International Calisthenics Cup 2017
What a weekend.
Registering for this competition six months ago the initial plan was just to get experience, to see what the standard was like in other countries, and learn what I could bring back.
Then six months on your arm gets raised, and the celebrations begin. International Calisthenics Cup Champion 2017. What a feeling.
The reason I had always been such a big advocate of establishing Calisthenics competitions in Ireland was because it gave people something to train for, something to strive for, and to see a reward for hard work. To have the chance to train towards something, do something positive with yourself and gain recognition for yourself is something we should all strive towards whether that is through sport or personal gains. This competition gave us all the opportunity to do that.
At an event like this I was genuinely a mix of emotions leading up to it. Obviously Calisthenics is not the most high profile sport as of yet, even in Holland when we told people why we were there they had no clue what it was, but it means a lot to you personally because in that moment it is the biggest thing in the world.
From the outside, a driving test is not the end of the world, but when anyone is taking their test it feels like the biggest event taking place and nothing else matters.
As the event got closer there were days when I would be absolutely buzzing with excitement, couldn’t be any more pumped up and just dying to go over. Other days the nerves would hit and you would worry about what moves or routines you would even catch on the day. Maybe surprisingly, the biggest thing that helps me deal with nerves is something from Noel Gallagher, when he was asked about being nervous before gigs despite playing music over twenty years. He says he still gets nerves and to him it’s important that he does because it means he cares. I take nerves as a positive in the same way because it does mean you care.
All the build-up and training towards the competition I don’t think that, personally, I could ask for better people to train with. Myself, Aaron and Jamie probably spend more time slagging each other off but it’s the bond between us and not wanting to let each other down that helped us a lot coming up to the event. At different times we would all feel nerves and I think because we are all so close knit together we would sense it and pick each other up. We spend so much time trying to build everyone else up involved in Bar Monkey that sometimes we can forgot to build up ourselves. I just felt as though the atmosphere we have created together and through our classes is very special and important. I don’t think anything like what we are trying to create or an event like this is possible on your own. Very grateful to the two of them for helping me through and the support we all showed each other throughout, I don't think there's two other people ot there that I would have wanted to share this event and moment with.
Friday hits. There is a mixture of excitement, nerves and reality finally hitting me. It’s actually happening and we are on our way. There is definite nerves as Aaron has decided we need to leave at 7:00am for a 12 o’clock flight! Our preparation leading up to the competition probably isn’t what people think. In the last maybe two to three weeks before the competition we died down the intensity, less training sessions and more rest and stretching. The more intense training was happening months before. Figuring out what moves we would do for routines, working on putting them together, and trying to execute them as cleanly as we could. The plan was to know exactly what we would do on the day and not have any niggling doubts that might cause mistakes. Then we get the full competition rules two weeks before the competition date and that completely changes the plan!
The structure of the competition was to be:
Group Stage: 45 second routine x 2
Win your group to progress. Three in each group.
Round two: 45 second routines x 2
Final: 30 Second routines x 3
With this coming out late we then had to try and develop different routines, it was a freestyle competition afterall so you would be expected to have different routines every time you got up. We had different opinions and talks about it, trying to figure out from each other what best routines to do in each round.
Should we keep ourselves fresh in the first round, to save ourselves for later rounds? But what is the point if you don’t make it through round 1 and your feeling fresh? It threw up a lot of different questions. Either way it meant, for me anyway, that I would need a couple of different routines to put together that I felt would be good enough.
The initial plan for the Friday was to keep it chilled, relax once we arrived and just settle ourselves down before tomorrow. We got to the hostel and it was absolutely baltic. Sean, our videographer, decided to tape up the windows and we put the radiator on full blast. There was no dinner in the place as we were the only people there. Good start. As you usually do when in a foreign country, you get lost and make a mess of directions. What should have been a ten minute walk took us an hour to find somewhere to eat, all while it’s absolutely freezing. As all Irish do when abroad, we found an Irish bar for food. We then went back to the hostel and just chilled out playing some pool and just messing about. Just trying to distract ourselves really. People from Holland are the nicest people I’ve ever met. Asking all about where we are from and why we are there. We explain the Calisthenics Competition and before you know it we are all there performing tricks on the pool table, as you do.
