Hi everyone! This interview with Marty Farrell, the first American male Master of Sport, is the third in a series of posts about U.S. Kettlebell Sport history. While many of us are only a few years or just a few weeks/months into lifting kettlebells, there is a small group of American lifters that were competing back in the early 2000’s who were the real trailblazers of the sport.
These posts are meant to educate and inform about the roots of Girevoy Sport in America.
Shoutout to John Wild Buckley for sparking the idea!
What is your athletic background?
I swam competitively from the age of 8 to 26. I went to the Masters Nationals in 50m freestyle and placed 4th out of 6 in my class.
What do you do for a living?
I am a project manager at an engineering company.
How did you get into Kettlebell Sport?
I got into kettlebells in 2001 and I got certified with the Russian Kettlebell Certification (RKC) in 2004. Shortly after, I went to my first competition in Washington, D.C. I competed in 24kg Biathlon with Dragon Door kettlebells. I did 22 jerks and 90 snatches.
My first mentor was Rob Lawrence, who was the first male lifter to get Rank 1 with 24kg kettlebells – he completed 60 jerks in 10 minutes. I did about 20 jerks with 24kg’s at the time, so I was very impressed.
What are your accomplishments in Kettlebell Sport?
First North American male Master of Sport after 11 failed attempts.
First North American male to obtain Master of Sport in both Biathlon and Long Cycle.
Member of first American team to compete in Russia in 2005.
Best pound for pound North American lifter in 32kg Biathlon.
American Jerk record holder 2 years standing with 88 repetitions.
When did you earn your first Master of Sport?
At the World Kettlebell Club (WKC) World Championships in Miami November 2007 in Biathlon.
How did you feel after obtaining your Master of Sport? Did you have any idea you would set an important milestone in U.S. kettlebell history by becoming first Master of Sport?
I felt really good about it, but it was the 12th attempt. I had even tried and failed by 1 rep a few times. Accomplishing MS was a big deal for me because it was a sense of relief. Being the first was icing in the cake, but if hadn’t bee the first I would have been fine with that. I was lucky to be the first – it was taking advantage of an opportunity that was there.
Who was your coach?
At the time of obtaining MS, my coach was Valery Federenko.
Did you travel internationally to compete?
Yes. I financed my trip to Russia with T-shirts that had an American flag on them. There were about 10 people on the team. We spent a week in Moscow. There were 16 countries there, only Professional lifters (men lifting 32kg, women snatching 16kg). I got last place but I went all 10 minutes. I had Russians cheering and patting me on the back because I went the distance. The best U.S. performance was by Steve Cotter, who completed 39 jerks.
Who were your mentors in the sport when you started training?
Rob Lawrence, my first teacher. Steve Cotter was also a mentor of mine – he had done 62 jerks in 10 minutes and he was a very enthusiastic teacher. Another big mentor for me was Valery Federenko.
When and why did you split from Valery Federenko? What do you think about him?
I trained with Valery Federenko until 2008, and I helped him start the American Kettlebell Club (AKC) along with Eric. We split because I believed I had learned all I could from him and decided to move on. I was recovering from a jaw surgery that almost killed me through much of 2008 and I became useless in terms of lifting during this time. I wasn’t sought after to teach and I drifted away from the WKC.
I recovered from jaw surgery to the point where I could compete, but I wasn’t in with the WKC anymore though I still supported them. There are two different schools of thought for coaching. One: Performance is key. Two: performance and longevity are key. I came to realize the second was more conducive for myself to become a good lifter. I didn’t focus enough on active recovery while working under Valery.
While folks in the AKC inquired about my “rogue” status, I simply shrugged and said I needed to learn new things. As for the AKC folks, I say that along with the RKC, they were an instrumental part of American kettlebell history, and Valery’s accomplishments stand on their own. I have no animosity towards anyone.
Any thoughts on how to resolve the issues different federations have with each other?
They need to talk to the best athletes in the sport on how to organize a meet. I don’t think decisions should be made about a sport without talking to the athletes. The organizations mean nothing without the athletes. Opinions and input from one or two people is not enough; there has to be constant representation from the athletes.
Looking back now, what do you wish you had known when you were first starting Kettlebell Sport?
I wish I was younger getting into the sport knowing everything I know now. I’m envious of people just starting who have access to information that wasn’t around. I wish I had current training and programming knowledge.
Do you coach Kettlebell Sport athletes?
I currently train about 5-7 people and am not sure I can handle many more. Given my level of experience and time in sport, I consider myself an advisor to many lifters, but let the coaches work with their athletes on day-to-day activities.
Any advice to lifters that are just starting the sport?
I would tell them that skill trumps; don’t try to be a hero and lift the heavy weights. Learn the skills. Everyone that I’ve beaten on the platform was stronger than me, but I beat them with skill. If you’re in pain, you should stop. If you’re in pain and your coach doesn’t provide you answers, find someone else. A healthy person is a successful person.