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RECAP: USPA Drug Tested National Championship 2021

My trip to Palm Springs, CA, to compete in the 2021 USPA Drug Tested National Championships this past week was another success to add to my powerlifting resume. I took home a gold medal in the 75kg (165-pound) Submasters class (age group 35-39) for my second consecutive year.

Post-competition victory shot

I flew out of Austin, TX, on Monday, July 12th. Arriving in Palm Springs that evening, it was only a crisp 107 degrees Fahrenheit. This was a relief, as I knew the dry heat would ease my ability to lose water weight.

Since the previous Thursday, I had been "water-loading" to engage in a "water-cut" to make weight on Tuesday, July 13th. On Thursday I began drinking two gallons of mineral water daily, and I did this through Friday night. On Saturday I switched over to distilled water and drank 1.5 gallons per day through Sunday night. Then on Monday I drank a final gallon of distilled water, and cut off all fluids and food around 6:30pm once I was settled at the Airbnb in La Quinta, CA.

I was crashing with fellow lifter, Brian Crosby (82.5 kg weight class, from Ohio). Brian was also water-cutting for weigh-in the following morning, so we chilled by the pool and enjoyed the evening mountain views as we became increasingly dehydrated. The things powerlifters do, right?

Poolside view at my Airbnb in La Quinta, CA

In the morning on Tuesday, I still had about 3.5 pounds of water weight to lose, so I woke up early, put on my sauna suit and took to walking the trails at the base of the mountains in the above picture as the sun came up, quickly bringing the heat. I'd go back to the house to towel off and weigh myself every 20 minutes or so. After three walks on the trails in the sauna suit, I was at 165.2 pounds (meaning I lost more than 3.5 pounds in an hour)! 75 kg is technically 165.3 pounds, so I got a quick cold shower to avoid opening my pores to reabsorb water, and I headed up to the Renaissance Palm Springs Hotel (the site of the championship meet) for my weigh-in. My weight was officially recorded at 74.9 kg, .3 pounds under my weight limit. My water-cut was a total success!

This called for celebration, which of course meant chugging some Pedialyte Sport and immediately going to the original Native Foods location and chowing down on a BBQ Brisket Burger, sweet potato fries, and kale.

The Native Foods "BBQ Brisket Burger"

The goal for the rest of Tuesday was to re-feed, "carb up", replenish electrolytes, and rest easy with the intention of recovering to 100% for competition the next morning. I ate cereal with soymilk, vegan pad thai, kiwis, Lenny & Larry vegan cookies, Lara Bars, and protein shakes with creatine. I got to feeling good and recovered quickly. Come Wednesday morning, it was showtime. The convention halls of the Renaissance Palm Springs Hotel were crawling with lifters. I took some time to admire the USPA's set up before my warm up. I admit, they always pull out the stops for their National competitions. In my experience so far, USPA National competitions draw the most competitive talent in comparison to IPL World Championships, and likewise the USPA seems to invest more into the presentation of their National competitions than the IPL does for World Championship competitions, which are often in more out-of-the-way places around the globe that may limit some lifters from being able to make the trek out to compete in. For me, Nationals is where it's at in terms of a prime lifting environment and rock star-esque event presentation.

USPA Drug Tested National Championships platform set-up, Renaissance Palm Springs Hotel, 2021

I was in Flight C (the third flight) on the Blue Platform. My day started off ideally. Squats: 3 for 3 1st attempt: 402 pounds (3 white lights) 2nd attempt: 419 pounds (3 white lights) 3rd attempt: 435 pounds (3 white lights) In retrospect, I should have added another 5 kilos on my last attempt. 435 was a tie of my previous best squat at 75 kg bodyweight in competition, but my training cycle did not go so well. I could barely grind out a 415 for one rep only 9 days prior. I had expected to struggle to even hit 430 based on that final heavy set in training, but somehow my squats flowed almost effortlessly on this morning, and I was elated. I was in good standing to hit an all-time PR total based on my squat performance, or so I thought.

Bench Press , however, had some problems.

