Overcoming amputation to become a World Champion in Kettlebell Sport: Christian Einarsen

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Christian Einarsen competing in 24kg Biathlon at the IUKL Kettlebell Sport World Championships in Dublin, Ireland in 2015.

Where do you live and what do you do for work?
I live in a small town called Søgne just outside Kristiansand in the southern part of Norway. I work offshore for Maersk drilling.

What is your athletic background?
My previous athletic background is as close to nonexistent as it gets. Except for playing soccer in elementary school, sports never interested me.

What happened to your right hand and how did that accident change your life?
In January 2009, I did a routine test of our emergency generator onboard which is cooled by a radiator and a fan (just like your car is). During the test run my hand came in contact with the radiator fan which was 2 meter in diameter and made of steel. I was evacuated to Stavanger and finally to Oslo where the surgeons decided they could not reattach any of my fingers.

I spent one week in the hospital before I was sent home with orders to keep my right hand high and warm, to ensure circulation of blood through my hand so there would not be any more dead tissue. The months thereafter went by with me – formerly a heavy smoker and not exactly underweight – staring at the TV and eating to keep my remaining hand occupied. I gained a lot of weight and the little physical condition I had went away.

Did you start lifting kettlebells before or after the accident?
It all started in 2011; I was in such a bad shape that I had to stop to catch my breath while walking up the stairs at home. It was time do something. I started going to a gym to cycle and lift weights. After some time I started noticing the training going on in the back room of the gym with these round objects (kettlebells) – it fascinated me but I was too proud to go in there. After all, it was a class of mostly female participants using a strange round object; that couldn’t be called training!

After some weeks of looking at these weird kettlebells, I talked to a friend who had attended one of the classes and said that it was a hard work out. I decided to go to the class and prove him wrong and me right that kettlebells could not be called training.

Even though I was strong from lifting weights for at least 6 month, to this day I have never been more wrong about the kettlebell class being easy! We did 4 sets of 10 different exercises and 15 repetitions of each for the first class. I started with an 8 kg bell, which I quickly switched for a 4 kg during the first set and in the pause between set 1 and 2 I changed to 2 kg bell. The next day I could not move at all and I regretted my previous statement that this could not be real training.

How did you find Kettlebell Sport?
I think the sport that found me. After a couple of months of training with kettlebells I began cutting out general weight training to just do kettlebells. Around Easter time the instructor of the kettlebell class was going away and she said that if anyone wanted to train over the holidays they should talk to me and I could train them. That doesn’t sound like a big deal now, but at that time it was a fun and exciting challenge for me.

Why did you decide to start competing in Kettlebell Sport?
I didn’t really decide to compete – like I said, the sport found me. After I taught a couple of classes, the people attending them wanted me to stay on as an instructor. I figured I needed some training so I decided to do a certification. During the certification, the instructor challenged me to enter an IKFF competition.

I decided to try the competition, just to see what it was all about. I began searching for training tips; I found many different things but as it turned out, my girlfriend’s cousin was competing as well and she told me about a coach named Per Helge Fjørtoft who lived nearby. I went to see and he gave me some good tips for how to train for the competition. I entered in 16kg snatch for 10 minutes and 24kg snatch for 5 minutes and ended up in first and second place. After that, I was hooked on competing. I started working with Per and decided to compete in biathlon.

What challenges did you have learning to lift the bells because of your hand?
Challenges, you meet them every day; some are easy, some are hard. It is just a matter of continuing to try that will get you past the hard ones. I have a specialist that can make just everything I can think of to help me with my hand, but everything we tried didn’t have the desired effect. So, I had to try and lift without any aids. I did a lot of experimenting with how to get the best results for lifting. I’m still experimenting; I haven’t found the perfect way and I probably never will, but I have found a way that works for me.

How did you discover a Snatch technique that worked for you?
Lots of experimenting. If you want to make something happen, you can, you just have to keep trying. I decided early on not to depend on others because of my accident; I just found a solution on my own.

What was your first kettlebell competition and how did it go (what was your result)?
IKFF European Open where I did 16kg snatch for 10 minutes and 24kg snatch for 5 minutes. I placed first and second, respectively.

Is your right side far behind your left in terms of repetitions? Is it much harder to push yourself on the right side?
The right hand is harder to push due to the lack of grip and because the way I hold the kettlebell exhausts my biceps and makes my hand sore from rubbing against the bell. I usually try to get 3-4 minutes on the right hand before I switch to the left.

What are your biggest accomplishments in Kettlebell Sport so far (best results, going to the World Championships, earning a certain title)?
At the World Championship in Hamburg last year I finished in 5th place. This year I placed second at the European Championship and at the World Championships in Dublin I won first place in the heavyweight 24kg Biathlon (143 jerk, 173 snatch).

Have there been any times when you felt like quitting because the sport got tough? If yes, why did you keep going? If no, what motivates you to keep lifting?
Yes, many times. The motivation comes when I reach one goal and I can feel that what my coach told me to do is working – that makes me want to lift better, faster, get more reps and increase the kettlebell weight. I enjoy doing something others don’t think that I can do.

What are your goals for Kettlebell Sport?
To do my best in every way I can; whether it’s in training or competition, I want to reach the goals that have been set.

What is the biggest benefit of Kettlebell Sport for you?
Other than helping me to get back in shape, I think Kettlebell Sport prevents complications due to my injury. For the type of injury I have, many people lose strength in their injured hand or arm; they forget to use and train that side, causing their back, neck, and shoulders on the “good” side to be overloaded. Since I do jerk and snatch, I work both sides and keep them both strong.

What advice can you give to other lifters who are just starting in the sport?
Kettlebell Sport is like no other sport, and the best advice I can give is to get in touch with a good coach. Be a bit skeptical when finding a coach, however; there are many people are not qualified. And obviously you have to find a coach that fits your needs; what may work for one person does not necessarily work for you. My last piece of advice is don’t think about where you place in a competition – instead, set some goals for yourself if you achieve them you will win every time regardless of what the result board is saying. You will get there.

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