open record, and entries in Soong's
Top-20 list in both 198's and SHW . . . but no, the deadlift is not my favorite. The squat is. Which is more exciting, climbing under a loaded bar and taking it below parallel and back up, or walking up to the bar, reaching down and picking it up?
CRITICAL BENCH: What was your all-time favorite moment so far in your powerlifting career?
Walking into Orlando Barbell to weigh in for the February '08 meet and having Brian Schwab say, "Hey Cheryl, how are you doing?" before I even told him who I was ranks at the top. The fact that I was known outside of my immediate circle blew me away. Falling on my butt after I set down the 510 IPA WR deadlift (on a fourth attempt) ranks second.
CRITICAL BENCH: Cheryl, every lifter is different when it comes to getting motivated for a big lift. What goes through your head moments before you step on to the platform?
Photo Courtesy of SAS Digital Memories - p) 863.559.3917
Let's see, chest up, knees out, tight back, arch, arch, arch . . . Seriously, I'm not one to show a lot of emotion on the platform, but lately I have been trying some methods to jump start the adrenalin. We'll see how successful that is at the Pro/Am in August.
CRITICAL BENCH: Based on your training video at the bottom of this interview I'm confident it will go very well. Why the change to equipped powerlifting? Do you still compete or plan on competing unequipped?
In my last unequipped meet (January 2007) I did total high enough to qualify for the APF Senior Nationals. But, gear definitely adds a whole new dimension and challenge. I mean, what fun is it knowing you can break parallel or touch? Lifting heavy weights is exciting and gear lets me lift a lot heavier weight. There have also been a few times where I missed a lift and I think it held me together. But lifting unequipped is not out of the question in the future. I just have a few goals to meet, first.
CRITICAL BENCH: I can respect that. Makes sense. You train at East Coast Barbell. Tell us about the atmosphere, what your teammates are like and what you've learned since you started training there.
As a partner in East Coast Barbell, I'm very proud of the facility we have put together. We have two of everything, monos, benches and platforms, plus everything else you need to be strong: rev hyper, sumo GHR (extra wide platform), the Mechanical Ox, chains, bands, logs, tires, sled and prowler plus indoor space to push them. One of our members, Dennis Campbell, can fabricate just about anything, so we are constantly adding and improving.
But equipment aside, I think it's the variety of training methods being used that benefits us most. We have members training Sheiko, three-day templates and standard four-day templates, and all are making progress. So we benefit by seeing how another program works without having to risk our own time experimenting. When we see lifter X increase his lifts by Y amount on a program, we can gauge how it will work for ourselves. The teamwork comes when the bar is loaded. No matter what program you are doing, we are there to spot, support and coach each other.
CRITICAL BENCH: Sounds like a very positive environment. Lets talk training. What are your workouts like over at East Coast Barbell? Do you incorporate speed days? How many days a week do you train?
I use a standard Westside template, four days a week, two days max effort, two days speed. At some points in the training cycle the speed days become more like assistance days, with emphasis on heavy unequipped lifting, but the dynamic work returns if the lifts slow any, and at planned times in the cycle.
CRITICAL BENCH: Gotta ask, what's the best way you have found to develop a big deadlift?
Train your weaknesses! This training cycle I've turned to Chris Clark, Elite sponsored lifter, to design my program. I first went to Chris for help with gear, most specifically bench shirts, but then one thing (new bench shirt) led to another (new deadlift suit) so I challenged him to make all these new purchases work. That, I believe, he has done. I have a weak upper back (in comparison to the lower) that has limited me in all the lifts, so this training cycle we've hit it from every angle: cambered bar work, snatches, rows, partial GMs, stone trainer and Zerchers from obscenely low starting points. Anything and everything to teach me to engage the upper back and to strengthen it, we've used. As for the deadlift specifically, pulling from different heights in varying amounts of gear, reverse bands, chains, suitcase deads, but mostly . . . form.
CRITICAL BENCH: Thanks for the pointers. What are your best lifts in competition and in the gym?
In competition at 198: 505-255-525; at SHW (201 lbs.) 510-255-530. I've left a lot on the platform in both classes. As for gym lifts, this cycle I haven't handled much straight weight in the squat and pull, but I did bench 280 for a PR.
CRITICAL BENCH: Impressive! If a young woman came to you interested in getting started in powerlifting, what words of advice or wisdom would you share with her that you wish you knew when you started out?
I think my eyes were wide open from the beginning. My advice would be seek the best coaches and never shrink from the big lifts (or the big lifters). It's worked for me.
CRITICAL BENCH: Powerlifting is still pretty much an underground sport. Do you like it this way or do you hope that one day its gets more exposure and becomes popular as other extreme sports?
Do we really want to be household names, with the paparazzi dogging us as we make our way into the gym, hoards of screaming fans begging for autographs, maybe a SHW modeling in Calvin Klein ads? Seriously, I do wish there were bigger paydays for the lifters, and the idea behind the Pro/Am events is a great start. But to get more exposure we would need bigger corporate sponsors, and we would need to be unified. So unless we are ready and willing to package our sport attractively and under the banner of one (or two) federations, I think we will continue to be a self-sustaining fringe sport. But who knows, maybe Bigger, Stronger, Faster* or Schwab's documentary will capture someone's attention in Hollywood, and we'll catch a break.
CRITICAL BENCH: Interesting points. Ofcourse I wouldn't mind watching it on the Olympics right now. Time will tell. If you could change one thing about the powerlifting community as a whole, what would it be?
