MDLP: Tomorrow is not Promised

He awoke. Not like all men do but in his own way. Getting out of bed was a little harder than it used to be and he certainly recognizes that every morning as his joints jostle around like loose gears. Despite the aches, creaks and pains, there was a certain flavor to the air this day. Michael had been getting up to train for the last 13 years of his life but every day was unique and this day was no different. His clothes were waiting for him in a tightly stacked pile near his bedroom door in preparation for todays events but there was a different rhythm to getting dressed. The gait of his step no longer skipping down the stairs like his younger days but what he had lost in age he had gained in confidence.

As the morning would have it, Michael got a sports massage before training. Although he knew this choice may not be optimal, there was a trust between Michael and his PT, Kevin. As the Battle Axe Sunday crew arrived one by one, the time clock clicked ever closer to 8 AM.  This was start time. The green light for event training and the massage table would find Michael fidgeting constantly. He found it hard to explain the anxious shuffling upon a normal training day but there was a pressing issue in the back of his mind. According to his training schedule today would find him pushing one more week beyond his planned deload because of travel. As appreciative as he was being a coach, the travel required could at times put a significant hindrance on his training schedule. As the gods would have it, today was originally scheduled for a light Log Press but would have to be adjusted for his busy travel week.  With the next event training 12-14 days away, it was time to test his current peaking cycle while respecting some minor physical set backs he had suffered the last few weeks.

The warm ups began. As bones, joints, sinew and tissue began to warm themselves over the fires of the implements, Michael began to feel the distant call of focus. As 185, 235, 255 began to go up on the Log there was the visceral feeling of the chase. The hunt to a personal record began to beat in his heart and there was no doubt that the distinct smell on this particular Sunday was the calling of a lifetime PR around the bend. Michael sat there adjusting his belt, absorbing the music beating around his spirit and loaded the log. “One step at a time”, he thought, as he lifted 305 pounds with a great efficiency that took him by surprise. There it was. What the training plan had possibly lead him to but not what his heart had told him this morning. He sat there perplexed, riddled with a sense of guilt and fear of veering off the path that had gotten him back to training. Surrounded by his peers, he sat stone-faced at the edge of the bench but what his face expressed vastly juxtaposed the battle that raged in his heart. There was confidence and assurance but there were also the mental demons of doubt that had plagued him in the past.

The sweat wouldn’t stop running down his face, arms and legs. The heat of the morning had began to cook the gym but the weight would be loaded relentlessly. Practicing a very concise math, Michael loaded the log to 320 pounds. He counted and recounted. Was it anxiety? “A lifetime PR,” he said to himself as the smile quickly faded from his face to be replaced by the grimace of courage. His wraps swung around his wrists, aged with years of abuse but they remained his favorite. He adjusted his belt, tighter by one more hole to assure his body would hold together, if just for one more press. He could see his fellow lifters, teammates and loved ones slowly gathering around patiently observing him. There was a silence in the room. The sort of silence that Michael had missed but knew could only be “heard” by those willing to push themselves far enough.

The log was ready, almost alive with expression as it sat there waiting with great pride and honesty, knowing exactly what it was and how much it weighed. As in all of his lifts over the years there was a rhythm to his start. The steps he followed had not changed all day and he was not going to stop now. He readied his ammonia tablet as he walked to the chalk bucket. He chalked his hands, legs, and shirt as no necessary spot was left untouched. He had done this thousands of times before but he could recognize this time was different. He knew he was chasing a lifetime PR but he also knew the man he had become and more importantly, the man that he no longer was. There was only this moment, this feeling, this lift and NOTHING else. He took his last stride toward the log as his favorite motivational speech came over the speakers. “Now is no time for music,” he told himself. Instead, he would play words that reminded him of what it took to get here… again. He took one last breath as his shins rubbed up against the log, reddening the skin as it bit into him reminding him of the task at hand. His chalked right hand made into an almost fist from the wrist wraps, searched for the ceremonial dog tag around his neck. It was a reminder of a pain no one ever needs to feel but also the deep rooted memory that one must always fall forward. Michael uttered his mantra, a small whisper to his old friend and the exhaled, “NO PAIN”. The room froze. “This was it,” he said. This was the moment… the calm before the storm he had hunted for so many years.

