Hi everyone! This interview with Lorraine Patten is the fourth 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?
Life long athletic endeavors. Team and individual sports. Mostly endurance. I spent 10 years doing martial arts – I got tired of being the class rag doll, which led me to strength training. Every trainer I met was only interested in body building, so I searched the internet for a trainer who would do purely strength training and I found Pavel Tsatsouline. I ordered his Power to the People book and deadlifted my ass off. I really came to trust him as a wonderful trainer.
- What do you do for a living?
I am a dentist.
- How did you get into Kettlebell Sport?
I read Pavel’s books and went to one of his strength seminars in June 2002. This is about the time that he introduced kettlebells. We spoke about kettlebells and I decided to go to an RKC event where I met all the other people interested in bells. I got a 16kg kettlebell there – probably one from the first batch made. I thought that kettlebell might be the most stupid purchase I had ever made.
- When and where did you do your first competition?
The only Kettlebell Sport competitions going on at the time were happening in Eastern Europe and Russia. Me and one other guy – who likes his anonymity so I won’t name him – held the first meet in Virginia, outdoors in some YMCA type park. It was May 3, 2003. I still have video from the competition. About 20 people attended and Pavel flew in from California for it. I lifted the 16s and I don’t remember how many snatches I did, but would be surprised if I got over 30. We only knew to do jerks with two kettlebells so I got a whopping 9. If we knew about the 10 minute time limit, it didn’t matter because no one got near it!
- Can you summarize briefly how the North American Kettlebell Federation (NAKF) came to be, what its function was, what your role was in its organization, and why it was dissolved?
The NAKF came about after the first competition we held. The Philly crew (Jason C. Brown, Steve Knapstein, Rob Lawrence, and others) decided we needed an organization. I was to be the treasurer. It came about way before the IKFF. In fact, I think the NAKF disbanded before the IKFF started. We just wanted a way to keep in touch and get to yearly national meets – and perhaps hold regional ones. Everyone participating was from all over the country, so we held meets here and there. We still had very little idea what we were doing. Judging was counting whatever rep a person happened to make. I came from the school of ‘heaving it up there and hoping for the best’. The 2nd national meet we had was May 15, 2004. Pavel also attended again. Attendance at NAKF meets ranged from two people at some regional meets to an average of about 20 at most of them – but this was the biggest meet NAKF ever had with 40 competitors. After a while, the Philly guys lost interest and I was left to keep the NAKF alive. I liked holding meets at least yearly, but the NAKF died in about 2008. That was about the time other orgs such as the IKFF and AKC came around.
- What was it like being part of the first American team to travel internationally to compete in GS?
Flashback to about 2004: I was assistant RKC instructor and I had just met Steve Cotter. Cate Imes was there as was Marty Farrell and Christine Uberti. We were at lunch just talking, and Steve said that we should all go to Moscow to compete. Pavel thought we were nuts. He said – rightly – that we would not even come close to being competitive, but we wanted the experience. Cate decided she did not want to go, but Marty, Steve, Christine and I wanted to do it. We went to the competition in November 2005. I trained as much as possible. We found out that women didn’t jerk at all. That made it easier! We had another woman from Califonia (I don’t remember her name), and Jen Morey who was going to be our secret weapon. We contacted the IGSF (IGSF predates the IUKL – I was at the meeting in Moscow when they split. Wanted to hide under the table – so much fighting), which was the only governing body at the time. We wanted the NAKF to gain admittance, but that authority was given to Dmitri Sataev who had his organization in California. The plot thickens. The IGSF let us compete though. Matt MacNamara wanted to go also. He worked with a guy – Matt Goodrich who spoke Russian. They are both in the airline industry so they flew with us and thank God we had Matt G. or we would still be in Moscow. Crazy time!! Matt M. has been very instrumental in growing the sport but no one remembers him. He only competed once. He did one jerk with the 32s so that he could snatch and was a sensation in Moscow! But he helped me with more meets than I can remember. I made a lot of friends in Moscow – I met Stefan Falke, a powerlifter from Germany, and then we all went to Germany a few times for meets. I think I got about 60 reps in Moscow – dismal – but we were used to Dragondoor bells and the competition bells were so different. Jen hit 71 on her first side and then the bell flew out of her hand and she was disqualified.
- When did the American Kettlebell Club (AKC) start and how did that affect Kettlebell Sport?
