The road to the top

(a short story of motivation, overcoming difficulties, championship, teamwork, hard work on the road to success)


WO: You are a world champion with many titles, as far as I know you are the only Pole who won the “Master of Sport World Class” title?

MŁ: Now I am no longer the only Pole who holds this title, but yes, for a long time I was the only one.

WO: But no success lasts forever. How do you deal with the fact that there are younger competitors? Do you feel you still need to prove something to yourself?

MŁ: No, I think I am at a stage where I no longer have to prove anything to myself. True, for a long time I felt I always had to be number one no matter what, the only one. But now I know that maturity comes with time, and I have reached this maturity – I no longer have to prove anything to myself or anyone else, I have had a few big victories.

WO: How can you make sure you achieve those victories? I once read in a book that four elements are necessary: strength, endurance, the endurance of that strength during the competition itself, as well as – to my surprise – flexibility. Is this true? What can you say about each of these elements?

MŁ: I think that flexibility is the basis of strength and endurance, because a flexible body improves our performance and the way the body functions through better blood circulation and muscle metabolism. This is absolutely key. Strength alone helps as well, but endurance and strength endurance are the key elements when it comes to kettlebell training. We could not compete without this. It’s a lot of hard work. It requires a different methodology of training, but it is one of the training stages – these include strength, endurance, and strength-endurance stages. Plus we add stretching and mobility exercises as well.

WO: So you keep reaching for your left ear with your right hand?

MŁ: I try. (laughter)

WO: Did you have instances when something did not work at all, when you failed, when the failure was so great you wanted to quit? If so, and you were able to come back, how did you do it?

MŁ: There were a few “falls”. One of them was a competition in Italy when I was very well-prepared, but for some reason I acted as if I had only held a kettlebell in my hand a few times. It’s a sport, and even though we train very hard, we are only human and we need to know that our surroundings, the ambiance around us, the weather, stress, long travel times, time change – all this can influence our performance when the competition starts. I have won many times, but losing is also an experience that teaches you a lot. My team always helps me in such cases, they support me during all the preparations and the tournament itself. I got a lot of support from them when I lost, which is rarely the case.

WO: That is a good point: you raise the kettlebells on your own, but many others work to make the champion win – how many?

MŁ: It’s a big group of people. I try to train on my own, but the fact that I train alone does not change my need to be surrounded by friendly and smart people. I always ask one person to tell me what I did wrong during the competition, because this is not something I can judge myself. There are also some rules for cheering me on – I need very specific support, very down-to-earth and matter-of-fact guidance, something that will not be a distraction, but that will help eliminate mistakes I might make. All those working with me know the details of how the system works.

WO: So do you improve your chances of success by choosing the right people to be around you?

MŁ: Yes, of course. I think choosing the right people is key. I have a great team in Poland, and when we travel to international competitions each person on the team is – as the saying goes – the right person in the right place. In my opinion this is a key element of success.

WO: On the way to the top we always meet mentors. Who helped you once, who stayed with you along the way? Can you name one person who helped you become a champion?

MŁ: I think the whole team of people I work with, and my family. There is a whole group of kettlebell training people who help prepare and organize competitions. I don’t want to name all of them, because it’s quite a big group of people. In general, all the people I surround myself with, both in the kettlebell training group and the private sphere of life, so friends and family, help and support me. They drive me to be successful at the highest level.

WO: Can you win a competition only due to good circumstances, luck?

MŁ: No.

WO: I ask because in the business world sometimes you find success a little like you do in the world of music – you record a song that is a huge success. But oftentimes, after a while, you find that for that singer or group that one song was the only success. Are there champions who achieved success thanks to a little luck, or a coincidence that helped them?

MŁ: I’ll tell you a story about my competition in Lithuania. Besides me there were a few competitors on my level, and one world-class athlete, one of the best internationally, much better than me at the time. Of course I didn’t even consider that I could possibly win with him. As it turned out, we started out and in the middle of the competition he just put his kettlebells down, while I lasted till the end. I broke my personal life record that day, and I set a new record for Poland. I later asked Arthur what happened. He replied: “I was burned out”. These unexpected situations can also happen. I don’t know whether it was a coincidence, or whether my hard work paid off, but I definitely succeeded and gained some new experience.

WO: Jim Collins, a professor and business management guru says that sometimes you have to be both well-prepared and count on some luck. Only those who are well-prepared win, but luck also helps. These types of “lucky” situations also mean that – at least in my case – I really enjoy being well-prepared all the time. I want to be prepared and ready for that “luck” when it comes. However, in order to get to a certain level we do certain things, but we also decide what not to do – I sometimes wonder what’s more important: what we do, or what we choose not to do in order to achieve that dreamed-of place in private, professional, or sports life. What is it like in your case?

MŁ: For me it is very important to focus on what I am doing. Of course, what I am not doing is a key element of what I am doing at a given time – but training was always number one for me. I never felt like partying long into the night, drinking alcohol or doing anything that could lower the level of preparation that I had achieved. The truth is what I’ve already achieved was something I had dreamed of, but there is still more to achieve ahead of me, so I can’t let myself go.

WO: One question I often ask people, especially sportspeople – talent or hard work?

MŁ: Definitely hard work.

WO: The biggest compromises you had to make in order to achieve championship level?

MŁ: I think the biggest compromise was the amount of time devoted to sports as opposed to time spent with my family. This part is the hardest. There was a time when I would take part in competitions sixteen times a year, in various parts of Europe. This involved not only limited family time, but also investing a lot of financial resources into the sport. I think these two things are the most important in the area of compromises I had to make.

WO: You once said that kettlebells helped you in dealing with unexpected situations. Tell me what can be unexpected in the  “boring” world of kettlebells?

MŁ: Lifting kettlebells can be boring, but only to the onlooker. A contestant who is well-prepared has a whole strategy for the competition such as: the number of repeats per minute, the breathing cycle, tension-relaxation, analysis, feedback. All this tells us how resilient we are, how well-prepared, whether we are breathing correctly. We know when we are tired, when our rhythm is off and how we can improve our performance. All this knowledge, this strategy, is prepared for our competitions, it is meant to help us stabilize, retain our balance. Believe me, there is nothing boring in this.

WO: Every once in a while pain appears during your workouts, while training, during the competitions, especially when strength sports and combat sports are concerned. How do you fight pain while kettlebell training? Do you take painkillers, or are there other methods?

MŁ: No, when our technique is correct and we stretch regularly pain should not be a problem, it should not stop us from competing. Of course there are situations when we experience muscle pain, but this is a normal result of hard work and commitment, as well as the stress related to training or a competition. With this sport I never came across a situation where someone was injured so seriously that they had to stop training.

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