The log was lifted from the floor at pace but without hesitation. The clean was even stronger as the implement sat in the front rack position uncaring, causing him to fight for every inch of structural stability. The log flew off his chest and what looked like would be a seemingly easy press would quickly remind Michael that no true adventure should be given easily. One small inch of give took the log in a slightly forward direction and it caused a fight for what would be his greatest  battle against a log press in many, many years. He heard a “DOWN!” command, but knew his elbows were not where they needed to be. His feet rocking side to side with all 320 pounds shifting ever so slightly to the front and side and back making the certainty of the lift questionable but he had no doubt in his mind. It was not whether he was going to press it or not, it was going to be how it would be remembered. He recalled the standards, the goals and the honor that had been engraved into the culture of the gym he cultivated. He knew tomorrow was not promised to weaker souls and now was the time to prove it to himself. A second “DOWN!” command was yelled, this time being more acceptable as elbows were briefly locked out. “Not long enough,” he thought. A third fight ensued, as he shuffled forward a few more steps causing roars of support by the gym. History screamed into his ears. The past, the effort, the rage, the passion, the loss… every detail of his life dancing across his face as he fought for what he knew was his. “Today,” he exclaimed to himself, “would not be about the weight… it would be about the fight.” How could he look at his peers and lifters if it was not up to the standards he had engraved into their souls? How could he look at himself, he thought, if he settled for the easy route? What would the man in the mirror say to him when he asked about what it takes to be a warrior?

He locked it out. There, under circumstances that he thought he would never feel again, he stood triumphant under the weight of his world. The courage, the rage and ability to fight beyond his body’s means had returned to him. He NEEDED this battle to assure him that the fire in his belly had not only returned to him but that it had seared bravery into that lift and into that very room. “NOW IT’S DOWN!!! NOW IT’S DOWN!!” he yelled, as he bellowed rage that lit his skin on fire. It erupted from his very being as he reminded himself that the world was meant to be taken by those who would dance with the devil one more time. “THATS A FUCKING LOCK OUT!” Michael was pacing around the gym, a berserker lost in the ages screaming with an ancient rage. Muscles howling with affirmation, emotions ripping apart his very being as he lost himself in the moment. The room was a blur as he made his way outside absolutely enveloped by an animal instinct that he himself could not explain. He was shaken. Weak by the effort but even more so by the sheer emotion he had used and exhaled. He accomplished what he set out to do but more importantly he had not quit. He felt like a child, exhilarated with a new adventure but he also recognized the maturity he had developed to truly appreciate this individual moment…

The day did have a different feel. It was not a normal day, for all days fall on to the laps of warriors as uniquely as the battle scars that litter their body. Today was like no other, not simply because it had chosen to exist but because there had been a fight beyond measure and there were men and women there to witness that someone had stood for something. Legacy is not given to those who have forgotten The Way but it is most certainly waiting to be taken. As the day winded down and the gym doors began to close, Michael sat silently grateful for being given one more opportunity to walk the battle field. 


Never Stray from The Way


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Michael “MDLP” De La Pava is currently a competitive Strongman and owner of The Battle Axe Gym. Born in Miami, Florida into a Colombian household, Michael finished his schooling by attending Penn State University where he graduated with a Degree in Psychology. Having his roots in martial arts, he would go on to compete in various sports as a Muay Thai fighter, Powerlifter, and rugby player before committing himself fully to Strongman. During this time, he opened Miami’s first Strongman gym, The Battle Axe, where he currently coaches athletes from various disciplines including powerlifting, MMA fighters, Strongman, officers of multiple authorities and enlisted and active military operators. Competing in Strongman for over 6 years has given Michael the opportunity to rank as high as 15th in the nation (105kg), won Florida’s Strongest man (1st in 2014 and 2nd in 2015 in the 105kg class), lift and load a 420 pound Atlas stone, log press 335, pull 700, and most importantly, share the competitive battlefield with some of the best in the game. During this journey, Michael suffered what some would consider a potentially career-ending spine injury. It was at this time that Brian and Michael would begin working together to not only rehab his spine, allowing him to return to Strongman but also develop a new Strongman training program revolving around the 10/20 philosophy. Strongman and coaching have given Michael the opportunity to travel around the nation and the world to train, coach and be coached, as well as share ideas with various leaders in the strength community. Michael’s experience and network in strongman brings a welcome connection with the ever-growing sport of Strongman to the 10/20 team and PRS family.

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