The Powerlifting Principal (III): building confidence from within

12 June 2023

From Setback to Success: How Overcoming Injury Made Me a Better Engineer

In the previous blog post I talked about finding confidence in my ability, on the competition platform and in my career. In this post, I’ll describe how I started to build on that confidence, and the lessons that came along with it!

As the excitement of the Connaught Open started to die down, I began to feel a slight niggle in my lower back. When I returned to the gym, I found it almost impossible to get into position for bench press due to the pain. Coach Sean took advantage of being surrounded by some of the top athletes in the sport, and told me to look at how they managed their setups. On the surface, this sounds great, watch what they do, and mimic it, but, we are all very different, and what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another! I continually tried to make my body move the same as different people, of different shapes and sizes, and continually failed.

A few (read many) meltdowns later, and it was off to Irish Nationals! This went surprisingly well, and it was all down to the realisation, just a few short weeks before, than when Coach Sean told me to look at how other people did it, he meant look at the traits of their setup and make them work for me, not to be a carbon copy!

February 2020

February 2020: Irish Nationals

This turned out to be one of the most important lessons I would learn, both in powerlifting and my career! How many times as devs do we hear things like “you need to work on your soft skills, watch how Bob talks”, or “it’s not how Jane would have done it”. Don’t mistake these statements for telling you to be Bob or Jane, look at the positive traits, and you do you. Being you is what makes you great, so why on earth are so many of us still trying to be something different?!

Unfortunately, the competitive streak in me resulted in an overly ambitious deadlift at this competition, meaning I got a brand, spanking new injury with a tear in a disc in my lower back! I knew this would bring a host of new frustrations, and inevitably, lessons. What I couldn’t have predicted was the rollercoaster that was about to smack us all in the face; covid.

As most people did, I struggled with the isolation and the uncertainty. At times I struggled to sit in my computer chair because of my back pain. I floundered without the gym and the team, which had become such a big part of my life. Eventually, I plucked up the courage to ask Coach Sean for some help, and that’s exactly what he gave me! Within a matter of weeks, he had got me a specialist back surgeon to help me rehab my injury, and he was helping me with my deteriorating mental health.

Whilst this was a life lesson I definitely would not want to repeat, it was one worth learning! So the next time you find yourself in a position where you’re not sure whether to ask for help or not - do it! I mean, what’s the worst that can happen?!

After a bumpy couple of years (the less said about it, the better), I was in the fortunate position to receive an invite to Irish Nationals 2022. Coach Sean convinced me to go, with the sole focus of getting back on a platform and enjoying myself - no expectations! This time though, it was different - I was going to do things my way. You best believe if I was going to be standing in front of a room full of people in what can only be described as a giant baby grow, I was going to do it in a pair of hoop earrings, a load of glitter and sassy socks, and that’s exactly what I did!

March 2022

March 2022: Irish Nationals

Whilst development is full of standards and best practices, there is still room for you doing you. Maybe that’s a different meeting format or a joke before standup. Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to shine!

The fire in my belly was once again reignited, and my love for the sport returned! And so, we made a new goal to get a small personal best on my bench press at the next competition a few short months away. This one was only a few minutes up the road, in Belfast, and WOW! What a day we had! 9/9 successful lifts, a bench press PB, a deadlift PB, a total PB and a cheeky gold medal!

June 2022

June 2022: All of the happy tears

As engineers, we often fixate on ambitious milestones, such as promotion to the next level. This competition was as a clear illustration of how, by setting and attaining small, manageable goals, the larger objectives naturally fall into place.

I went on to compete in another Belfast-based competition in December and achieve the Northern Irish Bench Press record for my weight class, what an experience!

December 2022

December 2022

In every adventure, there’s a few bumps along the way, and despite dealing with injury and imposter syndrome so great I had panic attacks, one of the hardest bumps I had to deal with was just around the corner. The team that I had grown with, travelled all around the country with, spent more of my time with than anyone else, was going to change. The dynamics within the team had shifted, coaching had undergone a change, and I found myself desperately clinging to the cherished memories of how things used to be. It was time to put myself first, and move to another team.

Like the bittersweet emotions that accompany leaving a job for another, there were feelings of sadness, of disappointment and an overwhelming feeling of uncertainty. I trusted my gut, and made the move to Asylum. Much like the move to Instil, this instantly felt like home. Suddenly, one of the hardest decisions on my powerlifting journey, turned into one of the best!

A few short months after joining the team, it was off to our first competition together, and boy was it a good one! We achieved a 170kg squat (17.5kg PB), a 93.5kg bench press (0.5kg PB to extend the NI record), a 172.5kg deadlift (10kg PB) and a 436kg total (33.5kg PB). This was the best competition of my powerlifting journey to date! To top it all off, the only photos from the day where I’m not smiling or laughing, I’m crying with happy tears!

March 2023

March 2023: That feeling when you achieve the unachievable

The Asylum team welcomed me, and all of my weirdness to make me feel a part of the team, but in my heart I knew something wasn’t right. Despite the overwhelmingly good competition, my mental health was deteriorating again, and I knew I needed to be really selfish, and make another hard decision. I took a step back from the team, started to train with a 1-1 coach and really started to work on myself.


Graeme and a very shweaty Hannah

You know the really great thing about taking the leap and trusting my gut? It all worked out! I have made some life-long friends (and training improvements) in Asylum & at Strength Militia, I have gained an incredible mentor and friend in Graeme, I’ve forced myself to put myself out there in the powerlifting community and last, but not least, I’ve actually started to believe in my own ability. So, next time you’re on the fence about something … trust your gut, because it might just be the best decision you ever make.

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blog author

Hannah McKee

Principal Engineer