Julie and I traveled to Ireland in late October to compete at the International Powerlifting League’s (IPL) Drug-Tested World Championships in Limerick. Limerick is Ireland’s 3rd largest city and is situated near the West Coast on the River Shannon. I had been to Ireland once before, visiting Dublin, for a business trip. I got the chance to visit the countryside on that trip and it was beautiful. This western portion was even better for me, as we had a couple of free days after the competition to do some exploring of the countryside and major attractions.
I ended up competing on my birthday, as luck would have it. More interestingly, it was less than a year ago that we entered our first strength competition after some friends encouraged us to do it with them. That first taste left me wanting more and I engaged in another training block for several months and prepared for my first real powerlifting competition in March 2019. That was a great experience in a number of ways. I consulted the published records in advance of the meet as I did my planning. It turned out that I had a strong chance of breaking multiple California State Records, which was motivating because it confirmed that I had been working hard and doing well with my training.
Diet and the Early Days of Competing
That first meet also was one where I did my first serious “cut” or reduction in weight. The journey to better body composition, in terms of more lean body mass and less fat, is one that is best traveled via gaining, maintaining, and reducing phases. You can’t add lean body mass without adding fat and you can’t reduce fat without also reducing your lean tissue. So, the data shows that these phases are the best way to improve your body composition. It’s a long-term process and there aren’t overnight results. It’s all about consistency and the long-term focus here. I’ve seen this first-hand with my own dedication to a careful diet that I started in late Summer 2018. Especially upon reflection of what I know now and also how my body has transformed, it’s hard to believe how haphazard my previous “normal” diet was. The company that I use for my diet is Renaissance Periodization and it’s all evidence-based (no “bro science” here) and I highly recommend checking out their templates or working with one of their coaches remotely. I do the latter as I can’t be bothered to do the work myself, as I don’t have the patience and time for consulting templates and tracking things. My coach, Mike, is fantastic and I simply send him my weight two mornings a week and he does all of the rest of the work to keep me on track for my short- and long-term goals all year long. Here’s a view of a typical training day for me:
It’s really simple, allows for easy meal prep a couple of times a week, and the consistency is just great for easy living. The funny thing is that I not only love food, but I also love variety. Going into this diet, there was some struggle the first few months to figure out how to actually get these macro nutrients (“macros” are carbohyrdates, fat, and protein) and stay interested in my food. What I actually discovered, to my great surprise, is that I am so much happier now with a seemingly “boring” diet of meals that are pretty much identical throughout the days and meals. The trick for me has been to simply rotate the seasoning, condiments, and other side ingredients and the meal just works. And, my body appreciates this consistency in terms of feeling energetic, normal, and satisfied far more than I was previously when I focused on the “better variety” of items.
Let’s get back to the story of the weight loss before the competition in March. I compete in the 82.5 kg or 181.9 lb weight class and, since I got to almost 200 pounds during my gain phase, that meant I needed to lose 18 lbs to successfully weigh in the day before the competition. I was able to accomplish that through a cut phase of the diet Mike created for me along with a final competition week “water cut”, where you cut out all salt and do a couple of other things to drop a lot of water weight. The end result was that I actually weighed in under 180 lbs and ended up losing a total of 20 lbs in a fairly short amount of time.
So, I had weight loss considerations going into this meet along with the additional pressure I put on myself to show up and break records right off the bat in my first competition. Naturally, I also had to deal with a fair amount of anxiety and nerves about being able to get results, maintain my focus, and not choke. That competition went well by all measures, given my inexperience. I wound up setting multiple new California State Records and had a great time.
Why Do Strength Training or Compete in Powerlifting?
The question comes up of what all of this strength training and competing is about and why am I doing it. I’ve always been a fan of building strength because I saw the positive health and sport outcomes that came from it. I didn’t take part in much organized sports growing up and didn’t build a lot of strength for that matter, either. The little that I did do, however, I noticed how it made me feel and also what translated over into any physical activities and just feeling good in everyday life.
Julie and I have engaged seriously in physical activities in the past 20+ years. A short list includes cycling long distances (including multiple 100+ mile “century” rides in a day), triathlons, mountaineering, rock climbing, and surfing. As we committed to participating at more than just a shallow level in these activities, we experienced injuries and an assortment of tweaks. The data clearly shows that having a higher level of strength will prevent many of these issues, all things being equal. The easy to understand concept being that if you have the strength (lean body mass) to do something well and appropriately, that takes away the strain from other body parts that are not equipped or meant to do the bulk of that work (ligaments, tendons, and so on).
