Sometimes, Progress is a Negotiation

This is a story about a community center in the core of Kansas City. It is a story about the Kansas City Golden Gloves initiative to bring boxing back to the city’s core. It is a story about a group of people who volunteer their time to try to accomplish all of that. But what this story is really about is a little boy named Benny.

January 2017 was an exciting time for me. The glowing promises of a new year seemed to be coming true as the Kansas City Golden Gloves and my trainer, coach Craig Cummings, opened the door to Kansas City’s newest boxing gym at the Garrison Community Center. Mr. Cummings asked me if I would like to help coach-and I couldn’t have been more excited. If boxing is my “religion,” my soul, well, then helping kids learn about boxing is my “heart.”

And, as anyone who has watched “Field of Dreams” knows, “if you build it, they will come.”

The kids poured into the brand-new boxing gym in their community center. There were kids of all ages -boys and girls – who were curious about the rings, bags and gloves. Many of them stayed and wanted to take a jab at this exciting new sport presented to them. For some, it would turn out to be a short-lived whim. And this was OK. Boxing isn’t for everyone.

Soon enough, though, we had a fairly consistent core of kids who attended the gym regularly and began to build their skills.  Our little team was gelling into a cohesive group. It was thrilling to me to see certain kids who were responding to boxing in the same manner that I had when I first began the sport. I could see confidence building in some kids, and respect and discipline in others.  Every time I witness the positive impact that boxing has on a kid, I’m filled with happiness. I love to see kids find something in boxing that fills a void in their life.

Things were progressing nicely in our new gym. There seemed to be a steady flow of new kids who stopped in to check things out.

On a typically typical evening we had a small group of  “regulars” who were going through the routine of training, when the door slammed open, and a small storm entered the gym. A little boy, probably 10 or 11 years old, burst into the gym and began to wreak havoc. He was in a boxing gym, and he was here to fight.

He began to aggressively call out kids who were working on bag drills, footwork drills, and other training techniques.

“You wanna fight me? I bet you don’t, but I wanna fight you,” he hollered at the top of his lungs.

I quickly intervened. The regular boxers went back to the tasks at hand, and I attempted to explain to this kid, that this isn’t how it worked. Number one, this isn’t about “fighting.” At least not in the sense that he had interpreted boxing. I tried to tell him that this was a sport, with techniques to be learned. I offered to go over the basics with him. He would have none of this. He informed me that he already knew how to fight. No one needed to show him anything. With that he stormed off and grabbed a pair of gloves.

I returned my attention to the other boxers in the gym and moved them along to the next drill. I spent a few minutes with them and then decided to address the situation with the new little boy.  He was beating a heavy bag with as much anger as I have ever seen in a person. I watched for a bit, and then approached him to try to offer him some instruction on the proper way to stand, throw a punch, etc. He turned and struck out at me. I caught is gloved hand just before it connected with me.

I told him to remove the gloves and to leave the gym. He removed the gloves all right, and then proceeded to throw them at me. I picked them up and returned them to the bin. I then escorted him to the door. I told him he had to leave that night because he had been disrespectful to the other boxers in the gym, and to someone who was trying to help him. That would not be tolerated in the gym. I also told him he was welcome to come back the next night and try again. He hollered and yelled all the way to the door, and left with just as much bluster as he had entered.

This was the first time Benny was asked to leave the gym; it would definitely not be the last.

Benny would return often. He would be asked to leave just as often. But, he was always told he could try again the next night we were open. The door to the boxing was never permanently closed.

His returns began to last longer and longer, until he had received a sufficient amount of instruction that Coach Cummings finally determined he was ready to spar. This was what he had been waiting for, he was finally going to get to “fight.”

It was a treat to see Benny’s instinct in action. He had a knack for this boxing thing; and undeniable natural ability.

Unfortunately, after his sparring experience, Benny no longer wanted to bother with the other toils in the gym. All he wanted to do was spar. The coaches explained to him that he had to work on bags, do the drills and practice all of the techniques he had acquired every night before he would be allowed to spar.

This must have been a deal breaker for Benny. He no longer found his way down to the boxing gym.

As time went on, and we didn’t see Benny, I thought I might have been relieved. After all, this kid was challenging, to say the least. But I found myself missing him; wondering what trouble he might be getting himself into. I thought of him often.

After a couple of months, I began to go to the gym on non-boxing days to get in my own workouts, and take advantage of some quiet time. One quiet afternoon, as I was shadowboxing in the ring, the door slammed open, and a familiar storm entered the gym; Benny was back.

I stopped what I was doing and greeted him. The first thing out of his mouth was, “Can I spar?” Well, I told him that nothing had changed. He still had to do his other work before he could spar. But I made a deal with him; if he gave me three rounds each of shadowboxing and bag work, then I would give him three rounds of mitts. And that’s just what we did.

