I should be at weigh-ins right now. I should be working the butterflies out of my belly, getting my hands wrapped by my trainer, Baruc, while he reminds me of all the lessons he’s taught me in the gym. “Right hand up — throw your fakes and keep moving your head,” he would tell me. I should be getting “good luck” texts from my parents in Missouri who couldn’t make it to Times Square on a weeknight. I should be getting ready to step into the ring to fight.
But I’m not.
Instead, I’m sitting in a coffee shop in lower Manhattan, trying to figure out how to write this without the cast on my arm continually hitting the “Command” key while I type. Not nearly as thrilling as a boxing match. But now I realize that sometimes this — tough breaks, gut checks, and broken bones — is boxing.
Last week, I showed up to the gym for my final sparring session before the fight. It was a hard week of training. Baruc had ramped up my sparring sessions to six rounds a piece and I had been putting in more mileage and speed while running to sharpen any sort of cardio edge I could give myself, envisioning the last round of the fight and picturing an extra burst of energy to clinch a victory over my gassed-out opponent.
This sparring session was my last test before the big night. I sparred with Lorena, a woman who is known at Church Street Boxing Gym for her talent, skill, and flat-out aggression. Before I got into the ring, Baruc smeared Vaseline over my face and said, “If you get through this, the fight is going to be a piece of cake.” I knew that once I stepped into the ring, someone would get their shit rocked. Boxing is black and white in a way that life often isn’t — there’s going to be a winner and there’s going to be a loser.
“You okay?” he asked.
Yeah, I was okay. The thing that boxing strengthened in me, besides my abs and deltoids, is my sense of intention and responsibility.
Every time I step into the ring, I choose to throw my hands, I choose to move my head, I choose to be focused and give it everything I’ve got. In a sport so hinged on dominating other people, I have to make sure I’m in control of myself first. If I have control of myself, all of a sudden it doesn’t matter who else is in that ring. No one can hurt me. Only I can hurt me.
And hurt myself, I did.
Within the first minute of the first round I landed a left hook on Lorena and felt a snap in my forearm, followed by what felt like bees buzzing in my muscles and fire lighting up my bones. Despite the pain, if I dropped my hands, I’d get pummeled, and if I took a knee, I’d be a quitter. I couldn’t live with either, so I kept my hands up, my feet planted, and my fists flying for the rest of that first round and for the entire three minutes of the second round. By the end, I knew my arm was broken.
When we finished sparring, Baruc was beaming. “That was awesome — you did great in there, I’m so proud of you,” he said as he dumped water over my head. All I could say was, “Get this fucking glove off my arm.”
I spent the next six hours at the Emergency Room. Four x-rays and one cast later I left with a diagnoses of a fractured ulna bone (which is fittingly known as a “boxer’s break”) and instructions to stay out of the ring for six weeks. My fight was in five days. That didn’t add up to me, so I cried about it. I cried because I felt like everything I had worked for was a bust. I’d already been through a broken foot, a dislocated sacrum, and plenty of emotional and physical fatigue. Wasn’t that trial enough for one fight? Hadn’t I made it through the worst part? My motivation, my sense of purpose, my first bout, were gone.
But massive disappointment is just like any other powerful opponent I could face. If I give up my self-control, I’ve already lost.
It took me a minute and a conversation with my best friend to realize it, but everything I’ve put into this sport so far was always meant to extend beyond this one fight. I missed my bout, but that’s all it was: One missed occasion. The amount of work, the effort and dedication, and the lessons learned during my time boxing are bigger than one fight. There is so much more to come and that’s solely because of everything I’ve dedicated up until this point.
So I’ll train to fight my first match another day and know that the best is yet to come. Until then, I’ll keep working on my perspective and my punches — because obviously that left hook still needs some work.