“The hero and the coward both feel the same thing, but the hero uses his fear, projects it onto his opponent, while the coward runs. It’s the same thing, fear, but it’s what you do with it that matters.” - Cus D’Amato
All boxers are afraid of what could happen in the ring. They may try to deny it or suppress it, but fear is the logical response to being confined inside the ropes with someone trained to cause you pain. So it is with considerable trepidation that I climb into the ring tomorrow with fighters much faster, younger and more experienced than myself. I have too many faults to list, but lacking a talent for self-preservation has never been one of them.
Growing up in a blue-collar town where opportunity was scarce and reasons to fight numerous, acting tough meant asking for trouble. Of course I had a few minor scrapes, but only the kind typical to kids that grew up before today’s era of hyper-parenting. Most of my life I’ve been content to float by in school, work and life on as little effort as possible. But now after a lifetime of trying to avoid an ass-kicking, I’ve gone on and signed myself up for one.
I’ve tried to explain the appeal of boxing and documented the early portion of my training. But that stopped after a visit to Benning Park Recreation Center, where spending a couple hours with Rodriguez’ mentor Coach Greg left me feeling like a fraud. That entry, which would have been Gym Diary Week 11, still sits unpublished in my Tumblr account. That day I realized how little I had in common with the kids killing themselves in that sweaty basement in Southeast D.C.
As I drove Rodriguez home that night I told him I wanted to fight. Not spar, not get into some white-collar exhibition where we’re both protected. For real, with no special protection. The boxing ring is one of the few places where all advantages outside of physical talent and hard work are negated. Having spent my life on the comfortable side of the growing chasm of opportunity and privilege in this country, I was looking to prove something to myself. To find out if I have what it takes.
The road has not been without delays or doubt. A summer spent traveling across the country to cover the sport set back my training, as did illness and injury. I’m sure friends have questioned whether I’m full of it, since I was supposed fight over a month ago and still haven’t scheduled my first amateur bout. And there are risks aside from the disastrous. I even asked Rodriguez how often amateurs get their nose broken (not that often, mostly in big tournaments), since I’ve finally grown fond of my profile in adulthood.
But part of me understands the window for such endeavors is rapidly closing. I’m 28 years old. By this point most people’s self-image is set. But not mine. I want to know if I’m the type of person that cowers when being hit, or responds as a fighter does by punching back. I want to find out things about myself that can only be accomplished by stepping into the unknown, with no guarantees. I want for a moment to feel like those heroes that dance beneath the lights, to be part of the intoxicating atmosphere that hooked me at Madison Square Garden last May.
Tonight I learned the girl three doors down from my apartment committed suicide. At just 23 years of age she decided life was no longer worth living and left. As the child of a psychiatrist I’ve been taught there is nothing that can prevent someone from taking their own life if they are determined, yet I still wonder if anything could have been done. There are worse things in life than losing, being hurt or even getting knocked out.
Our time on Earth is so brief and very few of us have the luxury of determining our own fate. As I’ve aged I’ve learned nothing of any value comes easily. Some may luck their way into fame or great achievement, but they are the exception. Most of us must muddle along, earn less than we deserve and be satisfied. The inherent unfairness of the arrangement is the only certainty.
I do not know what will happen tomorrow when I step between those ropes. But I know that I alone will determine the outcome. Perhaps that is reason enough.
- 20 mins jumping rope
- Arms + shoulders w/weights
- 2 rds of sit-ups
- 100 push-ups + planks
- 1 rd shadow boxing
- 14 rds on the pads
- 2 slices pepperoni pizza
- Apple juice
- 1/2 lb of moist brisket
- Side of pickles