This began a new routine of sorts for Benny. Anytime I came to the gym for my own work, Benny would find me or I would find him, and we would negotiate a boxing workout that would culminate in some sparring.

One day, when I was working out, Benny came into the gym and I braced myself for the latest round of negotiations. But on this day, Benny didn’t want to negotiate. He wanted to talk. He sat down on the floor next to my weight bench. There seemed to be something different about him that I couldn’t quite place. Then it dawned on me; Benny didn’t have on his usual armor of defiance and anger. He was quiet, complacent.

I asked him what was up. He gave a generic answer. I tried another angle and asked him a little about his life: How many brothers and sisters does he have, is he the oldest, that sort of thing. That’s when Benny started to talk – more than I’d ever heard him speak. He spoke in a soft voice, and he spoke volumes.

He talked about how many times he’d moved from city to city, town to town, in his life. He detailed the reality of his home life. The narrative that this little boy shared with me filled me with fear, and made my stomach churn. I wanted t reach out to him, hug him, protect and shelter him. But I knew that this would cause him to flee. Benny didn’t take kindly to kind gestures.

That afternoon there was no boxing – just a lot of talking in a boxing gym.

When I got in the car to head home that day, the tears came. I was overwhelmed with so many emotions. I was terrified by the life this little boy has seen; but I was so grateful this boxing gym had made it possible for my path to cross with Benny’s.

I would love to say this was a catalytic moment, that magically changed Benny’s life. That he became an outgoing and happy little boy. Sadly, Benny is still angry, defiant and guarded. But I can say, moving forward, Benny is different.

He says, “please” and “thank you.” He holds doors open for e when we’re walking. He talks to me from time to time, sometimes about serious matters, and sometimes about little boy matters; those are my favorite conversations – the nonsense conversations.

We still have to negotiate boxing workouts, and he still doesn’t come to class regularly. But I can count on seeing him in the gym at least once a week.

Will he ever be a competitive boxer? I have high hopes that he will. Like I said, he does have natural ability…but, for now, I am so happy that he finds his way to this boxing gym where he can talk about whatever he needs to. I’m happy that he can come here and win a negotiation where he earns what he wants.

I’m grateful gyms like this exist for kids like Benny, who – above all else – just need the opportunity to be little boys and learn the lessons all little boys deserve to learn.

Why Women Need to Make Boxing a Part of Their Story

Women’s boxing is trending up! It is an exciting time to be a female in the sport of boxing. The top women in boxing are authoring inspiring chapters in the stories of their lives.

Clarissa Shields achieved history making moments by boxing her way to a gold medal in 2012 when women were finally welcomed in the Olympic arena. She would return to the Olympics in 2016 and write a sequel to that chapter by winning gold again! She continue’s to write her story in the professional ring by adding passages detailing her victorious road to becoming a world champion!

Many of the other top women, including former Olympian;s like Marlen Esparza (a 2012 Olympic bronze medal winner) and 2016 Olympian Mikaela Mayer are continuing to add to their stories by stepping into the professional ring with televised bouts.

These inspiring and motivating women have many girls and women asking themselves if boxing could become chapters in their own stories. The answer is ABSOLUTELY!

Here is the short list of why women and boxing are a natural fit:

  • Why should the boys have all the fun? When you get right down to it…boxing is fun! You get to hit stuff, which relieves stress (therapy) and releases endorphins (happiness)!
  • There is not a better full body workout than boxing. It combines high intensity training with both aerobic and anaerobic activity. A typical session that lasts for about an hour has the potential to burn 730-1055 calories.
  • Boxing is designed for every body type. There is no typical “boxer body.” Weight classes for amateur female boxers span from 60-189+ lbs. There is literally a weight category for every body type. Talk about a judgement free zone!
  • Amateur female boxers can begin competing at the age of 8 years, and can continue to compete indefinitely. Women have competed into their 70’s and beyond. Age is just a number, not a definition!

These are all excellent incentives for girls and women to consider donning the gloves. But the richest rewards often reveal themselves after a female enters into training.

Every woman and girl has her own story to tell, and boxing contributes profound chapters to these stories. Some of these chapters reveal an innate strength to a girl that she may not have had the ability to recognize in herself. In the early stages of training, girls learn the basics of offense and defense. Often, this is the first time that a girl has ever thrown a punch.

There is pure strength in that act. Not the brute strength that most associate with throwing a punch. It is a quiet awakening. It is an inner empowerment. It allows a girl to stand toe to toe with her own insecurities and tear them down one punch at a time.