However, I’ve learned a lot more recently as I’ve gotten into this whole strength scene. I’ve done a lot of reading and listened to many podcasts that have further cemented these concepts from things that merely sound good or make sense to things that are actually evidence-based and backed by clear data. That’s why I feel compelled to write about all of this in this article. The evidence is clear that better health outcomes can be had for everyone, if we build and maintain strength and acquire more lean body mass. In fact, sarcopenia is a real problem that faces all of us and shouldn’t be ignored as it widely is today. What is sarcopenia?
“Sarcopenia, or the decline of skeletal muscle tissue with age, is one of the most important causes of functional decline and loss of independence in older adults.” US National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health
Speaking of podcasts, I would highly recommend that you listen to the Barbell Medicine Podcast, that is freely available on either your Apple devices or for any device on YouTube. Now, a lot of their material is for health/sports professionals and those with clients that they’re managing and who want to stay educated on the latest findings and research. I, personally, find a lot of value in their material even though I’m not that target audience. Regardless, a great deal of their material is important information for all of us, where I’ve gleaned health information that I found critically valuable. Just scan through their article topics or podcast titles to see if something catches your eye. Who is behind Barbell Medicine, principally, are two young medical doctors (Dr. Jordan Feigenbaum and Dr. Austin Baraki) that are also extremely strong powerlifters. In fact, their tagline to their Barbell Medicine business is “where we bring modern medicine to strength & conditioning and strength & conditioning to modern medicine”.
As you may imagine, both camps can sorely use each other’s perspectives and that’s the bridge they’ve been building in recent years. A couple of notes of caution: Jordan and Austin are young, so fix your expectations as you listen, especially to Jordan’s banter. Second, they are completely evidence-based. So, be prepared to have your sacred beliefs thrown out the window, if the science doesn’t back your position. For example, mobility work, foam rolling, and many things of that nature are no better than voodoo to them. They’re happy if you want to do something that makes you feel good. As long as you don’t claim it does things that the evidence simply doesn’t support.
Austin has written multiple articles on sarcopenia and it’s a significant concern area because people don’t take seriously the need to maintain strength and maintain enough lean body mass, especially as we age. Note this, again from the National Institute of Health:
“Beginning as early as the 4th decade of life, evidence suggests that skeletal muscle mass and skeletal muscle strength decline in a linear fashion, with up to 50% of mass being lost by the 8th decade of life.”
Thus, this is a major consideration for my interest in building strength and doing resistance training, especially as I approach age 50 next year. Now, this doesn’t answer the question of why I compete, but I’ll get to that shortly. The reality is that you don’t need to squat 400 lbs for positive health outcomes. You don’t need to squat 300 lbs. What is important is to make sure you do hard work and make your body strong. I love this quote from Mark Rippetoe (author of the landmark book, Starting Strength):
“Humans are not physically normal in the absence of hard physical effort.” Mark Rippetoe, Starting Strength
I’m sure this resonates with a lot of people. Yet, sadly, I see many people that think physical activity and being strong are optional things or a “lifestyle decision”. It’s a shame that so much has been muddied by popular media and mainstream conventional thinking. The scientific evidence is clear of how positive health outcomes are directly linked to resistance training and maintaining stronger bodies. Some countries have leveraged these obvious findings and structured whole national programs around it and have the statistics to further illustrate the positive health impacts to their populations (less diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and so on).
Now, I’ll make the distinction that my pursuit of competitive powerlifting is definitely a hobby. I’ve chosen to engage in competitive powerlifting because it keeps me motivated to train hard. I am a deeply goal oriented person. I don’t have to be the best, but it’s important for me to always have goals and be going in a direction, no matter what the topic is — life, business, physical activity … whatever.
The motivation of having a competition coming up, the schedule that you build, the extra discipline around your diet, and the promise that — if you work hard, you will have a good meet and enjoy yourself — are big draws for me. Of course, the records that I’ve been able to set have been extra icing on the cake. Though, it’s just not about the records. In fact, I’ve built enough strength by now that I’ve looked at the published records and there are a multitude of different records I could set at this point. What remains the largest motivating factor for me is to continue to push myself to be as strong as I can be, given what I have in terms of genetic ability, the frame I carry, and what my body safely allows. It’s exciting because it represents hard work & matching rewards, it’s mysterious because you don’t know your true capabilities & where you can go, and its empowering because everything you put into it pays off by making you stronger.
