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Heartfelt Pain Provides Inspiration to Others

Levi and Shai Markwardt and Alissa Van Middendorp Compete with Team USA in November.
With hands torn up and sweat running down her face, Alissa (Christoffer) Van Middendorp didn’t have anything else to give. The Team USA competitor stood on an international platform at the Kettlebell IKMF World Championship Marathon in Antequera, Spain with a 16kg kettlebell steadily swinging up and down.

She battled. Half snatch after half snatch.

The goal was to make it to an hour, rep after rep lifting 33% of her body weight.

“She was on pace to set a PR at the halfway mark,” said her coach and fellow competitor Levi Markwardt. “Then her hand tore at the 32-minute mark. She adjusted and kept going. Then the other hand tore.”

On Nov. 25, 2018, Van Middendorp battled for another 20 minutes until her raw and bleeding hands and a struggling shoulder forced her to stop. At the 51:00-minute mark, she had completed 530 unbroken reps - her goal had been over 600. With nine minutes remaining, she stepped down feeling devastated and disappointed.

“I wanted to leave—embarrassed. What would my Team USA teammates think? How would people that mean so much to me think? What are other teams thinking of me?” Van Middendorp said. “After some time, I gathered myself and walked back out. Team Ireland members came up to me and said how amazingly strong and talented I was. Then competitors from other countries approached me, comforting me and reminding me that this happens to many people.”

Van Middendorp gained inspiration from their words and past experiences. Teams came from Canada, Ireland, Spain, Norway and other places around Europe. There were 200 total competitors and 26 nations at the elite event.

“None of us gave up, leaving everything up there on the platform,” she said. “All I can say is that the overall experience was amazing and a huge challenge. It’s not about the fail, but about how I react to the moment. It doesn’t define me unless I let it. The journey didn’t end in Spain.”

Looking back, Van Middendorp and Markwardt better understand international kettlebell competition and know how to better prepare for future experiences.

“We competed with different size kettlebells than we had trained with, which played a huge factor in the competition, especially for Alissa because her time limit was 60 minutes,” Markwardt said.

The figure handle on the kettlebell was thicker, which he said wasn’t a big deal for the first 15-20 minutes. However, when a competitor has trained with a smaller handle, it starts to affect the hands over time. The developed callouses wouldn’t be in the same spots.

Markwardt also had his hands tear a day earlier, which hadn’t happened to him for a long time. He competed in the 32kg half snatch half marathon and a time frame of 30 minutes. He was able to push through and received Master of Sport for his efforts.

His daughter Shai, a sophomore at Spirit Lake High School, also competed on Nov. 24 in the junior division half marathon.

“She did really well and had a personal best,” Markwardt said. “It was very exciting to see as her dad and as her coach.”

All three Team USA competitors plan on continuing their training efforts and have already signed up for the Arnold Classic 2019 WAKSC World Championship on March 1-3, 2019 in Columbus, Ohio. The next international competition for them takes place November 2019 in Poland.

“Both Alissa and Shai have really bright futures in the sport, with their age and ability,” Markwardt said. “I will continue to compete as long as my body allows me to stay competitive.”

They have a Russian coach who is providing training advice and technique assistance in the Gilroy Kettlebell sport. Markwardt and Van Middendorp both desire achieving Master of Sport in both classes. Different ranks are given depending on times, reps, and performance during competitions.

They want to continue with their sports training but with a healthy balance.

“The goal is to stay highly competitive on a world stage with the right training and mindset for a long time,” Markwardt said. “We are also excited to help others learn the sport.”

They are passing on their knowledge and skill to interested participants at Markwardt’s gym, Athletic Republic in Spirit Lake.

This includes training for all ages, from those in elementary or people in their sixties. Markwardt had several in their late sixties start kettlebell for the first time eight weeks ago, and they’re finding it physically rewarding. They have different types of kettlebells available for all skill and strength levels.

“It’s much easier to start younger, but kettlebell is scalable and works for all ages,” he said. “Don’t put limits on yourself just because you age. It’s important to stay active, and this sport is one that can be done throughout your life.”

While Van Middendorp is a preschool teacher at Joyful Journeys, she helps Markwardt at Athletic Republic with kettlebell training for school-age athletes. She especially has a passion for helping young girls find a healthy physical and emotional balance in life.

“Through my life, I’ve learned perfection isn’t a thing but a healthy balance is achievable,” she said. “Mistakes don’t define us but this perspective can be hard to see when you’re younger. We want to be a light in a dark place.”

This is exactly what Levi and Shai Markwardt and Alissa Van Middendorp did in November. While the results weren’t exactly their initial expectations, their first international competition fuels future dreams and are an inspiration to people of all ages.

If anyone is interested in learning more about Kettlebell training and competition, contact Markwardt at Athletic Republic Spirit Lake at (712) 336-4040, levishardertokilltraining.com, or on social media. The 24-hour gym is located at 1390 Lake St., and Markwardt offers personal training and a variety of packages for interested individuals.