Becoming a Boxer: Learning to Fight Without Your Feet

The author, wearing her cast in the ring Credit: Sarah Blesener

I've been a runner my entire adult life. Prior to boxing, you'd only see my name on marathon or ultramarathon registrations that involved many miles in mostly beautiful, mountainous areas. And when all this boxing began in February, I figured I could have it all: I would keep my marathon-ready cardiovascular fitness, still enjoy my necessary outdoor solitude time, learn to fight through fatigue in the ring, and shed the 12 pounds necessary to make my weight class all in one fell swoop. Right?

Wrong. I did have it all — until my body just couldn’t take it anymore. After running a casual eight-miler on a treadmill in the gym before my workout, I felt a stabbing, snapping, light-your-bones-on-fire kind of pain in my foot. I knew what it was, but a trip to my physical therapist confirmed my gutting hunch: I have a metatarsal stress fracture in my foot and will be spending a couple weeks in a walking cast.

After my stress-fracture diagnosis and guesstimating just how much mileage and work I was putting on my feet every day to get me to this point, I went and bought myself a FitBit. The FitBit would be my digital voice of reason since I clearly couldn’t be trusted to avoid overdoing it. As it turns out, without my morning runs I was still logging at least 10 miles every day between NYC pedestrian commuting and gym sessions. Before the stress fracture, my daily log was anywhere between 13 and 20 miles. No wonder my bones cracked underneath the weight of my workouts.

The massive calorie burns and miles logged despite my cast-obstructed workouts are verifying the work that my coach, Baruc Martinez, and I are doing in the ring every day. According to my tracker, every 30 minutes in the ring torches anywhere between 320 and 380 calories and spikes my heart rate up between 160 to 170 beats per minute.

After being comforted that my fitness wouldn't suffer too much throughout my four-week sentence in the walking cast, I was able to see the bright side of the injury, if that's even a thing.

It turns out that not being able to move my feet has allowed me to work on my punches. One of my biggest weaknesses was just throwing my hands instead of aiming them, which does not make for knockout power. If I want to be able to end this fight without leaving it up to the judges, I’m going to have to be more deliberate and powerful with my strikes. It’s what Baruc and other boxing experts call “sitting down on your punches.”

Luckily, my only choice was to literally sit down on my punches, as the saying suggests, which means to bend your knees and center your weight so you can maximize the force of each punch, loading your power through your hips, and shooting the energy straight out of your fist with one fluid, heavy hit.

After a week of “sitting down” on my punches, I ended a round of power punches on Baruc’s hand pads with a left hook. He shook a little sting off his hand, looked at me — the light-handed hook-thrower — and said something I never thought I’d hear: “I’m starting to like that hook.”

Looks like this injury is just what I needed.