There’s another dimensions to talk about here that’s important. Because you don’t get physically strong by just getting physically strong. What do I mean? Engaging in tough physical endeavors has a way of building tremendous mental toughness. I’ve seen this while ticking away the miles during triathlons, or preparing for and doing a challenging rock climb route, or while suffering on a high mountain peak. In strength training, there’s a lot that goes into bench pressing 265 lbs when you only weigh 180 lbs. Or, when you commit to getting under the bar for a 425 lb back squat. And, it’s not solely that final act, either. It’s the hours invested, all the sessions you showed up, and physical & mental effort that went into doing the work to get to where you are now. An analogy could be the construction of a skyscraper, where they have deep basement foundations to support the rising tower above. The Petronas Towers in Malaysia rise to over 450m and have a basement foundation that goes into 55m of soil underneath. You don’t get one without building the other. What I’ve appreciated about powerlifting and pushing my boundaries with strength training is what it’s also done for my mind at the same time.
Fun with Numbers: Here’s the total amount of weight that I’ve lifted over the past couple of years in my strength training.
Well, How Did the World Championships Go?
The meet went pretty well. After my first competition in March, I ended up having a high enough Total weight (the combination of the squat, bench press, and deadlift numbers combined) to be qualified to compete at the United States Powerlifting Association (USPA) Non-Tested National Championships in Columbus, OH in late June 2019. This federation (of which the USPA and the IPL are members) have both drug-tested and non-tested categories for competition. This doesn’t mean that everyone that competes in the non-tested events is taking drugs that may be banned from the drug-tested section. It just means that people have more freedom to do what they want, including competing against those that may be taking some drugs not allowed in other sections. It’s a complicated topic about drugs in sports and its anything but black-and-white, so I won’t get into it more than that here. Suffice it to say that the standards are higher for the non-tested category and you will witness higher numbers across the board.
I also qualified from my first meet to enter the IPL drug-tested world championships in Ireland in late October 2019. That sounded like a great opportunity to compete at such a level and also in the great venue of Western Ireland. But, being a complete newbie with just one meet under my belt, I knew the smart thing to do was compete again before the Worlds. So, I competed and had an excellent time in the non-tested Nationals in Ohio and walked away with medals, new California State Records, and new personal records (PRs). Most importantly, I got valuable experience. Again, I faced the challenge of making weight, the anxiety of performing, and meeting my own high expectations for the numbers I wanted to hit and the records I wanted to set.
As a result, I was able to show up in Ireland with a good understanding of what to expect and how to perform. Realistically, however, since this was still only my 3rd meet, I had to recognize that I’m really just a novice. Once again with the expectations that I set for myself, I had quite a bit of anxiety that I was fighting with on the night before the competition. I knew traveling internationally would be a big risk in terms of dealing with jet lag, potentially picking up a bug, and my body just not adjusting to food and related issues. Sure enough, jet lag and anxiety ganged up on me the night before meet. I went to bed at 10:30pm in order to get plenty of rest, but I just wasn’t able to fall asleep. I tried different techniques to quiet my mind and none of them worked.
Earlier that day, I had my weigh-in in the morning and then we went to a late breakfast, where I had my first solid meal in a few days. When we got back to the hotel, I was so tired that I slept for over an hour. Later that night, while I struggled to fall asleep in bed, I thought that this daytime nap may be partly the cause of the insomnia. Time slowly and painfully continued to tick on and I was no closer to sleep. I told myself not to panic, it’s fine, even if you’re not sleeping, you’re laying down and resting. Don’t look at the clock, it’s fine. Finally, it got ridiculous and I had to admit that I’ve probably been just laying here for more than an hour and it must be close to midnight. I checked my phone and became slightly horrified to see that it’s almost 2 am! Ok, no more messing around, I grabbed my ear buds, put on some soothing music, and mercifully proceeded to slowly fall asleep.