The nature of the sport enables girls and women to develop a pronounced independence. It provides them with the ability to rely on themselves in any situation, and the confidence to know that they can handle whatever is thrown at them; both in the ring and in life.

Other chapters that boxing contributes to a woman’s life might be titled:

  • “Knock Out Your Goals One Workout at a Time”
  • “Roll With the Punches; The Art of Resilience”
  • “Fight With All of Your Might; Standing Up for What You Believe”
  • “Slipping, Bobbing, and Weaving; Problem Solving Skills Learned in the Ring”
  • “Never Surrender if You Want to be a Contender; Never Give Up on Yourself”

These chapters contain boxing’s lessons on goal oriented achievement, the value of resilience, living life with purpose and principles, problem solving skills, and confidence, self-esteem, and value.

It is these doctrines that boxing provides that boxing provides, that have the power to change girls lives.

There is an excitement and anticipation surrounding women’s boxing. The major players in boxing are taking notice of the women as they embrace boxing as their own. Top promoters are including women amongst their prized fighters for the first time. Sports and entertainment networks are making commitments to televise more women’s bouts.

The most exciting advances are taking place at the grass-root level; amateur boxing. USA Boxing is committed to growing the sport of female boxing. Women and girls currently make up about 10% of USA Boxing’s membership. The organization is committed to growing this number to 25% in 2018.

The National Silver Gloves and the National Golden Gloves will include girls and women in their tournaments in 2018 for the first time.

These organizations recognize the value that boxing can bring to a female’s life. They are passionate in their commitments to offer opportunities for females. Their support will help females to develop competitively in unprecedented numbers.

The top women in boxing are also committed to offering support and mentorship to the young women who are beginning their own chapters in boxing . Mikaela Mayer often reaches out to the new crop of girls and women in boxing via her social media accounts with words of wisdom and support. The competition between women in boxing is healthy, and at the same time welcoming and supportive.

The time for women’s boxing is now! It is an exciting time for girls and women to take advantage of all that boxing has to offer and become the authors of their own stories!

She Fights Foundation

It is not a secret that boxing is a powerful sport. But, where does all of that power come from. Is it in the jab, or the technique? Is it in the hours of training? or does it lie somewhere within the athlete themselves? Cristina Gonzalez of the She Fights Foundation believes the latter to be true.

She fights was founded on the belief that boxing can help empower some of society’s bruised souls. Gonzalez, a long-time advocate for women’s rights, felt the power of boxing for herself while training in a gym in New York City. An idea began to form, and from this an ideal was born. Why not use boxing as a tool to tap in to the power that women, and more specifically, vulnerable women, have in their souls.

Gonzalez approached the owner of her gym with her thoughts, and they decided to implement a youth boxing program. Over time, it evolved into a program specifically for young women. These were the ones who kept coming back week-after-week.

Gonzalez believes that boxing speaks to girls for many reasons. She feels that there are certain factors in society that make young girls question their strengths.  This can leave young women vulnerable to self-esteem issues, bullying, and abuse.

Boxing allows a girl to stand toe to toe with her own insecurities and tear them down one punch at a time. There is a pronounced strength that boxing fills these young women with.

Lesly, one of the boxers at She Fights stated, “Boxing has changed me a lot. It’s made me less insecure; it is a constant reminder of knowing that I can become stronger, not only physically, but mentally as well.” With her new-found confidence in place, Lesly recently made a commitment to pursue her passion for film making.

A quick browse of the She Fights Instagram page, reveals a group of happy, healthy, strong young women whose motto appears to be,

“The question isn’t who’s going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me!”

Gonzalez is excited, but not surprised, by the growth of her boxers. Week after week, not only are the girls gaining confidence, they are honing their boxing technique. Their love and respect for this sport is apparent, and the sisterhood that they are creating is solid and remarkable.

Gonzalez feels that an important component in her program will be for her veteran members to take on a mentoring role to help instill the love of boxing and the empowerment that comes with that, to the new members in the program.

The program which commenced in May of 2016 is already experiencing rapid growth. There are more young women from different areas that have come to join the ranks of this empowering organization.

The growth has been organic as one girl tells another and they enthusiastically join the movement. Gonzalez has secured papers of incorporation for her non-profit foundation, She Fights.

Her intent is to establish more of these programs in partnerships across the country to create a network of “bad ass” young women who believe in themselves and want to pay that forward to other young women.

 

Originally published by http://www.stingsports.com

Spotlight

11/19/2016

I’m filled with anticipation and excitement as I tune in to the fight that marks the pro debuts of Claressa Shields and Franchon Crews.  Not just because I’m about to watch what promises to be a solid match, but something more.

