Five Lessons You Can Learn From Donny Shankle

By Craig Hysell

Donny Shankle is a five-time world champion of weightlifting. We had the privilege of having him conduct a seminar at CrossFit Hilton Head on October 6, 2013. Here are five lessons you can learn from Donny Shankle:

1. Single-mindedness. Find out what you want to do. Honestly assess how badly you want to do it. If you feel like you will do “whatever it takes” to do it, you can be great. If you’re afraid to look foolish, be uncomfortable, suffer, be homeless, be friendless or loveless for your passion, workout in a basement for years on end, to try for your dream with a broken neck, to miss your dream by one spot and to keep going forward for another four years anyway, then it is not your passion. You will fail.

2. Acceptance. I love this one. Understand that you are on a journey. The destination is secondary. You are here, right now, in the pursuit of your goal. Your job is to take one small step forward each day. If you do not accept that you are here to do the best you can at this moment and if you do not accept that this moment is a privilege, not an entitlement, you will not achieve your mission. Your attitude will be your downfall. You must stay positive, or you will fail.

3. Discipline. The most simple and most often overlooked trait to success. You’ve got to put in the work, every day. Relentlessly. Donny once went six years without PRing his snatch. Six. Years. Three hour trainings a day for six years. Are you prepared to do that? To keep coming in on the Dark Days? To not feel sorry for yourself when you are injured or mired in plateaus or lost amidst the wrong people? If so, then you have a chance. If not, you will fail.


4. Temperance. Donny explains it like this, “I keep my ego in my gym bag.” When he unzips his bag, the cage door swings open and out comes the beast. It is time to rip the heads off of lions with aggression, fearlessness and confidence. It is time to compete. When the gym bag closes it is time to put that side of yourself away. I have never met a champion who is not the most humble person on the planet outside of their competitive realm. Donny is the same way. He is honest, caring and a compassionate teacher who wants to see others do well. However, get on a platform next to him and, if you can stand next to him for about 3 years, maybe he’ll start paying attention to you. And, on the platform, if you’re standing next to him, expect him to want to crush you. You should give him the same respect and want to do the same to him. If the beast is always out, or never comes out at all, you will fail.

5. Patience. You must have the ability to look long term. There is no immediate gratification in the pursuit of greatness. There is only the relentless trudging onward up the mountain that exists for you. The trick is, with each achievement, there will always be another mountain waiting for you, always another lesson to be learned. It is best to acknowledge this before you begin. It takes approximately 10,000 hours of practice at something to master it. If you trained six days a week for 3 hours a day, that would take you almost 11 years. Do you understand this? Do you understand that this rule will apply to you as well, maybe even take longer? There is no immediate gratification on the path to greatness. Understand the vital resource of patience or you will fail.

At one point in the seminar Donny summed up weightlifting beautifully, “If you can get yourself into the positions, and you’re not a pussy, you can be a great weightlifter.” To me, it is exactly this kind of intensity and honesty that one needs to bring to their own passions and goals. Donny wasn’t just talking about weightlifting and to think so is to have not ever met the man. He was talking about Life.

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