I’ve found that there’s nothing better than finally being able to warm-up and start doing your thing at these competitions. At that point, nothing else matters and you can really focus on the weight, yourself, and what needs to be done. I saw from the roster they sent us a few weeks before the competition that there was a large contingent of Nigerian athelets that would be competing. Now, when my coach and I are checking the final flights of who’s competing, the list is shorter than expected and I only realize later that none of the Nigerians made it to the event for some reason. This means things are going to go pretty quick and it’s time to get warmed up for the squat.
Our travel started on Monday afternoon and our first leg was an overnight flight from San Francisco to London. Once there, we connected over to our final destination of Shannon, Ireland. This meant that we had a fairly long and sleep-interrupted day upon arrival in Ireland. We were coming several days in advance of my competition day of Saturday because Julie was competing on Thursday. As a result, that meant that I needed to have two final training sessions there in Ireland. Unfortunately, that also meant that after arriving at our hotel, I can unwind for only a little bit before I need to go do a serious training session with little sleep.
Luckily, we found an excellent powerlifting gym in Limerick that was just a 10 minute walk from our hotel. The CityGym Limerick has great equipment, is well laid out (even though it’s not huge), and had some very nice people running it. We felt very welcomed there and they were supportive of me getting what I needed to finish the final preparations for the competition. I did a Tuesday and a final Thursday session at this gym and they both went fairly well. I didn’t feel fresh or bursting with power. In fact, I had a right inner-thigh strain that developed during some heavy squats on Tuesday, which was speaking to me during Thursday’s session and gave me concern.
My coach reassured me that I shouldn’t feel fresh right now and that I’ll be fine for competition day. It’s something I’ve told myself many times in the past; trust the program, trust the program! The program and also the energy from competition day can do interesting things, so you have to approach it with an open mind. However, on competition day, I just wasn’t feeling spectacular or particularly strong. Maybe it was jet lag, maybe that I didn’t quite peak, or maybe I peaked early. Whatever was going on, I decided that it’s fine. I was just grateful for being healthy and that there were no obvious problems. So, it’s time to get to work! I focus into the zone, relish the warm-ups, and start getting down to business mentally and physically.
This past training block from July to October went fairly well, but some interesting things happened during. One unplanned thing was that I broke my right thumb being careless during a training session at the end of August. Right after it happened, I was immediately running the numbers in my head and realized that (if it was broken) it gave me 2 months to heal in time for the World Championships. But, what impact would this have on my training and did I just sabotage all of my hard work to be able to compete at Worlds?! The break happened early in my training session that night and I found that I could still grip the bar and do most things if I just isolated the thumb and kept it out of the way. The break happened only during the 2nd set of 6 heavy sets of deadlift and I was able to finish sets 3-6 to my relief. I massaged the thumb a bit and hoped that it wasn’t broken. Later, I visited the doctor and got an x-ray, where she confirmed that the tip of the thumb was broken into a few pieces.
The next thing that occurred during the training block was a planned event, where Julie and I were going to climb the Snake Dike route on Half Dome in Yosemite National Park at the end of September. This wasn’t great timing because of our Worlds schedule, but we also didn’t want to put everything in our life on-hold because of powerlifting. Snake Dike is a route that is limited to when you can do it and it was either do it now or wait another year. The problem with planning for this climb during our powerlifting preparation is that it meant that valuable & finite recovery resources of your body after strength sessions are compromised. Instead of getting more sleep and resting to recover, we instead go on multi-hour hikes to build up our fitness to climb Snake Dike and tolerate the extremely long day that it entails. I thought to myself this is yet another great way I’m sabotaging my chances of doing well at the Worlds. Oh, well. That climb went really well and we had a (extremely long) epic day of rock climbing and hike that was well worth it. Check out the article to see the pictures and videos of that incredible day.
Get to the Lifts! What did you do?
