The Fight: After (or, learning to lose)

“Rather than the strength it takes to not lose, it’s the strength to stand back up after a loss that is sometimes more valuable.”
―Kyo Shirodaira

My heart sank for a second when I looked at my little USA Boxing Passbook the day after the fight and saw the checkmark in the box labeled “lost.” But then two things came to mind: the first was that now the pressure is off—my record will never be perfect, so it doesn’t really matter if I lose the next fight or the fight after that. The second was that, for nearly all amateur boxers, your record is what it is because of the opponents you’ve faced. There will always be better boxers to put you in your place—whether or not you face them in the ring determines how many times “won” is checked versus “lost.” I faced a boxer who has been boxing for years longer than I have, and she gave me a run for my money. If I’d faced a different opponent, perhaps a boxer with more equivalent experience, I might have won. Or maybe not, but it doesn’t actually matter because there’s always going to be someone to kick my ass.

My relatively graceful loss of the fight was my biggest surprise of the night. Being a perfectionist and over-achiever, I generally take defeat hard and personally—each defeat serving to me as more proof that I am not really worth anything. But I actually didn’t feel defeated that night. Not when the announcer called my opponent’s name as the winner. Not when I stepped out of the ring to walk back to the green room with my coaches. I knew I had fought the best fight I could have fought; I had given it all I had. I did some of the things I wanted to do some of the time, my opponent did not dominate me, and on a different day I think I could have come out the winner. It turns out that what I’d really hoped for was that I’d put up a fight, and that’s what I did.

Most of the fight is a blur to me. I have only a few clear memories of it. I remember the feeling of getting tripped up in the first round—I remember exactly how my feet felt sticking to the mat before I toppled backwards. I remember the referee’s gentle smile and the way she kindly said, “I know” when I assured her that I was fine as she counted to eight on her fingers after that fall. I remember being in the red corner in between rounds with a trainer on one knee in front of me, rinsing my mouth guard then pouring water into my parched mouth, while my primary trainer put icepacks on my neck like they do in the professional fights and talked to me calmly, giving me advice (although the words he said are lost to me now). I remember hearing my trainer say, “I think you took that one” as I approached my corner after the second round. I remember thinking during one round that I had not parried a single shot and that maybe I should do that, and I remember parrying two jabs then giving up on that idea because, even though it is the most basic defense we learn, it took too much of my mental energy. I remember getting hit fairly hard a couple times by my opponent’s cross, which always came fast after one or two quick jabs. As my head was knocked backwards, I remember thinking, “was that as hard as I get hit in the gym? No, not even close—I can still see.” My greatest memory I think took place in the third round, but it may have been the second. I slipped my opponent’s cross and came back with a left hook to the body—a throw I have not used often, if ever, in sparring. I followed the body shot with a shot to the head, or maybe two shots to the head. I’ve watched the videos since, and it seems I did this more than once, but I remember only one time distinctly because I really connected, and it all felt exactly the way it should feel. I remember being so unbelievably exhausted in the third round that I could hardly raise my hands (I now have so much respect for professional fighters who go sometimes 7-9 more rounds than I did). I remember the four thumps signaling the last seconds of the third round, and I remember going at each other with every last bit of energy we could muster like two animals fighting to the death. I remember the announcer saying, as we stood under the bright lights, that it was a split decision and thinking, in those long seconds as we waited to hear the final decision, that this means that I could have won. I remember the announcement that the winner, fighting out of the blue corner, was my opponent. And I remember the surprising lack of emotion I felt upon hearing this.

Of those eight minutes of my life, that’s about all I can recall. The rest is just a fuzzy haze of punches, clamor from the crowds, sweat, lights and exhaustion.

The thing I feel worst about, having lost the fight, is letting my trainer down. Someone told me he has never had a woman lose in the Haymakers for Hope fights, so thanks to me, his record is no longer unblemished. He made it clear to me before the fight that he was already proud of me, that no matter what happened out there, he would be proud of me, but that doesn’t change the regret I feel about not giving him another W.

My other big regret is that I didn’t connect with an uppercut. I threw a right uppercut once that I can remember, but missed or only grazed her. Ah well, I will have to fight again, if only to use my uppercut.

Overall, however, the fight was a success. I think it was a real boxing match—not two women flailing wildly at each other, as is what happens sometimes in charity matches. I showed that I had come a long way from my very first sparring session three months ago when I threw punches with two fists at a time like superman, when I couldn’t even imagine slipping a shot, nonetheless returning fire after a slip, when I barely even knew how to throw an uppercut, and when I moved stiffly around the ring and froze whenever someone threw a punch at me. It was a fair fight, in spite of our mismatched experience. I did not get beat up. I never felt panicked or that horrible, desperate feeling that comes when I’m getting the shit kicked out of me, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I am so glad I did not feel inclined to cry afterwards like I have so many times after a bad sparring session. Not even after leaving the ring did any of those emotions surface. This means, to me, that she didn’t totally win the fight.

So is this it for me and boxing? Not at all. I’ve only just started to get the hang of this sport—why would I stop now? Besides, I love it. I love boxing because it pushes me to my physical and mental limits. I love it for the technical skill required, for the excitement, and for the people. More than anything, I love it for what it teaches me about myself and about life. From boxing, I’ve learned humility, while gaining confidence. I’ve learned how to keep a cool head and take a hit. I’ve learned to trust my body, and I’ve learned how to fight when I’m exhausted beyond belief. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, three months of boxing has taught me something I didn’t learn from 15 years of playing the harp, from two advanced degrees, from running races of all distances or playing other sports. Boxing has taught, and continues to teach me to believe in myself even when I lose. And for this, I will be forever grateful because most of life is not winning. Most of life is getting up off the mat and saying “I can still do this.” Again and again and again.

Before signing off today, I want to say “thank you” to all the people who have made this possible and for the people who have supported me along the way. Many, many thanks to all the generous people who donated to my fundraising effort for Haymakers for Hope! Without your support, I couldn’t have done this (or anyway, I would have several thousand dollars charged to my credit card right now). I raised $4,775, and the total money raised from the fundraiser was greater than $155,000, which will go towards cancer research and awareness!

Thank you to the people who encouraged and helped me along the way. Thank you to my partner, especially, for getting me into this mess to begin with and for supporting me wholeheartedly these past three months when boxing took over my life. Thanks to Redline Fight Sports for sponsoring me. Thanks to all the people at Redline: first and foremost, thanks to my trainer who invested his time and energy in me and believed I could do this. Thank you to all the people who patiently taught me how to throw a punch and later, to all the men and women who sparred with me and made me a fighter. Don’t think this means your job is done. I’ll be back on Wednesday.

Lastly, thanks to all of you who have taken an interest in my story, read these posts, and commented on them or “liked” them on Facebook. As for the future of this blog, I have loved writing it, and I’ve learned a lot from it as well. I hope to keep it going, so if you’ve enjoyed it, please continue to check back.

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