Among the many things I did not expect to gain from boxing was a family. I feel a little weird writing about it in a public blog because it’s similar to admitting you like someone before you’re quite sure they like you. I think I’m part of the family—or becoming part of the family, and I kind of think they think I’m part of the family, but I am one who assumes that no one likes me until proven otherwise. I hesitate to believe that anyone wants to be my friend—nonetheless would accept me as family. But somehow, I think I’ve perhaps been adopted into the Redline family. Or at least, the papers are pending.
I’ve played on plenty of sports teams, but what I see at Redline is distinctly different from the team mentality. Playing for a team can be fantastic—you work hard together, celebrate wins together, and commiserate together when it doesn’t go well. But playing for a team means you rely on your teammates for success, so one weak link can bring the whole team down. Even playing on the friendliest of teams, this pressure always weighed heavily on me. I kept a tally of all the times I let the team down, so of course, with this list hanging over my head, I could hardly perform well. On more competitive teams, this pressure killed my spirit and my desire to play the game at all. This is why I stick to solo sports now. The beauty of boxing is that you are it. When it comes down to it, it’s just you against your opponent. Or at least, that’s what I thought. As it turns out, it’s actually you and your corner against your opponent. The unique thing about your corner, and the thing that sets it apart from a team, is that your corner believes in you entirely, but doesn’t expect anything of you. Your corner will support you from beginning to end with nothing to gain except to see you succeed.
The thing I didn’t realize about the corner until recently is how big the corner actually is. I’m discovering as the days go by, that my corner is not only the one or two people who will be standing by the ropes at my fight. My corner is the whole Redline family—the women I spar with every day who know my strengths and help me overcome my weaknesses, the guys who watch me spar like I’m the real deal and give me advice on how to be a better boxer, the super tall guy who fist pumps me every day even though I don’t know his name, the people who greet me enthusiastically and make me feel at home…In fighting, these people are not just friends, they’re not people I work out with—they’re the ones who fight beside me and help me endure when the fight gets rough. This fact fosters a deeper and more genuine sense of community than I’ve found anywhere else. Maybe this isn’t true of every boxing gym—in fact, I would venture to guess that it’s not, but at Redline, I’m finding that my corner is becoming crowded with family.
The most obvious member of my corner is my trainer. Before I started boxing, I had no idea that the fighter-trainer relationship is so vastly different from the team member-coach relationship. My trainer is the person who is teaching me how to survive in the ring. He pushes me until my legs are shaking and I’m certain I will fall over from fatigue. And then he tells me that I’m not tired, and because I trust him completely, I bend my legs, grit my teeth, and I hit harder. My trainer is the one who stands by me even if I’m being stupid…but won’t hesitate to tell me that. Before my first fight, my trainer is the person who will tie my gloves, buckle my headgear, and calm my nerves. He is the one who will take out my mouth guard, clean me up and give me water in between rounds—something I wouldn’t ask my own mother to do (even if she could stand to sit through a fight). He is the person who will tell me how to win the fight. Or he’ll call the fight if he sees I can’t take any more. If that’s not family, I don’t know what is.
Besides my trainer, there are all the women with whom I spar. The ones who beat me up with no—well, few apologies and then give me a hug afterwards. None of us are vying for first string, and as long as we’re all at Redline, we won’t fight each other for real, which eliminates most of the competitiveness that could taint our friendship. At least at this point in my boxing “career,” another woman being better than me means just that—she’s a better boxer, and she has a lot to teach me. She doesn’t gain anything from that except that she’ll fight better boxers (and she gets hit far fewer times when sparring with me). These women tell me when I’ve thrown a solid hit, they tell me that they’ve cried too in the ring, they cheer me on when I do something right, and they hit me when I make a mistake (what more could I ask?). These women work with me every day, turning me into a boxer little by little.
The men at Redline are what surprised me the most. Having played on teams with men, I sort of expected to find in boxing all the negative things I experienced in Ultimate Frisbee but times, maybe, 100. (I should say that I’ve played Frisbee with a few men who were phenomenal teammates, but more often than not, this was not my experience.) The first time I ventured into Redline for a class, I was prepared to find a basement veritably seething with machismo and aggression. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Some of the gentlest men I know box at Redline. On top of that, I have never seen a group of men with more respect for women. It is not a politically correct sort of respect—proper and polite, but genuine brotherly respect. They may tease you from time to time, but when it comes down to it, they’re there fighting with you. I’m sure there are assholes around the gym, as there are everywhere, but the men I box and train with every day, the other trainers who take time out of their day to help me—these guys who are becoming my brothers…they’re different. They accepted me as a boxer even when I would not have called myself a boxer. When they spar with me, they pull their punches so they don’t hurt me, but I never get the sense that they look down on me. They encourage me, telling me what I’m doing well when it seems to me like I’m doing everything wrong. They give me tips on a daily basis—not in the manner that advice is often given out of a place of pride, but from humility, knowing that they were once new to boxing and they are still learning and always will be.
So there you have it—my new Redline family. In the end, it may be just me and my opponent in the ring, but I won’t be alone. It is the people in my corner, my family, who will get me through the fight.