My 2018 NAGS Experience – Nigel Blackburn
Today’s guest post is from Nigel Blackburn, 66kg competitor from the 2018 North American Grip Sport Championship, which was held on June 2, 2018, at Titan Strength, in Elmira New York. Nigel is a virtual coaching client of mine in the Grip Task Force, and put this post together, reflecting back on his performance…
I’ll start off with a little background before the competition:
I come from a strength training background. I was a competitive powerlifter who also messed around with a few strongman events. Powerlifting inevitably became a “chore.” I didn’t look forward to training, which is always my favorite part of the day. I started brainstorming and realized that grip, to me, is the most fun thing to train. When I get into a hobby, I REALLY get into a hobby. I contacted @Jedd Johnson about getting serious about grip, and we started working together. In January, we started discussing possible opportunities to compete; we both agreed that NAGS 2018 was the way to go. I weighed about 158 at the time, so I hit the qualifying numbers for the 74kg class, but I knew 66kg was attainable (my previous powerlifting weight class). I was given the green light, so I booked a hotel and got my flight from Florida to Elmira.
Fast forward a few months:
After a full day of traveling, I made it to Elmira. My meals consisted on protein bars, unsalted cashews, and a small amount of water. I have always had a lot of anxiety about weight class sports. Making weight is something that scares me. After a poor night of sleep, it was game day. Jedd picked me up and drove me to the gym a few hours early. I had about 3 hours until comp time, and I was damn near ready to get it going. I made weight–not by much. It was a figurative sigh of relief. Weight was taken care of (66kg); now I could shift my focus to the competition. I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to all the competitors, which was great! Everyone was friendly and supportive–surely a nice change of pace from the near-toxic level of competition I have experienced in other sports. Time was flying; before long, it was go time!
The first event was a 20-mm block set close. This event worried me because I had discovered very close to the competition that the block I had been using was closer to 19mm. I ended up packing a Jenga block of all things. I was a tidbit wider than 20mm, but I was set on using my own block so I could place it in my teeth for a super quick transition into the block set. Once it was announced that the lightest weight class starts it off, a fire was lit; that meant I was the first person to take an attempt. Immediately my nervousness transitioned into laser-sharp focus. A deep breath, and I was off. I started off with a BB rated at 130. The set felt spongy and easy, I quickly transitioned and slid the block through, and crushed the first attempt. I was off to a hot start and confidence was high. My goal was to close a gripper rated at my bodyweight, so my sights were set on the 145. My confidence got the best of me for my next attempt. I took a big jump and missed the 140. No worries. My third attempt, I got the 135, but not very convincingly. I ended up fumbling around with the block set and had trouble opening it wide enough. The fourth and last attempt crept up on me, and I retried the 140; close but no cigar. I was admittedly a little discouraged as I closed much heavier in training, but it seemed like everyone had a rough gripper day, so I couldn’t be too mad. Regardless, the 135 gave me a WR by a wide margin, shattering the previous 115 in my weight class (although it was not contested many times).
The 2HP was next. I had my number in mind: 172. 172 would break the recently set WR. I was really thrown for a loop here, as I ended up unintentionally halting the competition as I was trying to find out exactly what I needed. I felt like I was inconveniencing everyone and felt a little embarrassed as a result. After hitting 160 convincingly, I attempted 173, which was the closest it could get to 172. I broke 173 off the floor, but I couldn’t lock it out. Not only would this be a WR but also a 10-lbs PR. I was visibly frustrated, but I tried it again. This time, no budge. Hindsight bias really got into my head here. I knew I could’ve gotten 170 and posted a better number, but I got greedy.
The Napalm Nightmare followed shortly after. My goal was the hit around 260. I knew this would likely be my worst event, and I was right. I hit my opener at 235, and it went downhill from there. Despite hitting 238×4 in training, I couldn’t get 245 on my next 3 attempts. I was actually just happy I didn’t bomb out on this event.
The medley room was a sensory overload–12 objects in 90 seconds. I never got to practice medley because I ended up resting about a week and a half before the meet to mend up a few aches and skin tears. Once the timer started, I moved quick and efficiently. I had a plan, and I executed very well. I made two huge mistakes, one of which I did not even notice until after: I forgot the anvil completely and did not lift the crusher. The clip on the Crusher got stuck on the loading pin, so I skipped it and came back at the end. By that time I was gassed and failed to lift it. Rookie mistakes, undeniably.
Last event: the dreaded wrist roller. I can’t write much about this. It was honestly a blur, and I’m 100% convinced I have already repressed the memory. All I can tell you is made it about 26 feet and my forearms nearly exploded. So, yeah…. that’s all I have to say about that.
Initially, I was very disappointed in my performance. I took gold and set a modest WR, but my main goals remained unachieved. I then gave it some though. This was my first ever grip competition–WHO CARES. It was that simple. I’m 23 years old, and I just finished my first competition. My main goal was to get my feet wet and experience what gripsport is all about; I did just that. I also got the meet the community–every single person I met was kind, encouraging, and well-spoken. I had competed and had a blast doing it. With that being said, I would consider NAGS 2018 is be a great success and a day I won’t forget. I’m already looking forward to all my future competitions where I will get to meet more people and run back into the great people I have met. I would list everyone out, but I feel this post is already way too long as is.
My Note to Nigel: I thought you did awesome my man.
Grippers can get sketchy in a hurry, bro. And like you saw, lots of people were having trouble, despite the fact that they had all be freshly cleaned and the springs oiled. What is great is that you had complete command of the gripper, the set, the block, etc. I was happy to see all that.
On the Pinch, don’t ever think you’re holding the contest up by verifying a number for a record. That is part of the game, ever since weight classes were instituted. I think for most people, it actually adds to the excitement and suspense, that someone has a big number in mind to break, and they want to pay attention more and witness the whole thing.
On the Nightmare, I think it could have had something to do with the slowing of the pace, due to everyone’s energy levels being low after the second event, plus eating pizza, etc. I thought everyone seemed totally dead after that, and remember thinking, “What the heck is going on with these guys?” Ha ha.
The Wrist Roller is just plain tough. And Medleys are an experience all themselves. In your time training grip, you haven’t done a lot of the “oddball” stuff that shows up in a Medley. With more time under your belt, you’ll feel more comfortable with all of the different implements. I like to lay out almost a grid-pattern in my head, surrounding all the items with invisible lines, to make more sense of it all.
Take note, that many of the guys who’ve only done contests like King Kong or Grip Games, where there is no Medley, also make tactical errors. Once you go through a Medley or two, you get an idea of how to cut your time down, and maximize your potential on each item. It will all come, my man.
To wrap up…awesome job. You attacked everything, bro. That’s what you need to do. Can’t wait to see you at the next contest, now that you’ve gotten the taste of grip competition!
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