Weightlifting and Poetry: The Polar Powers

The importance of balancing both physical exercise and creativity for a well-rounded life.
The importance of balancing both physical exercise and creativity for a well-rounded life.

Years ago we both set a goal to compete in Olympic Weightlifting, Masters division. Our decision came from a romantic dream when I saw that the world weightlifting championship was going to be in Poland, specifically in the town of Koszalin. This was the town where Jerzy had competed the last time before his injury. “Wouldn’t it be great if, after 20 years, you could go to Poland and win a gold medal?” I asked Jerzy. I guess he is a romantic too, because he liked the idea. This was the end of us going to the gym and just exercising—it was the beginning of serious training for competition.

Coaching Jerzy at the World Championship in Poland

With poetry you must undergo the same kind of training: you have to struggle, push against your limitations, maintain discipline and focus on creating something from the nothingness of a pure white page. You also have to aim for goals—is your writing just entertainment, destined for the drawer, or will you put it out there and get it published, where it will be exposed to the world with all its criticism. You have to become visible, where everything is on display. Both disciplines, weightlifting and poetry, represent the pinnacle of the craft. In weightlifting, snatch requires the most sheer power of any sport, and poetry requires extreme finesse, economy, and control with words. In both practices, there can be absolutely no waste.

When Jerzy and I met, he was an accomplished weightlifter and I had already been writing poetry for years. Over time, we exchanged our passions—Jerzy became a prolific poet and I won seven world championships. It was not an intentional decision on our parts. Encouraged by a psychologist, Jerzy started writing poetry as an exile in Sweden after experiencing the crises of leaving Poland, his family, his profession, and the murder of his close friend. I had been doing some bodybuilding in Poland to become more proportional but I never cared for the vanity involved in presenting your body as an object. Jerzy suggested that I switch over to weightlifting so my focus would be more athletic and the outcome would be a more flexible, stronger, faster and symmetrical body.

Aniela’s graduation from MFA Creative Writing program at Vermont College

There was a time when we were both preparing for the world championship and working towards our MFAs in creating writing. Each discipline required extreme focus and dedication and we were working as well. One early morning, as we started our run to the beach to do our plyometric exercises, I broke down crying and told Jerzy that I quit. Instead of protesting or encouraging me, Jerzy surprised me by saying “I quit too!” Then we laughed until we cried. Afterwards, we decided to walk to our favorite burger place and split a burger. We spent the rest of the day napping,  reading, and relaxing. We didn’t write that day either. But, the next day we felt fantastic: fresh and ready to go. We had quit for just one day. We had learned an important lesson about balance, pacing, and micro-progression. You can accumulate exhaustion or you can accumulate good feeling and vitality.

Today we’re still both poets and weightlifters; we exercise every day and always read or write something. We strongly believe that engaging in both activities is our anti-aging secret. There’s a feeling of connection in the soul-searching that comes from writing, it makes us aware of what’s really going on in our lives. By staying mobile you’re checking in with your body on a deep level, aligning, strengthening and readjusting. To make a Polish joke, you have to walk a tightrope and balance the two poles: writing is emotional, mental and internal, while exercise is physical and external. They both produce a tangible outcome in renewed vitality and a connection to living that makes you feel energized. Your essential being is reaffirmed. If you don’t practice in both areas you’re more open to depression, disconnection and dissatisfaction in life.

You don’t have to compete to practice your exercise routine with commitment and focus, your body will improve. And with writing, I like to remember how Viktor Frankl said that creation is intrinsic to human well-being, and if you can’t create, you can still appreciate the creations of others. Journaling takes just a few minutes but can lead you into a powerful space of soul-searching.


Where do you fall on the continuum between physical practice and creative practice? Which do you do more, and which is easier for you? Have you ever had a singular focus where you were living at one extreme and feeling discontented because of it? Can you find freedom in discipline?

Leave your response below in the comments.

Looking for an achievable and sustainable approach to exercise?

Get the First Chapter of the Happy Body for free.

  • As always – beautiful writing. A pleasure to read.
    Have a great summer. Hope to meet you and Jerzy one day,

  • Thanks for your empowering posts, as usual. 66 yr.old musician/fitness junkie here. Need that inner and outer activity on a daily basis, for the process, not the results. So I get you you guys. Much gratitude.

    • You welcome Richard. I always remind myself about how to be wiser as I get older, not smarter. It looks like you have the two polar powers guiding you in life. Lucky you!

  • I am so excited to have discovered the Happy Body book (I also purchased the videos and yesterday made my own healthy bars). I just started the program yesterday and can’t wait to watch my progress. You are both so inspiring. I am 63 and want to live to be 100 in a happy body (even though I am a cancer survivor). I believe The Happy Body can get me there! Dzięki!!

  • Thank you for this article.
    I have been blest in the last 18 months to engage with The Happy Body Programme with Margaret O Brien.
    By coincidence Margaret is one of my Poetry mentors from a decade back.
    Reading now of the connection between physical training and Poetry is like a revelation.
    Feeling inspired to keep both going now that I have entered the youth of old age 🙏🏋️‍♀️📝

  • I am deeply touched by this piece . Thank you so much… I never realised the beauty and synchronicity of both these crafts and how you both have brought out awareness to them . Thank you again. I too have had the blessing of Margaret O Brien as a Poetry Mentor and Happy Body Coach…. these exercises are now an anchor and joy and discipline in my day …
    This article is further enlightening encouragement.

    • Dear Eileen,
      I’m so glad you took time to read this blog and write a comment. The whole purpose of me writing those blogs was to help happy body practitioners to understand the complexity of the task of change — whether it’s a physical or mental, and how patient and purposeful we need to stay. It’s all worthwhile since we create the feeing of micro-happiness and wellbeing on a daily basis. Definitely it’s an inti-aging “prescription.”
      Stay well!

  • >
    Share via
    Copy link
    Powered by Social Snap