Whatever the reasons, my squats just weren’t anywhere impressive lately and I set my expectations appropriately going into the competition. We picked a conservative opener of 180 kg / 396.8 lb. I went onto the platform with a lot of anxiety of wanting to get some numbers on the board and seeing how I would feel with the thigh strain. Thankfully, I nailed it, it felt good, and the bar came up crisply and I got the opener! Attempt 2 would be at 185 kg / 407.9 lb, which would also be a new California State Record, if successful. I went out there now with more confidence, executed well, and the bar came up nice and solid. I was thrilled to get the 2nd attempt and set that new record, as my main squat goal was accomplished. Final attempt was at 190 kg / 418.9 lb and would be another new state record. I missed this weight at Nationals in Ohio because two judges gave red lights because they weren’t happy with the depth of my squat. Here, I actually wobbled a bit because I probably got too much onto my toes. The center judge called off the lift and asked the spotters to take the weight from me. I didn’t contest her decision as it was wobbly (something I’ve never done before) and it was probably the right call. I was disappointed, though, as that weight wasn’t a big deal for me and I really wanted to nail it. Anyway, I met my core objective and it was time to move on to the next lift and be done with squats.
The bench opener was at 115 kg / 253.5 lb and it’s something I’m confident to hit, even though my coach had some doubts that maybe it was a bit too high. My bench has been improving every so slightly this year and I’m proud of what I’ve done with it and my overall upper body strength the past two years. This is clearly my weakest area and I’m far from setting any records, probably ever. The opener was successful, but I could also tell that there wasn’t an abundance of strength and that I had my work cut out for me. The second attempt was at 120 kg / 264.6 lb and a new meet PR that I accomplished at Nationals in June. I was able to get it again here, but it was not easy and I grinded for it at the end range. The third attempt would be a new PR for me at 125 kg / 275.6 lb. Unfortunately, the strength and/or technique wasn’t there and while I grinded at it for a couple of seconds, it wasn’t happening. Again, I put a good number on the board, but I wasn’t able to push it into better territory.
Finally, it’s time for my main event, the deadlift. This is what I’ve had my sights on all year and countless hours of training, planning, and thinking about what I’m about to do here. The warm ups went well, were fierce with the weights coming off the ground with authority, and with the demonstration of strength that I’ve clearly been building for this lift in the past several months. Given this confidence and progress, I set an opener at an aggressive weight of 232.5 kg / 511.5 lb, which would be a new American Record, if successful. Putting this in context, this was about the same weight I accomplished at Nationals for my 2nd attempt and set a new California State Record. So, this puts a lot of pressure on me that I need to come out and immediately be on fire. What it also means, when you work backwards, is that my final warm up rep that I need to do before coming out onto the platform is 225 kg / 496 lb, which is anything but a trivial warm up weight. In fact, because of my usual weak point of impatience, I botched my final warm up! My form broke down, I strained to bring the weight up, and dropped it to the ground with some disgust.
Now, I’m done with warm ups and it’s time to go sit on the bench and get ready to go on the platform. This is absolutely not where I wanted to be right now. Screwing up that last warm up produced fresh doubts in my mind and briefly sent my mind reeling. These are not the things you want when you are going to go out there for your first attempt. I told myself: “Ok, don’t panic. Get it together. There’s a way to do this, you know how to do this, stick to the plan, the bar will rise, you’ve already done this, you’ve been here before, just do it right and things will take care of themselves“. They call my name and it’s time: “Shawn Shafai — this is for a new Masters National Record…“. I’m thinking and completely focused on “do it right and it will take care of itself” and trying to not entertain any negative thoughts. I follow my usual beginning routine and let things fall into place and do as I’ve trained dozens and dozens of times. I perform the lift and it felt crisp, powerful, and easy-ish. I was slightly surprised, relieved, and — thrilled!
Now, here we are. And, with returned confidence, I am ready for what I’ve been thinking about all year and what has driven so many passionate training sessions and hundreds of thousands of pounds lifted. Attempt 2 will be at 242.5 kg / 534.6 lb and a new World Record, if successful. I step up, do my routine, go down to grab the bar, and execute with a bit of my characteristic impatience. The weight comes off the ground quickly, though I spend a couple of seconds near the top to fully lock it out to satisfy the judges. I place it down after I’ve received the “down” command and firmly hold the bar with both hands with no chance of getting any red lights or screwing this up. I see the 3 white lights and this is it — I did it! I was able to set a new deadlift World Record and it feels so good to have that long journey completed finally.
It’s not over yet, though, and I still have a final attempt to go. Attempt 3 is an even 250 kg / 551.2 lb, another new World Record, and a wonderful heavy lift for me to demonstrate. Unfortunately … it doesn’t happen. I’ve never missed a deadlift in my past meets. The only issue I’ve had was my final attempt at Nationals, which was disqualified with 2 red lights because I removed my hands from the bar too early due to excitement. Other than that technicality, I’ve never actually failed a deadlift.
