The 2004 JCB 930 Is Out
I close my eyes and surrender to the darkness; one breath in, one breath out; solitude, focus, control. I repeat that mantra to myself as the echoes fill the stadium. I focus on the ground trembling beneath me, and the roar of engines pounding in my head. Opening my eyes, I am overwhelmed with anticipation, every year for the past four, I have stood in this very spot, and every year has been the same. There are no if's, and's, or but's about it, I am in over my head, but I’m here to prove a point; to myself and to all of those who feel inferior.
Drowning out the noise, I approach the registration desk slowly, “Year, model, weight category” says the clerk in a bored monotonous tone. She stares at me over oil speckled glasses; her body language betraying the smile on her face. She has no desire to be in the company of those who find a sense of entitlement in physical competition. In fact, neither do I, but this is more than a test of physical strength, it is a testament to myself and to my pride.
I take the registration sheet and mumble to myself as I fill out the required sections. As I hand it back to her, a collective gasp runs through the crowd. The whispers begin, and like a chorus, sound erupts from all around me. Turning slowly I follow the gaze of the crowd preparing myself to once again find Larry 'Liftking' Lawrence staring right back at me. Raking his eyes over me, he sneers, turns and shoulders his way through the crowd. For thirteen years I have been the underdog; slighted by a newer model, disqualified for unforeseen circumstances, scoffed at for my weight capacity. Never once in more than a decade have I ever been taken seriously; what good is a retired 1997 Cat Model 928G in comparison to a 2013 Liftking LK2OP44, or even a 2004 JCB 930. Back in the day, in my prime, I gave the 1993 Liftking LK5OC a run for his money, but now I am simply used goods, no good to anyone save the junk yard for scrap metal.
A ten minute warning bell sounds, interrupting my quiet reflection of the past. I gather my things, make my way to the competitor’s booth and line up with the others. Looking to my left and right, I see the Mani siblings; a 2008 Manitou M40.4 and a 2010 Manitou M50.4. Exchanging polite nods, I remind myself that youth is no match for wisdom and experience. I have been here many times before; I have the experience, the will power and the desire. I will not fail, I will not fall short, I will not accept second best.
As the crowd begins to settle, Dawson ‘DD’ a Deere 650J XLT, the 2012 Rough Terrain champion crosses the stage to the podium. We watch eagerly as he adjusts his tie, fixes his notes and clears his throat, “Ladies and gentlemen, today we gather to view a spectacle of strength, balance, intelligence and skill. It is my pleasure to introduce this year’s contestants; here to prove to themselves and to you, that they deserve the title. We ask those participating to keep in mind the spirit of friendly competition and may the best lift win". One by one we step forward, as our names are called, into awaiting applause. I know what will happen as my name echoes from the speakers, yet I still cringe as I hear the murmurs behind me. Broken phrases and insults reach my ears, but I will not let that stop me, instead I step forward and stare with defiance into the crowd. The voice of my father’s favourite politician echoes in my head, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” (Roosevelt, 1939). I drown them out, ignoring the cat calls; there is no room for distractions, no room for second guessing.
The end of the speech signifies the official start to the competition; round one is the preliminary efficiency examination, followed by pneumatic efficiency, and weight capacity. The first two competitors make their way solemnly to the arena. The first round is completed, scores are documented and competitors eliminated. Each passing minute increases my anxiety tenfold and after what seems like hours, my name is finally called. I pull out of the loading dock, all eyes are on me, and make my way towards the arena. Silence envelopes me, and then once again the laughter. Although it should infuriate me, it calms me. This moment is where I prove to myself that my purpose in life is not simply to provide efficient stacking of warehouse racks, container unloading, or use within a confined space. Today I define myself and make my family proud. Nothing else matters. There is just me, my determination and my skill.
The announcer’s voice rings through the speakers, "Gentleman, please pull up to the platforms, lower your forks and on my mark, you may begin. You have a maximum of four minutes to complete the relay; in that time all seven shipping containers must be loaded and carried to the finish line. Remember a damaged load validates disqualification”. My body tingles with anticipation. This is it, "On the count of three, three…two…one...GO!". I am calm. I lower my fork, rev my engine. The announcer’s voice becomes a constant buzz in my ears, the noise fading as I begin, “He gets ready for the lift, slow and steady, here comes the hoist, and it is a clean lift for the 1997 Cat Model 928G, and off he goes!”. Finishing, I smile to myself waiting for the judges to calculate my score. The numbers on the board flash green, 26.93 out of 30, I smile to myself; a decent job, I’m still in the running, sixth place, quite a jump from first but definitely doable.
In no time, round two begins; I score a 28.4, round three I got 24.5, and round four a 29.3. After each subsequent round I watch the board with apprehension. Jacob the 2004 JCB 930 is out, disqualified due to an altered lift height; I move to fifth. The Mani siblings are caught under the influence of fuel efficiency enhancement substances and disqualified; I move to third. Kalum the 2008 Kalmar DCF300 breaks a fork; I move to second. I am suddenly hit with déjà vu, four times I've stood in this very spot, four times I've made it to the finals and four times I've made a mistake, miscalculated my strength, or broken a fork. Each time I've come close, each time I've failed, each time I've lost. This is my year.
The announcer calls out the start for the final round, “On our left, in the yellow, with a fork length of 48 ", is the 1997 Cat Model 928G. And on my right, also in yellow with a load center of 24”, a carriage width of 100”, a maximum fork height of 168” and a fork length double that of the Cat at 96” is Larry “Liftking” Lawrence, the 2013 Liftking Model LK20P44”. He may be better built than I am, be a newer model and have a higher weight capacity, but he has 385 hours on the meter in comparison to my 60 791. Training and hard work will always triumph over natural ability. It is that thought that acts as the driving force behind my motivation for this round; the weight lifting competition. The starting weight is set at 15 000 lbs. Steadily it increases: 16 000 lbs., 17 000 lbs., 18 000 lbs. As I struggle on the last lift, I turn and see Larry looking crestfallen. The crowd is no longer chanting his name, and as the buzzing in my ears clears, I realize it is my name they are calling. I've actually done it, I am winning.
Looking at Larry I see the disappointment and feeling of failure that too often was a mirror of my own during my youth. I see his friends, his family and see my own past as I was forced to face my family as a failure. Suddenly it dawns on me and I drop the weight, turn to the crowd and smile. Faces of confusion look back at me, I was winning and yet I gave it all away. Realization emerges on Larry’s face, he won and I lost. For the past thirteen years I have been striving to win the American Rough Terrain Championships, and yet in a single minute, four years of my expected five to seven year life span amounted to nothing, and that single minute to everything. In that moment, I realized that all those years I had been competing for a title that had no value. The true value was what I gained along the way; the friends, the experience, the memories, the effort, which was what mattered, not a title, not an award. A materialistic item will never amount to a higher value than personal worth, so in a sense I did win, I won an identity and a purpose; something to truly be proud about.