There is a tangible feeling that women’s boxing is on the precipice of becoming more mainstream, more accessible, and more acceptable. With Olympian’s like the two-time gold medalist, Claressa Shields, and Ireland’s Katie Taylor making their debuts just days apart, and other’s like Tiara Brown, Victoria Torres, Franchon Crews, and Nicola Adams all poised to make their moves to the professional ring, it feels like the women are finally going to take a place in the spotlight.

There was a small moment in time in 2009, when Christy Martin stepped into the spotlight with a televised fight on Showtime. It was the same era that Laila Ali was making her mark on professional boxing.

Young girls began to consider making boxing their sport. But this wave of excitement was short-lived. More televised women’s fights failed to follow.  The spotlight dimmed on women’s boxing once again.

However, even in the darkness, women continued fighting. Women like Heather Hardy, Holly Holm, Cecilia Braekhus, Ada Velez, Seniesa Estrada, and countless others, all over the world, press on, building their careers one fight at a time. Not for the huge purses or the celestial fame that the men garner, but rather for the sheer joy and passion they have for their sport.

Women like these are inspiring young girls and women in the amateur ranks. The number of female boxers is growing. Women are already fighting in the coveted undercard spots of some of the mega-star fights of our time. There are an increasing number of fans, men and women alike, of women’s boxing. In response to this, Showtime Sports announced its dedication to televising female bouts in 2017.

So, as I settle in to watch two of my idols face one another, I cant help but feel that not only am I about to be treated to a great fight, I am also witnessing a new era in boxing. As this new batch of fiercely talented women make their pro debuts, there is an electrified excitement in the air; the feeling that, this time, the women are here to stay in the spotlight.

 

Originally published by http://www.stingsports.com

Nico Hernandez

They say that “you can never go home.” Nico Hernandez knows that this is not true. He has found his way back home on numerous occasions. He has boxed in competitions across the nation, collecting an impressive array of hardware, including: a National Golden Gloves championship ring, eight Ringside World Championship belts, two Jr. Olympic Gold medals, a USA Boxing National Championship belt, a Continental Championship bronze medal, an Olympic Qualifier Silver Medal, and an Olympic Trial Championship.

Hernandez has also competed internationally, most notably; he earned a Bronze Medal in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at an amateur athlete’s most coveted competition, the Olympics. After each of these contests, he always returned home to Wichita, Ks.

Recently, Hernandez took another journey back “home” to the 2017 National Silver Gloves Championships held in Independence, Mo. Hernandez, an eight time Silver Gloves  champion himself, was drawn back to this tournament because it was the point of departure of his boxing journey. “This tournament is where it all began for me; this is where my Olympic dreams started. “Hernandez stated.

As Hernandez wandered through the venue, he was surrounded by excited young boxers who had found an idol in their midst. He graciously posed for every photo that was requested, and took a moment to speak with everyone who approached him.  Hernandez takes his status as a role model very seriously and tries to impart his beliefs that if you believe in yourself, anything can happen.  He wants young boxers to recognize their own worth and settle for nothing less.

What these fans may not have noticed was that  Hernandez was an ardent fan of all the young boxers he encountered.  He was flooded with memories as he stopped to watch a boxer getting his hands wrapped. He noted the calm focused moment.  Later, he witnessed another boxer gloving up, and he couldn’t help but notice the slight shaking of his hands as the anticipation and adrenaline surged through this boxer.

During a break from the tournament, Hernandez visited two local gyms, where he sparred with some of the fortunate boxers who attend these gyms. This is another way that Hernandez chooses to mentor up-and-coming boxers. At Turner Boxing Academy, Hernandez sparred with sixteen year old, Jorge Carlos. Carlos is the 2016 Jr. Olympic gold medalist who has just begun his promising journey to becoming an Olympian. When asked what working with Hernandez meant to him, he stated “Sparring with Nico was a great experience! It make me feel like maybe it’s possible to be the next Olympian.”

Hernandez returned to the Silver Gloves Tournament, watching numerous bouts, and witnessing the emergence of champions.  He was reminded of all of the work and perseverance that he endured at this stage of his boxing journey.  At the end of the tournament, when asked what impression the Silver Gloves and working with the kids at the local gyms left him with, he stated, “I am impressed with all of these kids. They have inspired me, motivated me to get back in the ring,”

And so, after this recent journey “home,” Nico Hernandez will return to Wichita, Ks. filled with inspiration from the next generation of Olympian’s, to continue his boxing journey with a pro debut in his hometown.

Who says “you can’t go home!”

 

Originally published by http://www.stingsports.com

 

We Are Boxers

Wander into our gym and you will find heavy and double-end bags hanging from the ceiling.  There is a large assortment of boxing gloves and headgear in various stages of wear. There are mirrors and fight posters. And at the center of it all is a squared circle; the boxing ring.