There are many lofty ideas that could be thrown out here, but instead let me share something that has made a big difference for me in terms of lifting and health. For 18 months I've been seeing Dr. Lawrence Gray, DC, Gray Chiropractic and Sports Associates, PA, for Active Release Technique (ART). I've been treated for a torn hamstring, ruptured TFL, strained wrist, chronic biceps tendonitis and a knee that just blew up three weeks before the IPA Nationals last fall. Dr. Gray has used ART, Graston, acupuncture and traditional chiro to help me heal and keep me healthy. I urge other lifters to find an ART practitioner and incorporate this type of care into their training.
CRITICAL BENCH: ART is definitely catching on fast. You're a big supporter of APT Pro Lifting Gear. What are your favorite pieces of equipment that Alan offers?
For training, I use ZRV-Pros and Black Mambas until I take my openers. At meets I usually open in Black Mambas then put on Strangulators, both knee and wrist. But the new Hybrids are a step up so I'll add those for the Pro/Am. The Convict elbow and knee sleeves are double ply and stout, but still allow a full ROM without pinching, which is cool. And I just received the new 3XH wraps to try. Every top level lifter should be wearing these, super strong for those making enormous lifts. The beauty of APT is that they realize not every lifter is suited for only one or two wrap choices, so they carry wraps and straps for every lifter's abilities (and preference for color).
CRITICAL BENCH: I've been using Convicts, I'll have to check those other ones out you mentioned. What's your diet and nutrition regiment like? Do you take any supplements?
Well, you hit the nail on the head . . . my diet is regimented. I prepare everything in advance, freeze or refrigerate the portions, and pack all my meals. When I leave the house in the afternoon to train, I have all my meals for the next 15 hours with me, because I go straight to work from the gym. My diet is basically lean proteins, clean carbs (glycemic load adjusted for meals before/after training), and healthy fats for sustained energy, everything minimally processed. I don't measure anything anymore, but I did for years. I pack food when I travel and stay in hotels with at least a microwave and fridge, and I eat the same meal the morning of every meet (which is also the meal I eat before M/E Lower).
As for supps, I concoct a drink of BCAA's, vitamin C and waxy maize to consume during training, whey protein shake (along with whole food carbs) for post training, multi-vitamin, joint support and extra B vitamins and antioxidants. Two weeks before a meet I add a multi-mineral. Melatonin is a must for sleep support since I sleep during the daytime.
CRITICAL BENCH: Sounds like you definitely have that category under control. Do you ever find men or women to be intimidated by your strength, especially away from the gym? How do you deal with that? I mean you're stronger than a lot of male powerlifters and we all know there are a lot of big egos out there.
Photo Courtesy of SAS Digital Memories - p) 863.559.3917
I train with men, so that usually means I'm first in the rotation. I guess that keeps it in perspective for me. Yes, I might squat or pull more than some guys at a meet, but I probably weigh more, a lot more, or I'm wearing more gear, or have more experience. Once a male lifter did say to me, "I never thought I'd say this but I'm coming for you!" I thought it was a very sweet compliment. Maybe because I am comfortable with my abilities and size, I don't feel much intimidation myself, so I overlook what may be intimidation in others.
CRITICAL BENCH: What do you like to do away from the gym for fun?
I enjoy the outdoors, anywhere. And I'm an avid reader, everything from current events to nutrition studies. I love to cook and collect cookbooks . . . I have ones from early American settlers, through the mid-century and modern times. The older ones tell more about life for women in those periods than any novel could.
CRITICAL BENCH: Interesting. What are your future goals Cheryl? Professionally, personally and in powerlifting.
In my career it's important to stay on top of new technology, so that keeps the job fresh. Personally, I want to stay healthy and vibrant, and be happy. In powerlifting, I have a few more numbers to put up in the deadlift, maybe some big ones. Cracking the top-20 all time in total in the 198's should come soon, followed by a top-20 squat. And I'd like to see East Coast Barbell grow and be home to a lot of top strength athletes. I'm co-chair of the IPA in NC so I'll be adding meet promoter to my resume as well.
Cheryl Clodfelter - IPA VA Meet
CRITICAL BENCH: You've come this far, I don't see you slowing down any time soon. Last question Cheryl. What has powerlifting taught you about yourself and life? Why do you love it so much and put yourself through the grueling workouts, what makes it all worth it?
After I had been competing for about eleven months, I started working with Travis Mash, and that man has no negativity, he sees only the possibilities. As my coach he never said you can't total Elite in your first equipped meet, you can't do the Senior Nationals as your second meet, or you won't set records the first year. It was always you can . . . with the right training. Training the right way, training weaknesses instead of strengths, is difficult and frustrating. Why keep going even when you hurt and what makes it all worth it? The next big number . . . because there is always a bigger number.
CRITICAL BENCH: Good luck at the Pro/Am in August, we'll be rooting for you! Anyone else you would like to thank or anything else you'd like to say?
I want to thank Critical Bench for this opportunity, Alan Thomas of APT for his support and friendship, and the management of Hutchison Allgood Printing for their backing. Chris Clark is a phenomenal coach and he has my respect and admiration, as do my training partners at Granite City Barbell and Donna Clark, a great inspiration.
The team at East Coast Barbell, Kristi and Chris "Ox" Mason, Karen and Mike White, Andy Obermann, Joe Willard, Dennis and Andrey help me throughout the week. Steve Maxson has traveled all over to handle me at meets (on his own dime) and that's no easy task! Also Derek Wilcox, Tribe Powerlifting, Travis Mash and Dr. Gray for giving of their time and wisdom; and Ginny Phillips, without whom nothing would fit. Mike Schwanke and Brian Schwab have freely shared their experience and offered encouragement and advice, and thanks to Barry Williams for being the best travel partner (Florida meets rock). And thanks to you, Mike, for the support. See you on the platform.