the time before the giant (and one-handed pushups)

A champion shows who he is by what he does when he’s tested. When a person gets up and says ‘I can still do it’, he’s a champion.

– Evander Holyfield.


All my warm fuzzy feelings about boxing went out the window for a minute this week. On Wednesday morning, my trainer said to me as we were warming up “what, you didn’t have breakfast this morning?” Then he imitated 90-year-old boxer after running a marathon. I felt exhausted Wednesday morning, but it was Thursday that really got me. It was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Boxing Edition. I felt beat up by life even before sparring by some combination of overall exhaustion, PMS, and frustration with work and life, not to mention soreness from boxing the previous day. Then I got hit hard repeatedly with the right cross and the left hook because I failed, again and again, to protect myself. After two rounds, I climbed out of the ring and burst into tears. 

Following Thursday’s sparring session, for the first time since I started going to boxing in February, I didn’t want to go to class on Friday. I was dreading it. I was tired of getting hit, tired of making mistakes, tired of being told to keep my right hand glued to my temple for protection and change the level of my head so I’m not an easy target (can’t you see I’m trying?). I was tired of the persistent whiplash headache that follows me home after taking a few hard blows and settles like a fog around my head for the rest of the day. My inner teenager was shouting, “Well, I’ll show them! I just won’t show up in the morning. Ha! Then they’ll be sorry. Try to hit me when I’m not even there!” But of course, it doesn’t work this way. You can’t even win at Bingo if you don’t show up to play the game.

If I had given myself a choice, I might not have gone that morning. But I didn’t give myself the option to stay in bed, so I ended up once again at Redline at 6:50am. My neck and head were still hurting, the mile-long bike ride to the gym with heavy legs and a heavier heart had felt interminable, and I wanted to cry just thinking about sparring. I forced myself through the warm up and distracted myself with the drills. When it came time to spar though, I suspect my trainer knew I couldn’t handle another day like Thursday. Instead of the usual culprits, he had me spar with people he knew wouldn’t hurt me. I boxed a total of 7 or 8 rounds, but mostly with guys. This was a welcome relief, since the men tend to practice their defense and let me do most of the hitting, punishing me only gently when I make some egregious error.

One of the guys with whom I sparred is an experienced fighter, though I don’t think boxing is his favorite of the fight sports. Boxing with this kid is like boxing with running water. He actually seems to conform his body to the shape of your hand like a waterfall would if you tried to hit it. This makes it nearly impossible to strike him with any force. He weaves in and out and around your hands the way a river passes around rocks. Watching him and an opponent is a bit like Saturday morning cartoons: his opponent comes charging at him with everything they’ve got, and he moves calmly, unhurriedly out of the way.

Thanks to the guys, I made it through another day of boxing. As inspiration this weekend, I watched Rocky for the first time. (Yes, I managed to get through 31 years without ever seeing a single one of the Rocky films. Like I said, before I was into boxing, I really wasn’t into boxing.) Why is it that we love an underdog story? No one wants to watch a movie about the big guy winning. We see that every day around us. Maybe it’s because we’ve all seen the world through David’s eyes. We’ve all stared down our own giants. We’ve fiddled with the pebbles in our pockets, knowing that we aren’t even a little prepared for what’s about to come. We want to know that there’s a chance we can succeed, and these stories give us hope.

The thing they don’t show in the movies is everything it takes to get to the point of facing down the giant. If David hadn’t been a shepherd chasing off lions all those years with his slingshot, he wouldn’t have had a chance against Goliath. If the Italian Stallion had been just some guy off the street, he definitely would have been crushed ten seconds into the fight. Of course, they show a song’s worth of Rocky running stairs and doing one-handed pushups, but the song is one of those that sort of gets you all pumped up and makes you think you could probably do a one-handed pushup too. Real life isn’t like this. It is getting up and doing the things you don’t want to do. Again and again. With no peppy song to get you going. It is facing the lions every single day. It is falling and getting up. Falling and getting up until you are weary beyond belief. It is boring. It is messy. It is exhausting. Only after working hard, working hard again, and continuing to work hard do we face the giant. Then, even though the odds are still against us, we’ve got a shot.

I really wish I had some tidy closing statement declaring that I persevered, broke through the wall, and marched on to victory. We’re not to that point of the story though. We are in the running stairs and one-handed pushups (ha! don’t I wish) point of this tale. Maybe someday I’ll have a big smash bang ending and a beautiful moral to my story, but for right now, I’m just getting up again. And again. And again.


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