The most striking thing that you will find is an eclectic assortment of young people, hard at work, sweating, pushing the limits of our abilities so that when we return to the gym tomorrow we are a slightly better version of ourselves.  We are focused. We are determined. We are boxers.

We are all here for the same purpose, but our motivations are varied.

In our gym, you will meet a boxer who came from the streets and all that that implies.  He was in the process of succumbing to the pressures and perils of a desperate life.  A life of struggle that led to fighting in the streets for his survival and a future that most certainly included a criminal past. He stood at the grave sites of too many friends and family.

A concerned mentor suggested that he take up boxing; having participated in numerous street fights, he decided to give it a try.

He came into our gym guarded and surly.  He was warmly welcomed.  He was also firmly made aware of what would and would not be tolerated in the gym.

This gym is where he learned respect, for an authority figure (our coach), for his teammates, and most importantly, for himself. With his newfound respect, also came self-discipline. The ability to exhibit control, and rise above certain situations.

Boxing gave him a life to be proud of.

On the heavy bag, you will also meet a boxer who never liked herself much. Her self-esteem and self-image were at an all time low.  She felt incapable of achieving much of anything in her life. She felt as though she had nothing to fight for.

Our gym welcomed her warmly. She was given encouragement for her hard work. Our coach believed in her, and she began to believe in herself for the the first time in her life. Her teammates supported an cheered for her both in the ring and out.

She became confident. Now, she gives back to the sport that gave her everything by mentoring young kids.

Boxing gave her a life full of meaning.

Another boxer in our gym that you will meet, was once bullied.  He had been beaten both literally and figuratively. His home life was not much kinder to him. He was filled with anger and helplessness; a dangerous combination.

When he came through the doors of our gym, he wanted to learn to fight. He was looking for the physical ability to lash out at everyone who had belittled him.  He was welcomed warmly. He learned the mechanics of boxing.

He learned something else that was of much more value, as well. He learned that he was accepted by this team.  He found that they stood by him. He no longer felt the urge to lash out. He found that he didn’t need to change who he was to belong.  He was, at long-last, finally accepted for who he is.

Boxing gave him a life of inclusion, a place to fit in and be himself.

Boxing took in our bruised and battered souls and gave each of our lives meaning and purpose.  Boxing then returned us to our communities, where we are making a positive impact, and paying forward all of the good that boxing gave us.

We are disciplined and respectful. We are confident and giving. We are happy and productive. We are proud.

We are boxers.

Olympians…Superhumans or Just Super-Humans?

IMG_1372                                        There are certain events in everyone’s lifetime that always elicit a visceral response.  One of these, for me, has always been the Olympics.  As a little girl, I remember the excitement and anticipation I felt in an Olympic year; from the journey of the torch traveling great distances to reach its final destination in the host city, to the dazzling pageantry of the opening ceremony.  But the most captivating portion has always been the parade of athletes, filing into the arena behind their respective country’s flag.  This is the moment when a lump forms in my throat and chill bumps erupt across my skin. Watching these seemingly immortal beings, the gods and goddesses of their sports, enter into the most elite competition of their lives, well… it is simply spellbinding.  Having never been an athlete of any sort, I never understood why this affected me on a cellular level, but I was completely enraptured by these moments.  I had always felt that these athletes had been bestowed with rarified traits that made them extraordinary.  It, in my mind, made their talents unattainable to mere mortal athletes

It wouldn’t be until years later when I discovered boxing, would I begin to realize why the athletes had such a profound effect one me.  At the inception of my training, a very wise coach told me that I did not have natural athletic ability.  At first blush I though, well, that’s it then…this new passion of mine will likely be just for fun, and fleeting.

He seemingly confirmed to me what I thought I already knew.  I was most definitely not one of the chosen few.  But I continued to go to the gym and train every day.  I began to take notice of who in the gym seemed to be especially talented.  I assumed that they, most assuredly, were the athletes with “natural ability.” I scrutinized these boxers to see if any of them had been blessed with the super powers that would make them Olympic material. But what I noted, was that these kids worked hard and pushed themselves to new limits every day.  In my mind, they grinded far too hard to be a part of the elite few.

Then, one day, there was someone different int he gym.  Someone I recognized;  the captain of the USA Team, Cam F. Awesome.  Although I was completely unaware at the time, I had found my way to a gym and coach who were well-versed in the development of superior athletes.  This was Cam’s gym.  Cam is one of those athletes that I knew had been bestowed with the traits of a “super hero.” I was elated to have the opportunity to observe these talents first hand.