We tried to get to bed early and be fresh for tomorrow. Never works out that way as you are focused so hard on sleeping that you can’t actually sleep. Plus the room was freezing and we all slept in our clothes! As you are lying there thinking about the next day your mind drifts into different stages and different thoughts. Excitement, doubt, worry and the strategic planning. Excited at the thought of competition, doubt as to whether that shoulder injury will come back, nerves as to whether or not you will catch that routine and planning in your head what you will do if it doesn’t.
The biggest feeling of excitement and the vision in my head is coming back to Bar Monkey as a champion. I keep imagining having a trophy to bring back and to showcase to everyone. The competition itself is bigger than me. It is what winning will represent to the kids in our classes, the impact it will have on them and the inspiration they will take from it. It is about showcasing Ireland to another Calisthenics Community and showing them that Ireland has an amazing pool of talent and we are just a few from this country to demonstrate that. The competition is a realisation of everything we have worked towards over six years, starting on your own in a cold winter evening in a park, to now here. All these ideas and concepts run through your head and then bam, sleep.
I wake up from a night of broken sleep, thoughts and routines running through my head.
Still a bit groggy, we get up and get ourselves ready. Double checking all the bags making sure I haven’t forgot anything. Lashing that vicks on to the chest in the hope it gives me a small advantage. At this point you are thinking of any slight advantage you may get. Then we go down for breakfast. The most important meal of the day, right? Well here we are in a freezing hostel sitting down to a bowl of granola and black coffee. We look out the window and the place is covered in snow. The place is white and Aaron wants a snowball fight. It barely musters a response from me. Routines are running through my head at this point and not much else.
The lads check their phones as we eat, I want to stay away from it and just try to maintain a singular thought and not be distracted by whatever pops up. We finish shovelling down the granola and head out to the reception to order the taxi. As we wait, I take out a band and start doing some exercises. Last warm up of that shoulder, it should be ok. Just using nervous energy at this point as the sudden realisation that the competition is in one hour hits me. When I say everything hits me, I mean everything. What this competition means to us, every session that has led up to this, that niggling injury, meeting every other athlete and judges. Then the taxi arrives to take me out of that moment in my head.
Here we go boys, let’s smash it.
We arrive to warm up, and there’s obviously other teams there. You hear the mix of accents, French, Dutch, American, and you see some of the guys already smashing the bar. We get up to have a feel without really doing anything to be honest, few spins and that, but it’s more just to get a feel for the bar. The plan was to stay fresh, do as little as possible before our routines. I take a few deep breaths, and the adrenaline is now well and truly beginning to kick in. There is a slight delay, as you would expect then the announcement gets made for everyone to enter, all the groups are announced and it’s time to go. I give Aaron and Jamie a quick hug and then completely zone out of everything. Aaron is trying to talk to me throughout but he gets no response.
We finally get to Group D and it is Aaron up. Quick hug and a shout of encouragement. Aaron, in my opinion absolutely smashed his routines. I was really surprised and disappointed for him that he didn’t get through. Me and Aaron knew if we both won our groups we would be against each other which would have been fun. He was very unlucky not to make it through his group, and we definitely felt he should have. You start thinking that this might be looked at slightly differently through the judge’s eyes than our own and what they are looking for. Aaron is twenty, he done himself and Bar Monkey proud, and no doubt he belongs on these occasions. There will be many more for him.
We get to Group G and it is my round. I am genuinely sitting here writing this and struggling to remember what routines I performed. I was so zoned out, when you are up there it’s just a mix of everything that you are in a different world in that moment. I performed a three finger full planche push up, then full planche into handstand back into planche and perform planche push ups. We had to perform two routines and I cannot for the life of me here remember what I done in my second. Whatever I done it was enough to get a draw with another member in the group, a Dutch guy, and me and him have to go again. Again, I cannot remember what I done to win, but I got a unanimous vote by the four judges to get through. I remember feeling like all my muscle groups had just locked. There is huge fatigue because of the emotion involved I think more than the physical. There is a mix of everything. I feel very dehydrated and I am constantly drinking water and eating fruit.