This time it happened for two reasons. One, let’s be real, this is a worthwhile weight and it’s freaking heavy. Two, my usual bugaboo; I was impatient. I didn’t set it up right and this respectable amount of weight isn’t going to just get off the ground if you’re not doing the right things. It was a mental lapse. I didn’t generate the right mindset, hype, and focus for what had to be done. I got it a couple of inches off the ground, felt that it was hurting, and that the form was wrong. I put it down to respect the weight and to acknowledge that I was done today.
The Results and Next Steps
I went 6-for-9 on the day with having successfully performed my first two attempts of each lift but failing all final attempts. The final attempts often are a place where you really push things and try to establish PRs. So, failure is fine. But, I was disappointed to not get my final squat and deadlift attempts. Both encompassed weights that I was fully capable of delivering and it was a shame to not have the mental and technical aspects executed well. That’s what I was here for and spent a lot of time training and I wasn’t able to perform. I stay mindful to balance my high expectations and pursuit of excellence with the realities of being new to the sport. Excellence is a long journey and not a quick destination.
My successful second attempts on all 3 lifts were good for a new Total PR of 547.5 kg / 1,207 lb. It was only in March 2018 that I posted this article about achieving the so-called “1,000 lb Club” or the first time. Which means that, in one session, I was able to demonstrate numbers from the 3 lifts that totaled over 1,000 lbs. That was a lot of work and anyone that achieves that milestone is considered to be a pretty strong person by any measure. If you asked me then where I would find another 200 lbs across the 3 lifts to get to a total of 1,200, I would’ve shrugged. So, it’s pretty cool and humbling to be there now.
I also picked up 2 Gold medals; one for my Total in my 45-49 age group and one for my Deadlift-only performance in the 45-49 age group. Finally, I also picked up 2 Bronze medals, one for for my Total in the Open competition against all ages and one for Deadlift-only against all ages. Those bronze medals felt really good, honestly. They demonstrate that I’m not just a very strong 49-year old, but that I could go right up with any age. In fact, one of those Bronze medals would’ve been a Silver medal, if I wouldn’t have missed any of my 3rd attempts.
You may ask yourself “well, how strong are you?” or “what do these records actually mean?” and so on. I wonder the same myself. I’m a data geek and love understanding how things stack up and the place of things in the world. First things first, strength is always going to be relative to bodyweight. If you have a 300 lb guy, what that person can do should reasonably be scaled and not compared to what someone who is 180 lbs can do. So, we have weight classes in the powerlifting federations that account for this.
Humans walking around, regardless of their bodyweight, still need to be well trained to be able to lift 1,000 lbs across the 3 main lifts. And, when you’re looking at a Total of 1,200 lbs, that would likely eliminate 95% of people strength training in gyms, probably regardless of age and bodyweight. And, when you get down to my age and bodyweight, there is likely only a group of people in the country that could fill a small room with that level of strength . If you then slice that further into drug-tested, maybe a yet smaller group of a few guys and me staring at you.
Like I mentioned earlier in this article, I don’t need to be the best. I’m mainly interested in health outcomes, then activity performance & injury prevention, and finally the pursuit of excellence of what I’m capable of in terms of the hobby of powerlifting. All in that order. I haven’t been doing this long and there are people that have been dedicated far longer than me and much more experienced that deserve the titles of best or strongest. But, if I can break their records and now and then, that’s fun too! Long live competition, it makes humanity & life better.
At this point, I need a break to determine my next set of goals. One of my serious mid-term strength goals has now been accomplished in terms of a 3x bodyweight deadlift — I can deadlift/pick up 3 Shawns! My bench press is a work in progress and I know I’ll benefit in overall quality of life with more upper body strength. Squat has had setbacks, but I’m focused to see where I can take that. If I were to risk putting some fun round numbers out there, it seems amazing if I could possibly reach a 500 squat, 300 bench, and 600 deadlift. That’s a nice 1,400 Total and would put me in the company of the absolute strongest couple of humans on the planet. I don’t know if that’s feasible or if I’m willing to commit to do the work to get there. I have some thinking to do. Meanwhile, I’m just enjoying what I’ve accomplished so far on this journey.
After all, these medals aren’t going to just admire themselves… 😉