I watched, like a quiet, little mouse in the corner, waiting for a display of amazing feats.  But what I witnessed was unexpected.  Cam went through the same routines in the gym that we all did. He hammered away at the bags relentlessly, his chest heaving, and sweat pouring from him. He then moved on to mitt work.  He continued this for a while, at times frustrated as he tweaked his technique until he was satisfied with it.  I was taken aback by his frustration.  How could he be frustrated? Where were these ethereal gifts?  Over the next few weeks, whenever Cam was in the gym, I continued to observe and absorb all that I could from him.  I learned a little bit about his personal journey towards the Olympic’s. That’s when a new ideal of the Olympic athlete began to emerge for me.

The dawning realization was, that these athletes, like Cam Awesome, are indeed special, but not because they are blessed with supernatural abilities.  Rather, these athletes possess a deep seeded desire to be extraordinary at all costs.  They are ferociously devoted to it.  And, indeed, there are high prices to pay for the visions they have for themselves.  There are struggles and stumbles to overcome. There are the dogged daily grinds that must be completed without exception.  The attention to diet and health that can leave them feeling deprived. In short they “live” their sport.

I now fully understand what that wise coach meant when he said that I did not have natural athletic ability.  I thought that he meant my abilities were limited, and therefore my successes would also be limited.  Now I realize he was giving me a precious gift.  He was letting me know that if this was the life I wanted, I could have it. It wouldn’t come easily, bit it was there for the taking if I was willing to sacrifice, persevere, and succumb to the daily grind of pushing myself to new limits every day.

These things I can relate to. These things give me hope. These things give me purpose.  Although the Olympics may never be a part of my personal journey, I have to belive that they could be if I choose to “live” my sport.

 

Originally published by www.stingsports.com

Paying Dues

IMG_2757 2My first fight would seem a disaster.  I wasn’t prepared for what was about to hit me…literally.  It would not last an entire round.  I stood as the ref raised her hand, I smiled, and congratulated her, and I then stepped out of the ring.  For a split second, I thought that it would be the last time I exited a ring, but my heart, my gut, knew otherwise.  This boxing thing was a part of me now.

As I made my way home that night, I went through a myriad of emotions.  There was humiliation; had I made a fool of myself? There was elation; I did it, I faced all of my fears and stepped into that ring.  There was pain, not physical pain, but none the less pain; had I let my trainer, family down? There was fear; was this the end of boxing for me…was this NOT the end of boxing for me?

I wasn’t sure how to proceed or what was next.  This was all new territory for me.  It had taken every ounce of will power and courage for me to step through those ropes and face my biggest opponent, myself.  And in my mind, I had failed.  Thus confirming every anxiety driven affirmation that I had ever allowed myself to believe about myself.

What I didn’t know then, was that I was about learn the most important lesson in my life.

I had to divorce myself from all of the hard, painful, negative feelings I was going through and get a little analytical about it.  At the very heart of the problem was the fact that this boxing thing was in my soul, it had a hold on me.  I was then, as I am now, unwilling to let that go.

So, now it was time to figure out how I was going to proceed.  Time to get a little real with myself.  No room for pity or hurt feelings here, if I allowed that to take hold I knew that I would probably never box again.

This is when a tradition began with me.  After every fight, win or lose, the first thing I do is ask myself, “What is the take away?” In other words, what was I meant to learn from this fight? What were the boxing gods trying to teach me.

There is always some truth to be learned from every loss and every win.

Through this initial process, I began to realize that my journey in boxing was going to be intensely meaningful, but it was not going to easy or smooth.IMG_2756 3

This has certainly proven to be true.  I have experienced some of my happiest moments through boxing.  I have also dealt with some of my most frustrating and heartbreaking times.  Now, I can’t say that I enjoy these times, however, I don’t shy away from them.  I embrace them.  I know that there is a reason for them, a new strength to be gained from them.

I REFER TO THESE TIMES AS “PAYING DUES.”

Nothing worthwhile in this life is free.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  There will always be dues to pay.  If something comes cheaply and easily to me, I have a hard time understanding and appreciation the value in it.

So, when I lose a bout, don’t have a good night in the gym, suffer an injury, or something simply doesn’t go the way that I’d hoped, I take a moment, day, week, or month, to figure out what dues I’m paying.  It may sound trite, but these are truly the experiences where I have gained the most growth.

Through the act of paying dues, following my first fight, I “purchased” lessons in fortitude and resilience.  Boxing requires, rather demands, emotional and mental strength.  To participate fully in this sport, you have to be willing to get beat up, knocked down, and plain old worn out, and still want to get up and do it all again on another day.

The coffers of fortitude and resilience are always in a state of replenishment with dues that have to be paid. I happily refill them.

