You can feel it gaining momentum…the excitement of what’s coming, the anticipation of the unknown, the impending adrenaline rush that will carry me down the aisle and up into the ring. It’s an invisible energy that is almost palpable.
It’s the day before the fight, and like a little kid on Christmas Eve, I couldn’t sleep last night. This is what we’ve been training for for the last 16 weeks. It’s the culmination of months of determination, sweat, injuries, fatigue, frustration and endurance….but above all- it’s a celebration that I made it. Sometimes it was nothing more than the sheer will to stick with something I had committed to. Sometimes it was to prove to myself I could do it, both physically and mentally. And other times it was to not let my teammates down. For me, this experience has redefined the meaning of commitment.
When I made the decision to participate in this once in a lifetime event back in August, “Knockout” was just a word- just an event. Now it’s a word that evokes an emotional response within me. It’s a reminder of how intensely we trained. It’s a symbol of the bond we formed going through this experience together. And it’s the one word we ended every single practice with in the huddle as an affirmation to each other and ourselves. You did it…one day stronger, one day closer.
I was told that it would be a journey, not just physically but emotionally. Nothing could be closer to the truth. As I sit here and write about this experience, on the eve of the fight, I find myself overcome with emotion as I think back and relive the last few months of training- the camaraderie that grew among us as we worked together day after day, the exhaustion we all battled at one time or another, and the new confidence that planted itself deep within me and slowly grew as I learned a new skill and trained myself to do something I never thought I could do.
At first it was awkward to wrap my hands and put on gloves, navigating my way through the noon boxing classes, just trying to keep up with the steady stream of drills…the tire presses that were designed to build our shoulder muscles (to help us keep our gloves up in the ring); the seemingly endless sets of lunges and squats to build our leg muscles and get us used to bending our knees and staying strong and balanced in our stance; the rounds on the bags that pushed the limits of speed, power, skill, and stamina.
On day one, I learned how to throw a jab, and was told to keep my hands up and stay in my stance. A few weeks of classes and countless rounds of mitts later, I finally felt more comfortable and we moved on to throwing hooks. Then various combinations. Jab. Double. Two. Four. Double. Don’t drop your right. Double jab right hand. Again. Stay balanced. Stay in front of me. The instruction never stopped. The constant reminders to train my body to become comfortable in my stance, to keep my hands up no matter what I was doing- lunges, fast feet, squats, shuffling- always, always keep your hands up. You drop your hands, and you get hit. The focus it took to mentally stay in it was excruciating at times.
There were times when I wanted to quit. The first test came with a knee injury that lasted for weeks and frustrated me to the point of tears when I couldn’t train like I had been. I kept going to practice, but I couldn’t do everything I was doing before, and I had to listen to myself and know my limits so I wouldn’t make the injury worse. As my knee slowly healed, a new challenge crept into my brain…the intense fear of sparring for the first time, wondering if I had what it took to actually put myself out there and take hits. It’s one thing to punch a bag. It’s something else entirely to climb into the ring with another person- or group of people- and face off with them, one at a time, knowing they would be throwing punches; my only task being to block them and if I was lucky, get in a few well-timed hits of my own. I was sure I couldn’t do it. But I didn’t give myself a choice. I took a deep breath, put on my head gear and shakily stepped into the ring to spar my teammates. And I survived. I proved to myself that I could do it, and that I would do it again. And again. And again.
I don’t know when it happened, but one day I realized I was comfortable in my gloves, in my stance, doing rounds on the bags…I felt focused and relaxed. I was breathing hard, but with every breath felt stronger, not weaker. I had finally gone through the motions enough times to train my body to be comfortable in this environment that weeks before had been a mystery…it was now part of me. This skill set that seemed so foreign at first was now part of me in a very personal way, as something only can be when you’ve started from day one and stared it in the face until eventually you aren’t intimidated by it anymore- until it’s no longer new and ominous.
And the confidence, inner strength, and focus I gained during the training for this one night- tomorrow night- is something that now stays with me outside of the gym. It is something that will live within me hopefully for a very long time.
And it has become a common bond I share with a set of unique individuals I’m so glad I had the privilege of working with for the last four months. When you go through something like this that is both emotionally and physically challenging on so many levels, sometimes the only thing that gets you through it are the people standing next to you. And this group of fighters has grown together, leaned on each other, and learned from one another, and it’s something none of us will ever forget.
Tomorrow is the day we’ve been waiting for. It’s time for the main event.
Ok, everybody, bring it in…One, two, three, Knockout.