Winner and still champion ...

Courtesy of Haley Peters

Haley Peters ignored "The Beast" time and time again and retained the Iron Devil Belt.

After we finished nonconference play this season, our strength and conditioning coach, Will Stephens, made the second annual presentation of the Iron Devil Belt.

First, a few words about the one and only Coach Will, and then more about this belt.

Coach Will has been at Duke for nearly as long as I’ve been alive as the strength and conditioning coach for both the men’s and women’s basketball teams. Before that, he was a professional power lifter and worked in law enforcement. One of his favorite football players is Ray Lewis, and a quote by the Ravens linebacker -- “Greatness is a lot of small things done well, stacked up on each other” -- is the most apt description of Coach Will. He is a model of discipline and strength. He is the kind of guy you have to beg to take a vacation or a day off. He is in the gym every morning at 7 or 8 and doesn’t leave until 7 or 8 at night. He still bench-presses more than anyone in either program. Every workout, Coach Will is checked in, with an unmatched intensity.

Beyond his incredible dedication to his craft, he is an unbelievable human being. He is the most consistent person I’ve ever met -- consistent in his demeanor, in how he greets people, in how he treats people. He devotes himself equally to every person who asks for his help, and believes in every person wholeheartedly and unfailingly. He has been a rock for me many times in my career, when I have doubted myself or been unsatisfied. He has always believed in me, and been there to tell me to keep working or to push me to do more. And the worst curse word ever to come out of his mouth is “crap.” To a person from New Jersey like me, this is an astonishing achievement.

Coach Will talks to us all the time about “The Beast,” the little voice in your head that is telling you that you can’t do something. After a long practice or at an early-morning workout in the summer, The Beast creeps in. The Iron Devil Belt is given to the person who defeats The Beast time and time again in the summertime and makes the greatest improvements in our tests -- the Big Four (bench press, push-ups, jump rope and mile-and-a-half run), plus the vertical jump, lane agility drills and three-quarter-court sprints.

The belt itself is no joke. It’s a “heavyweight champion of the world” type of belt, with a silver face engraved with the Duke basketball logo and the name of the winner. It covers most of your stomach and weighs at least 30 pounds.

I won the belt in its inaugural year after winning all four of our major tests. This year was a closer contest, with Elizabeth Williams beating me in the bench press (by a measly five pounds) and Chelsea Gray and Sierra Moore winning the on-the-court tests. But their efforts weren’t quite enough, and I retained the title, for at least another year!

It was an incredible achievement and a lot of work went into winning this belt. My teammates pushed me very hard and I know that to be able to win it for a third time next season, I will have to work even harder.