Bench Press: 1 of 3 1st attempt: 292 pounds (3 white lights) 2nd attempt: 303 pounds (1 white light, 2 red lights–no lift) 3rd attempt: 303 pounds (failed, all red lights/no lift) I completed my second attempt on bench at 303 pounds, but I moved my butt on the bench as I clenched extra hard to thrust the bar through the sticking point. The side judges called me on this for "raising my butt off the bench", which is illegal. However, I know I did not raise my butt off the bench, and I disagree with the judges' call completely. A lifter is allowed to move his/her butt, and even raise it as long as part of the butt remains on the bench. Other people who saw the lift agreed with me, but it is not USPA policy to review a lift on video or by any other means. A judge's call always stands. I was very surprised to see the two red lights after my lift, but I just had to accept the call, and I did my best to appease the judges by trying to maintain an extra stiff lower body on my third attempt. However, this did not go well, and in my concerted effort to stay tight in my lower body on attempt #3, I believe I lost my groove and tightness in my upper body, I did not get the bar past the sticking point just above my chest. Only my opener of 292 went on to the scoreboard. This was a disappointment because I fully expected to set a new competition PR of 308 or more, but oh well, at least I had a decent number on the board from my successful opener.

At last, it was time for the final event: the Deadlift. I started conservatively with my opener because deadlifts in the final weeks of my training cycle did not go optimally either. You have to call all your openers at weigh-in the day before the meet, but given how my back felt good on squats, I had higher hopes than expected for deadlifts on this day.

Deadlifts: 2 for 3 1st attempt: 479 pounds (3 white lights) 2nd attempt: 502 pounds (3 white lights) 3rd attempt: 523 pounds (failed, 3 red lights/no lift) Strange things were going on behind the scenes during deadlifts. A young lifter who I have seen at meets before began to have something resembling a seizure or aneurysm causing him to go into screaming and convulsing fits on the ground. Nobody knew what to do. This happened after my second deadlift attempt, while waiting to go on for my third attempt. All of us lifters back there behind the curtain witnessing this were bewildered. It certainly shocked a handful of us out of a heavy lifting mindset. Fellow lifters and USPA personnel crowded around the young man trying to get him in the best position to ease his frantic condition. USPA President, Steve Denison, was back there on the phone, calling an ambulance, but the ambulance did not arrive for 20-30 minutes. Fortunately the young man was still breathing when he was hauled away on a stretcher with an oxygen mask. I still do not know what happened to him, but I hope he is okay now.

My first two deadlifts had gone up smoothly, though my legs got a little shaky on the second attempt of 502. Neurologically, this is not a good sign. Shaky legs can be a sign of weakened muscle groups not doing their part in the posterior chain, or a tired central nervous system not being able to recruit muscle fibers for contraction quickly enough as a lifter approaches max weight. Thus, my third attempt at 523 barely came off the floor. Given my shaky legs at 502, and the odd circumstances of the young man behind the curtain in peril, I was not surprised at all by my failure at 523 and basically laughed this failed lift off.

Best of: Squat, Bench, Deadlift at 2021 Drug Tested Nationals

Despite only officially going 6 of 9 for the day, I am pleased to have held on to the 1st place 75 kg Submasters division–for the animals. Though it was not my personal best performance of all time, I fully understand that progress as a lifter is not always linear. I have a couple years of steady gains under my belt, and this is the first time my numbers have taken a hit since 2018. It's bound to happen at times, so I will be sure to regroup and strategize properly going into my next training cycles so that I can be at my peak in 2022. My aim is to achieve a three-peat for my category–while also putting up my best numbers ever–before I move onto the Masters division in my 40s. As it stands, if I count my disqualified bench of 303 pounds, I would have wound up with a total of 1240 (my official total for this meet is 1229), and that is only 16 pounds weaker than my performance in 2020. To me, that means I am still performing at roughly the same level i was last year. My score at 2021 Nationals is my second best ever at 75 kg bodyweight, and my third all-time best out of the dozen-plus competitions I now have under my belt. I am still poised to be stronger than ever before in due time. Plateaus happen, and often they teach us how to overcome ourselves and be better lifters.

Of course, my first place win meant cause for another culinary celebration, this time at Chef Tanya's Kitchen on the outskirts of Palm Springs. There I got the Chupacabra Chick'n Sandwich, and it was goddamn delicious.

"Chupacabra Chick'n Sandwich" at Chef Tanya's Kitchen in Palm Springs

The fun didn't stop there. No trip to Palm Springs would be complete without venturing out to Joshua Tree National Park for some sightseeing. Granted, I have been to Joshua Tree multiple times before, but I have never driven the length of the park, east to west, at one time, so I got up at dawn the next morning and did just that–all before heading back to the Palm Springs airport to fly back to Texas.

Joshua Tree National Park

Cholla Cactus Garden

Hall of Horrors

Skull Rock

I'm grateful to all who supported my trip to USPA Drug Tested Nationals this year by purchasing merchandise or books from, as well as those who paid to livestream the competition to see me compete, and those who outpoured with congratulations on social media for my Submasters win. You know I will be back at it next year to represent for the animals and make vegans proud. Sincerely, Daniel


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