According to Shiva Karout, the best moment of his life lasted only 17 seconds.
It’s only a fraction of a second, but 17 seconds feels like an eternity to a power lifter.
The 31-year-old Lebanese lifter reached down to the barbell at the 2019 World Championships in Helsingborg, Sweden, in an attempt to deadlift more than three times his own weight: 255 kg.
His hamstrings and gluteal muscles were the first to be strained, followed by his quads. His blood pressure would have been “through the roof” as his lower back engaged to lift the weight higher off the ground, according to his coach Jose Brame.
The agony was etched all over his face as his entire body quivered under the immense stress; his bulging eyes looked up, as if searching for inspiration, before he finally raised the weight to his thighs and locked his knees into place.
“I did not let go of those weights,” he told CNN Sport, “Because, deep down, I was lifting my country up. This is why I kept going for a whole 17 seconds with 255 kgs in my hands. That’s what I was feeling at the moment, and I will do that every single time I lift the bar, I’m just lifting my country up, day by day, year by year. That’s it.”
Lebanon and its nearly seven million people are in desperate need of assistance.
According to the UN, 82 percent of the population is impoverished on multiple levels. The economy has collapsed, prices have skyrocketed, and the country is on a “train to hell,” according to Henri Chaoul, a former adviser to Lebanon’s finance ministry. Chaoul told CNBC earlier this year that the metaphorical train was approaching “the last station.”
The extraordinary explosion that rocked the port city of Beirut on August 4, 2020, when a warehouse full of ammonium nitrate exploded, was one of the few images that could ever depict the catastrophic unraveling of a nation.
Over 200 people were killed in an instant, thousands were injured, and 300,000 people were displaced.
The explosive material, which had been stored in the port since its seizure in 2013, left a 400-foot wide crater and a trail of destruction stretching more than 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the blast’s epicenter.
The judge overseeing a criminal negligence investigation that has made little progress is baffled as to why the volatile material was stored there. According to state media, some former officials are being sought for questioning.
Human Rights Watch published a report in August that summarized some of the reasons for this.
“A range of procedural and systemic flaws in the domestic investigation have rendered it incapable of credibly delivering justice. These flaws include a lack of judicial independence, immunity for high-level political officials, lack of respect for fair trial standards, and due process violations,” the report found.
Shiva Karout was only 700 meters away when it happened (2,297 feet). He was standing outside his gym, Barbell House, with his hands on his head, transfixed by the massive clouds of smoke and what sounded like fireworks crackling. But then, he claims, a normal day turned into the apocalypse when the sun vanished at 6:08 p.m.
“It was just a huge blast,” he recalled. “It was like, it was a mushroom cloud.” Karout compared the sensation to that of dying and regenerating avatars in a video game. His neighborhood, he claims, looked like a war zone when he awoke.
“Suddenly, it was gloomy, ashes everywhere. Cars were flipped over. Dead people were on the streets, people cut open. The gym looked like rubble.”
According to a team of experts from the University of Sheffield, the explosion was one of the most powerful non-nuclear explosions ever created.
The equivalent of more than a kiloton of TNT had been detonated in an instant, causing a shockwave that was felt in four neighboring countries and heard as far away as Cyprus, 150 miles to the northwest, according to the US Geological Survey.
One of Karout’s friends recorded a cell phone video of him watching the fire, then the immediate destruction and chaos that followed.
The powerlifter had taken the brunt of the blast with his body, but he considers himself fortunate to have been outside on the street.