You Probably Think Boxing is Angry and Violent, but It's One of the Most Beautiful and Intellectual Sports There Is

*Trigger warning for mentions of self-harm and assault.

Every time someone finds out that I box, they always ask me the same question: “Why?” If I were a man, or doing any other sport, I wouldn’t be asked this question. I’ve done skiing, lacrosse, ice hockey, and rowing, but never once did anyone ask me “why” I did those sports. No one ever asks me why I like running, or why I might want to play basketball, or ride a bike, or do quite literally anything else, and I get it. Boxing can be brutal. To the untrained eye, it may be nothing more than two people trying to kill each other in a squared-off area. As my brother put it, “It’s like, ‘Oh my God, stop doing that to each other!’” So, why did I fall in love with something so seemingly violent and horrible?

It was August. I sat six feet above the concrete in an elevated guard’s chair. A squishy, red lifeguard floatation tube lay across my legs. The sun beat down on my skin from above while I watched a group of ten-year-olds splash each other in the pool below. My brain was being fried by boredom almost as fast as my skin was getting burned by the sun. Thoughts drifted in and out of my head of nothing in particular. Entertaining myself for eight-hour shifts of sitting in a chair, staring dead-on at pools was starting to get to me. But, it wasn’t just the lack of activity that was troubling for me.

About one month before, in July of 2015, I was assaulted by someone whom I had considered a friend of four years. It was unexpected, disgusting, and broke me like snapping a stick in two. There were days when I would show up to work and all I could think about were ways I wanted to hurt myself to deal with the disgust and the pain that I felt from the assault. There were days when I felt overwhelming anger, frustration, and fear from the impending police action I had to make a decision about. Would I press charges? What if I didn’t? On that day in August, I made two decisions. I decided to press charges against my rapist, and I decided I was going to learn how to fight.

I hopped down from the guard chair at the end of my shift and ran into the guard shack to take out my phone. It was as simple and fast as googling “boxing gyms near me” to find a place to go. The nearest one was 45 minutes away without traffic. But, my mind was made up. I had wanted to fight since I was little, and it was an idea that had been floating around in my mind meaninglessly for years. I was used to being roughed around by my three older brothers (we had age gaps of 7 to 10 years, which meant I was always the tiny one on top of being the only girl). But, I also had a fire inside of me that constantly wanted to rage. I needed an outlet.

I’d done sports for as long as I could remember, and they had always helped me channel my energy in some way. When I played ice hockey I racked up the most penalties in the state just from roughing around and getting into fights (although this got me reprimanded by my parents countless times, so violence was never encouraged like that in my family). For years growing up, I was held away from that kind of life. I grew up in a white town overflowing with preppy kids donning Vineyard Vines, Sperrys, and country-club golf bags. As much as they roughed me around, my brothers always reinforced the importance of being “ladylike;” sitting with my legs closed at the table and having polite manners. The most violence that happened was in fourth grade when my classmate’s Webkinz got its neck ripped off by one of the boys at recess. For me, there was something missing. Something that didn’t satisfy the flames constantly dancing around inside of me. It was never about hurting others. I just needed a physical outlet that required me to be brave.

So that day in August, I slid my card in the time punch and drove home to change out of my guard suit. My mother had just gotten back from a bike ride. She gave me a perplexed look as I ran back out to my car holding a bag of gym gear. “Where are you going?” she asked me.

“I’m going to East Hartford to box,” I told her. She was speechless for a few seconds. “Uh, no, you’re not,” she said to me. “I don’t want you going there, it’s not a safe place. What if someone does something to you—”

“I’m going,” I said, and I got in the car, shut the door, and drove away. There was something in me that said I had to do it. It was a time in my life where I felt so low, so broken, so worthless, that it was sink or swim. Either I learned to grow into the person I was meant to be and become a strong woman, or I would fall into this hole of depression, anger, and fear that I had been living in, treading water and trying not to drown.

I entered the gym that day with a ball of knots sitting deep in my stomach. I had no idea where I was and I had no idea who was going to be there. But I walked in and told the front desk that I wanted to learn how to box. The instructor wrapped my hands, looked at me and said, “Class starts in thirty seconds. Go.” So, I sprinted off to join the other fighters. A woman on the bag next to me told me I had a good punch, and showed me how to move my hips to apply more power. “Keep at it,” she told me, “you clearly have a heart for this.” I never saw her again, but I will never forget that she was the first person to believe in me.

Boxing wasn’t a BandAid for me, nor was it a pill I took every day to feel happy. I still struggled with self-harm and depressive episodes even with that passion in my life. But, I no longer felt suicidal ideations and I no longer felt that I had no purpose. Suddenly, there was an entire world that opened up to me. I met people whom I would have NEVER met otherwise. I met people from the other side of things, people who didn’t grow up in a bubble, protected by white privilege, people who had had to fight their entire lives just to get by. What touched me the most, though, was how much they welcomed me into their world with open arms, without question. It was different.

As the years went by, I was hit with two more traumatic experiences that tested everything I knew about both myself and the world around me. After each incident happened, when I thought I had nothing left in me, I went back to the gym and healed my soul. My teammates and coaches didn’t need to know what was going on, they just understood. Even now, when I have no idea what’s going on in my life, I walk into the gym and I hit the bag. Maybe anger comes out. Maybe I cry. Maybe I scream. But I hit the bag until it all evaporates into the air and there’s nothing left but movement, beauty, and grace in my punches. Then, I take that and transfer it to the ring. I hit the mitts and it’s nothing but sound, angles, and the sweet science working while I crack the pads. I swing between the ropes and go round after round with my team in a realm where nothing else matters but this. It’s survival in a different form, and it’s everything I ever needed.

If I have an exam the next day, I make it even more of a priority to go to the gym because I know that’s the place where my mind is the happiest. I learn to be vulnerable there, strengthening myself emotionally and mentally. When I’m fighting, I have to tame my emotions, because angry fighters are vulnerable fighters. If I fight angrily or with frustration, I’ll get hit. People always think of boxing as some way of taking out your anger, and sure, I can see how punching anything would give someone a temporary fix to their problems. But that’s not it for me in any way, shape, or form. Boxing is not an angry sport; for me, fighting is art. When I’m done, I leave feeling like I’ve shed my skin and can morph into a more beautiful creature.

Look beyond the violence and it’s the most beautiful form of dance. I can get in the ring with a dancing partner and exchange blows in a way that’s similar to chess. It’s constant strategizing; the most cerebral sport I’ve ever done and studied. That’s not to say that it’s not dangerous. Every time I get in the ring I’m scared of getting hit. I’m scared of getting injured. I’m scared of fear taking over and wanting to run.

And that’s exactly why I do it. Not to hide my emotions, but to dance with them.

 

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