Along my odyssey in boxing, I have paid dues and gathered lessons in patience and perseverance, as well as focus and determination.  I’ve learned to balance my emotions to fuel my ambitions rather than let them destroy them.  I’ve had the opportunity to procure my most valuable treasure; the ability to believe in, and value myself.

Moving forward, I wholeheartedly welcome the opportunity to explore the take away.  In boxing, and in my life, I never want to feel entitled to any prospect of growth.  I want the work, the sweat, and the tears that teach me the most valuable lessons. I want to pay my dues.

 

Originally published by http://www.stingsports.com

Sacrifice

There is a popular sentiment with athlete’s in regards to sacrifice.  I often hear athletes proclaim with pride, all of the sacrifices that they have made for their sport.  They postulate about missed social opportunities, stringent dietary restrictions that they suffer, and the sore state of their bodies.  This concept of “sacrifice” has always puzzled me.

Perhaps their definition of sacrifice varies from mine.  A sacrifice, as I define it, is to relinquish something that is valuable to me, sacred, if you will, for the benefit of another.  Sacrifice, by its nature, places and individual in the role of a martyr.

This in no way imaginable describes my relationship with my sport.  I am passionate about boxing.  It is present in my life, in some form or another, every single day.

I pursue my goals with dogged determination. When I miss indulging in Thanksgiving dinner so that I can maintain a certain weight, it is a calculated choice.  Not attending certain social functions so that I don’t disrupt my training is another example of me setting my priorities based on choice.

My bodies aches and pains are a consequence of my devotion to my training.  None of these consequences were forced on me. Their necessity exists because of my convictions to my goals; not because of sacrifice.

Being an athlete is many things.  It requires focus and dedication. It requires the mindset and strength to push you to new levels every day.  It requires a fierce conviction to reach new levels every day.  I thrive on these notions.

They are indeed a lifestyle.  It is not an easy pursuit.  However, just because it isn’t easy, doesn’t define it as a sacrifice.

I am, admittedly, selfish (not sacrificial) in the pursuit of my goals.  I consciously make the choices to forgo indulging in cake and ice cream, or the Friday night ritual of hanging out with friends.  I crave more time in the gym, morning roadwork, and healthy fuel for my body.  Can I say that I always love these choices? No, but I make them, religiously, especially on the days that I’m not in love with them.  These choices feed my soul and propel me forward in the pursuit of my dreams and goals.

Please take notice: MY goals, MY choices, MY passion.  This in no manner imaginable constitutes any personal sacrifice.

There are, however, sacrifices made when it comes to pursuing my passion.  Not by me, but by an army of people who willingly give their time, support, and funds to make sure that I get to do what I love

Organizations like USA Boxing, and The Golden Gloves are in place solely for the purpose of supporting its athletes and making sure that we get to do what we love in safe, monitored environments. My coaches spend hours, days, in a week away from their own lives to help me progress.  I am fortunate enough to have mentors, who walk ahead of me in this journey, that are always willing to take time from their busy lives to offer me much appreciated advice.  My teammates give up moments of their valuable training time to work with me.

Perhaps the most monumental sacrifices are made by my family.  The time and monetary sacrifices are just the beginning.  They have embraced my boxing lifestyle and adopted it as their own.  These are the people who fit my definition of sacrifice: to relinquish something that is valuable and sacred for the benefit of another.

 

Why Boxing

Recently I was asked the question that I am asked with a fair amount of frequency…why boxing? Boxing is my sport and being a girl that participates in boxing is somewhat of an anomaly.  So, the question ‘Why Boxing?’ has become a recurring query from family, friends, as well as strangers.  My usual reply is simply to grin, shrug my shoulders, and quietly say, “I don’t know, I just love it.” This is my quick answer.This is the answer that allows the conversation to move forward and hopefully past me.  I’ve never felt that people truly want to talk about me.  However, the last time I was asked “the question,” I wondered if I gave the expanded version, maybe…just maybe, someone would truly be interested to hear the truth…my truth.

Boxing is far more than just a past-time fro me, or something to keep me in shape.  If I were to find something to correlate my relationship with boxing to, it would be religion.  From the first moment I wsas introduced to my sport, I felt I had found my religion.  It seemed as if some divine intervention had occurred to bring me to this sport, gym, and trainer.  This is the only explanation I can find.  Religion, to me , always seemed to be about devotion, sacrifice, and the will to be better every day, in every way.  Although I felt that this is what religion was, it had never hit me with such clarity and a sense of purpose than on the first day I stepped foot into my new life.  I have to admit, boxing was not something I had a driving desire to pursue.  My dad had a heavy bag in our basement that was fun to hit and work out a little anxiety on from time to time.  So, when my mom suggested maybe attempting boxing as something fun to do to keep me in shape, it never entered my mind that it was something that I could achieve.

