Becoming a Boxer: Hitting a Mental Wall

The author with her sparring partner Credit: Baruc Martinez
Becoming a Boxer: Hitting a Mental Wall

I'm tired. Over the last few weeks I've logged hundreds of push-ups, thousands of abs exercises, countless hours on the heavy bag and the pads, and God knows how many rounds in the ring with a sparring partner. And just as soon as I think I'm spent, boxing demands more rounds, more punches, and more technique.

Pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion every day is tough on your body — but I knew that when I signed myself up for this. I was ready for the sore muscles, aching joints, and general depletion. What I wasn’t ready for was the mental fatigue. Turns out, boxing is arguably harder on your brain than it is on your body.

After an especially tough sparring session last week, I walked out of the gym feeling like the only thing I could do was cry. But I was too tired to cry so I just let the doubt, confusion, and defeat sink in and wedge itself in my throat. My perpetual optimism and tenacity were nowhere to be found. “Where the hell did I get off thinking that I could fight?” I thought to myself. “Why am I doing this? I don’t belong here. I’m just kidding myself.”

I’d hit the mental wall.

After pouring in the ballpark of 90 percent of my waking hours training, talking, or thinking boxing, I felt lost. It felt like nothing in the world wanted me to succeed in the ring. I had a broken foot, then a dislocated sacrum, then a sprained wrist. My work has been suffering. If I can’t do this, then what the hell am I supposed to do?

Luckily, I’m part of a team that is there to remind me. Walking aimlessly through Chinatown with my heart in the pit of my stomach, I reached out to my teammates Abby and Harrison. Abby hits harder than most guys in our gym. Harrison is a former professional champion who makes going 100 percent look easy. And they both have the smarts, dedication, resolve, and mentality that could inspire me to snap out of any pity party I’d decided to throw myself. “Do you ever have those days where you leave the gym feeling like all you want to do is cry?” I asked Abby. “Oh no,” she replied, knowing exactly what wall I’d hit. “Boxing is hard, chica.”

Boxing is hard. No matter how talented you are or how much experience you have, you are going to have moments when it isn’t enough. Every single fighter I’ve met in the past six months can tell you about the time when they didn’t think they could do it. If you didn’t struggle every once in awhile with stepping into the ring to go head-to-head with another person, then we’d have more of a problem on our hands.

When I decided I wanted to fight, I knew I was taking a big bite that isn’t easy to chew. After getting my kicks running and climbing in the harsh conditions of mountain ranges around the world, I was confident in my ability to suffer and get over those moments of doubt that happen during moments of physical demand. But never would I have anticipated that boxing would drain me more than any ultramarathon or summit attempt ever has.

But breakdowns always lead to breakthroughs and after you accept that something is hard, the solution is simple: work harder. "Keep a simple, solid stance," Harrison told me. "You’ve got to have the foundation before you can alter anything. Keep your right hand up. You know how it feels to get hit. Nothing crazy or unexpected is going to happen in there. Stay confident. You’ve got this."

And just like that, all of the thoughts and feelings were taken right out of it. It’s just boxing, and it’s hard enough as it is. No reason to make it harder.