Jamie Hemp is in group H and he’s up next. He starts off well with a one arm pull up into a slow muscle up. We then start screaming at him because he is doing the transition phase of the muscle up repeatedly and we are like ‘’get up!!’’. He does enough to get a draw and has a second battle. The first move he went for, L-Sit Muscle Up, he doesn’t land and it just puts him off I think and throws his head. That can be all it takes to completely throw you off in this and unfortunately I think that’s what happens Jamie. He still goes out in style with a dab at the top of the bar.
We are into the Semi-Final. This round genuinely was the toughest of the lot. As we get over to the judges Little Jay from BarSparta shouts at me ‘planche master’ and I am full on loving it. Jay is currently the WCO Featherweight World Champion and absolutely unbelievable so to get the shout from him turned me into his biggest fanboy for life. Again, this session becomes a bit of a blur. I’m actually sitting here writing this and in a bit of shock at how little I remember. I performed a Parallel bar routine first, and a high bar routine second. This was a really tough battle but I managed to pick up the win, beating the guy that knocked out Aaron and another guy from France who you could see had put so much effort into this competition and he looked genuinely distraught to lose. As I said, on the outside this does not mean much to people, but being involved it is the biggest moment of your life. I’ve convinced the judges to put me through to the final. They give a five minute break for us all to get some fluids etc back in to us and try get up as fresh as we can.
When the final hits, I win rock paper scissors and decide to go last. The guy who goes first, who I think is French or Austrian, just does not catch what he is going for. He has really nice flow but he doesn’t catch enough of the movements. The second guy gets up and no disrespect but he just hasn’t enough there. You can tell. I think the exertion in the first two rounds is not noticed enough but by the final it came down to endurance. I am up and I have just decided I am going to focus on my static movements here. I don’t think people realise, but it is the freestyle movements that tire you out so quickly, for me they tire you out quicker than statics because of the speed you have to throw them at. After seeing the first guy failing and falling from the bar I knew as long as I was staying on and showcasing strength that I had a good chance. My three sets were not necessarily my cleanest or strongest, and when you are up on the bar so much of it is a blur. Watching the final back I was thinking ‘why didn’t I do this, or I could have done that’ but as I said you are just in this zone and it is almost like it is just instinct or something like that which takes over. I had decided from seeing the two that I didn’t necessarily need to go for a big risk move in order to win. I needed to be as clean as I could with no mistakes. It is about planning in these battles and having a skill set to beat your opponent. As I said though, the final was more about endurance than anything else. The two I went up against both hit the floor, I think that came down to tiredness by the end. Big respect for the two of them though and I do definitely think they will be back.
The routines are over and we have to stand and face the judges. Third place is announced and it is the last two as they decide on first place.
Then the decision is made. You see four people pointing at you and you know that’s it, you’ve won. I honestly don’t think there are many better experiences than that. Everything comes rushing up, it’s a surreal moment. Everything you have done for the past six months was designed for this moment and now here you are, sitting in it, breathing it, living it. Amazing.
For me I’ve never felt like I’ve had to justify myself and why Calisthenics was such a big part of my life, but I did feel at times as though people in my life would be thinking why are you doing that. Especially at the beginning. Moments like this justify everything. I want to live in those moments as often as I can. I loved every moment of that weekend and I want to experience that as often as I possibly can. There are not many things that can beat your first time winning something, it is a special experience and means a lot in any sport, but what it does is set you up for the next occasion. Adrenaline and everything else you feel on these days is addictive. You want to experience it again. You are physically chasing that emotion again. All this has done is give me Aaron and Jamie the motivation and inspiration to want to continue. All we spoke about after is recreating that. Being part of these events regularly. The travelling, the crack, and experiencing it all. We want to continue. This is just a start. Our first trophy internationally. The first three Irish people to compete in Calisthenics abroad. I was told a few years back that Ireland was nowhere near the standard to compete abroad. Now here we are. All this has done is given us more motivation to keep pushing forward. Look at the amount of kids in our programmes. Look at the talent that is coming out of those groups. I am genuinely so excited by what is to come with all our groups and all we hope for from this event is that it kickstarts everyone to believe that they can go on and do something like this too. We have the biggest Calisthenics club in the country, we have amazingly talented young people involved that are only going to go on and create these kind of moments themselves. For us to have started that and to now be continually involved, I don’t think there is a much better feeling.
I just want to say a big thanks to everyone for all the support and messages after the event, it did genuinely mean a lot to us and we just can’t wait to keep going, this is only the start.