My dad, a retired firefighter, contacted a firefighting buddy of his who happened to have been a professional boxer and set up my first lesson.  I was petrified.  Not only was I going to attempt something new, something I felt like I was clearly going to fail, I was going to do that in front of someone who had so much success and a stellar reputation in the sport.  As each day to “the lesson” grew closer, my anxiety and dread increased, until finally the day came.  The car ride to “the lesson” was a special kind of torture.  As we pulled into the parking lot, I was visibly shaking.  How was I ever going to pull this charade off without total humiliation to me, and my family? But there was no turning back now.  I got out of the car, the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and followed my parents into the fire station.  Yes, I said fire station…a fire station full of men that I had never met, to me, there was nothing more intimidating.  But an interesting thing occurred when we came through that door.  My dad was greeted with warm handshakes and hugs, there was laughter and joy.  I had heard so many stories about the brotherhood of the fire department growing up, but I never fully understood it until this moment.  My dad introduced me and I was greeted with the same warmth. I felt like I was meeting uncles that I had known all of my life, yet had never met.  I was in the presence of family.  I began to relax slightly, this firehouse was a safe haven.  There was history there.  my dad spent many years living one third of his life in that station.  I had heard so many larger than life, yet absolutely true stories; heroic stories, hilarious stories, heartbreaking stories, heartwarming stories.  From that very moment, I felt a spiritual connection to that firehouse.  If someone were to ask me now, where my church is, I would tell them in the very back of this old firehouse.  I felt it even on that very first visit…the warmth, acceptance, and safety.  Although I wasn’t fully aware at the time, this was my sanctuary. This is where I would find salvation, worship, solace, and redemption.

I had found my church, and I was about to meet my preacher…Craig Cummings, Mr. Cummings to me. I was oblivious to the fact that my life was about to be powerfully altered.  At the time, all I knew was that I was about to meet my dad’s buddy, who happened to be a professional boxer.  I was, to say the least, quaking with apprehension.  In my imagination, a boxer would be a tough, gruff, no nonsense, intimidatingly foreboding persona.  I just knew that he was going to take one look at me and wonder if this was a joke.  Yet, when he entered the station he had the brightest smile on his face and greeted my dad with a bear-hug of an embrace.  Then I was introduced…this was it…I was going to have to speak.  I wan’t sure if I would be able to find my voice, but something happened that had never happened to me before. I spoke to him with ease.  I was still uncomfortable, but that was more about me not being comfortable in my own skin.  I felt a sense of peace talking with Mr. Cummings. It has always been simple with Mr. Cummings. I knew that this was going to be a profound relationship in my life.  We spent a few minutes getting to know one another, and then the lesson began…my introduction to the single thing that was going to change everything in my life.  The lesson itself was basic, but empowering.  Not that I -felt-I-could-take-on-the-world empowering, but quietly empowering.  I was a tiny flicker of light inside my soul ignite where there had only been darkness before.IMG_3584

I would later discover that boxing often attracts people with a story.  There are common themes that run through these stories. Some people use boxing as a way to overcome wayward or criminal behavior.  Others may have been bullied and belittled and need a means of self-defense. None of these were my story.  I was my own bully. I could not remember ever liking myself. I’m not sure why I didn’t like myself, but I never did.  I certainly didn;t understand anyone who said they liked or loved me.  Why would they? What was there to like?  No one ever treated me badly, it was completely internal.  My family loved me, but in my mind, they had to love me, what kind of monsters would they have been to not love their daughter/sister. So, for what it’s worth, that was my story. But on that fateful day, something inside of me began to change.  For the first time in my entire life, I felt something besides despise for myself.

In the weeks and months that followed, I would return to my “Church” and just as any preacher does, Mr. Cummings would teach me…put me on the right path in my new-found “religion.” He gives me guidance with patience and acceptance. He believes in me, and that is everything. I can now believe in myself. I’ve set goals, attained them, and moved on to other goals.  I have been allowed to work with kids who are brand new to boxing. To me, that means someone has enough confidence in me to let me help someone else.  I can honestly say that I like who I am now.  I find new confidence and reasons to enjoy my life every day. This is why I equate boxing to religion. It is necessary to me; it has filled my soul with light.

When I’m training, I think of winning my fight against myself…left, right, slip, left, pull back, right, left hook, dip under the hook, three straight jabs…this is like a prayer to me.  It connects me to something powerful. There is a peace that comes over me when I’m in that ring.  When my work is done, I feel like I was just baptized, freed, and forgiven.

So, the next time someone asks me, “Why boxing?” I’ll probably still answer quietly, but with an enlightened smile. I’ll say, “I have to box, it’s my religion.”

 

Published by http://www.usaboxing.org

http://www.stingsports.com