Bare Thoughts 028
Getting hit for the first time felt like running into a glass door. Frozen with fear, I stood unable to retaliate against an opponent whom I had never seen before. The 6-foot-tall boy towered over me like Goliath against David. One jab came after another, each one harder than the last––a jab being the most important straight shot in boxing. Before recovering, the next punch caught my face. No longer in the center of the ring, I bounced off of the ropes and onto the floor. Picking myself up only placed me in position to receive the next hit again and again until the bell ended the round. Saved.
Boxing found me at the beginning of senior year and at the ruins of a dead-end relationship. Lasting three years, it left me with a lost sense of awareness and respect for myself. No longer loving myself, I searched in hopes of someone else taking on that duty. All three years of emotion rose to the surface within a two-minute boxing round. Although I never experienced physical abuse, each hit translated to the emotional blows I took, teaching me it isn’t always possible to block, slip or step out of a punch. Sometimes life throws the hits so quickly, they catch you straight in the face.
That two-minute round played in slow motion. Tears came quicker than I could scrape myself off the blood-stained cloth floor. With wet eyes, I drove myself home, unaware that blood had filled my mouthpiece. Emotion rushed over me. I cried for every punch I couldn't stop. I cried for the past three years which no longer made any sense. I cried for my bruised, swollen eyes and nose. I cried for trusting a boy, whose name I didn’t know, to go easy on me in the ring, and I cried for trusting a boy, whose name I knew too well, to never hurt me. In this moment, I realized what boxing is meant to instill: protection. I only had myself to protect in the ring. It stopped being about my opponent and became about me. I couldn’t expect my opponent to take it easy on me, but I could expect the hardest hits in the most vulnerable places.
Training in the ring stripped me of every security blanket I once hid under. Being inside the ropes with only an opponent to defeat, forced me to build a strong mindset and defense. My diet changed drastically, eating only foods I knew would nourish my body. Sleep became a top priority. Gone were the late nights of over analyzing every aspect of my relationship and replaying moments in my head. For hours on end I'd stay up, soaking my pillowcase with tears, picking apart what I’d done wrong. If I wanted to succeed, not only as a fighter in the ring, but as a fighter with a healing heart, I knew my emotions had to stop dictating the way I lived. Emotion lost its power over me when I realized the importance of protecting myself.
The rest of the weekend entailed icing my face while completing homework assignments. When the swelling went down, I mustered up every ounce of courage to get back in the ring. As I stumbled into the gym, Coach looked at me through unbelieving eyes as if he'd seen a ghost. Keeping to myself for the rest of the practice, I worked harder than ever. At the end of conditioning, he stopped me in the doorway and asked, “Why do you want this?”
After dozens of responses ran through my mind, I looked at him with a confidence that wasn’t there before, “To be better than I am right now.” His smile said he was proud of me, not only for coming back, but for coming back stronger. The boy who knocked me down the week before didn’t come back, nor did I ever see him again. The boy who left me emotionally scarred didn’t call to apologize, nor did I need him to any longer.
- Angelina Lewis