I first met Valery Fedorenko at an RKC. I really don’t know when Fed got started with the AKC, but he is the reason that Kettlebell Sport is as popular as it is now. I would only have 20-30 people at a meet, but he was able to take that ball and run with it. The sport is so much better because of him. I helped him with many meets and would continue to do so if he were so inclined to have meets. He is a voice that I would listen to with regards to Kettlebell Sport – but he is terribly unorganized as far as running a meet is concerned. But, he has so much wisdom when it comes to the sport itself. We’ve never parted. I’m not associated with the AKC, I’ve never been backed financially by anyone. I’ve always paid my own way and never have been part of any one organization after the NAKF. I really like to help out at meets though and I would help in a heart beat – AKC or the Ice Chamber or the IUKL. I haven’t been to any IKFF events so I couldn’t say.
- Why did you stop being as involved with organizing kettlebell meets?
I haven’t been needed much. Which is totally fine by me. But I would help again if anyone needed it. I’d like to go back to the Ice Chamber if they have another meet in February. Who knows?
- Who was your coach?
I was uncoached for so long. Fedorenko was my coach for a meet in Germany. Other than that I’ve been on my own. I learned a ton from Fed. I also like Fedor Fuglev’s coaching ideas and took a course with him once but never have been personally coached by him.
- Any lifters in the sport that you did/do look up to?
First and foremost – Cate Imes. She was in it for the long haul. She is always a great competitor and she has done so much for the sport.
Lyuba Cherapahov from Ukraine – the reigning woman’s champion with the 16kg. That is the most that the Ukrainian women are allowed to compete with but I would regularly watch her snatch 250-260 reps. And then not be out of breath. Infuriating!
Svetlana Kryechek. Another powerhouse.
Fedor Fuglev. He had possibly the best 10 minute snatch set with the 24s ever at the Master’s meet in Hamburg.
Ivan Denisov (no explanation needed).
Vasily Ginko – one of the big dogs I’ve always enjoyed watching. I don’t think he competes anymore – just juggles.
Lorna Kleidman – I’ve always had a lot of respect for her.
Any of the Ice Chamber women. Very hard workers – all of them.
You are pretty amazing! I hear your numbers and want to crawl under a rock!
- What do you think about the changing standards for Master of Sport for women (going from 16kg to 20kg to 24kg)?
I wonder often if the change from 16-20-24 happened too quickly. Only time will tell about the injuries. I really like what Federenko instituted. Good lifting with 2kg increments – going up slowly and intelligently. Once you hit 140 reps go up 2kg. Genius. Personally I was never hung up on rank and that sort of thing. Takes the fun out of it for me.
- How do you feel about double bell lifting for women?
We all did the double lifts for a few years as we didn’t know that we weren’t supposed to. People say it damages breast tissue. I don’t have much so it was never a problem. Once again, Federenko came to the rescue. One arm lifts. I’ve never even competed in jerk! But I think it is smart and evens out training. I think just snatch is incomplete training.
- Any thoughts on how to resolve the issues different federations have with each other?
None. I guess that’s the short answer. I like that there are a lot of organizations. People can find one that they feel comfortable with. I guess that’s the normal evolution. It really has been an interesting sociology experiment.
- What do you like and not like about Kettlebell Sport?
I originally liked a sport that you can train for on your own and then come together and have a meet and some fun. I liked when the sport wasn’t so serious and there was not so much focus on rankings and the like. Judging is the big issue. Very difficult to do and causes so much angst.
I love all the people I’ve met. So many very inspiring athletes. What I loved most was helping people in other countries get started with the sport, such as Marko Suomi in Finland and Paul Tucker in Australia.
- Looking back now, what do you wish you had known when you were first starting?
I’m not sure I would change anything. I don’t think I would have believed the growth that it has undergone.
- What are your personal accomplishments in Kettlebell Sport?
Nothing to speak of. I enjoyed competition and joke that I once dominated the 70kg class as I was the only one in it. Now I’m neither 70kg or competing. I’d like to compete again but am having a terrible bout with adrenal insufficiency. If I get that under control, I will compete again. My favorite meet incidentally was in Hamburg, Germany when the IGSF put on a Master’s meet. I was 50 and had a blast. My only claim to Kettlebell Sport fame is that I beat a Ukranian woman!