I’m such a late bloomer a friend recently told me I have a ‘spirit plant’ instead of ‘spirit animal‘.
“You’re a rare genus of orchid that blooms a handful of times a century. Found in heavily wooded or remote swampy areas, you’re this tenacious, sculpted and delicate plant that takes years or decades to grow. The long time frame, while annoying, is an important part of your journey because when you eventually blossom…”
Although I’m still unpacking her assessment, she’s not far from the truth in some ways. Often last to the parade, I am the person who plays a song on repeat a year after it was a hit, or adopts a fashion trend three seasons out of date, or reads the #1 book on the New York Times bestseller list that changed everyone’s life…five years after the mass transformation took place.
The only thing I’ve been on time for is being in motion. Sports have been a saving grace throughout my life; an escape from countless things. It is no surprise then that my most current, and fashionably late, arrival involves activities that push the physical body to its limits. In the last year, I have become wedded to boxing and Muay Thai in ways I could never have imagined.
These holy unions almost didn’t happen though as several in my midst argued combat sports are for men or, at least, younger (read: >30) women.
“Should a woman your age box?” an older acquaintance asked as he laced up his cleats and prepared to storm the pitch.
“You might break your nose!”
“Boxing is savage.”
“What if you get hit and can’t have kids?”
“You can get knocked into a coma, you know.”
“Isn’t it better to do pilates or something less…intense?”
But while intensity and safety are valid points I am too intrepid to heed the warnings. This body of mine has always craved movement and still wants to run. I’m not surprised by the demotivating feedback. Having been athletic for as long as I can remember, for decades I was too tall, too short, too thin, too old, too young, too good, or not good enough.
Thankfully, I filtered out the noise and developed modest basketball and track skills in my teens. In my 20s I played collegiate and high-level volleyball. I ran my first half-marathon at the tender age of 27. In my early 30s I spent time in India where I became a certified yoga instructor. With each new exploit I was older in terms of numbers, sure, but my body only seemed to be getting faster and stronger.
There’s still a long way to go but we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. Video: @hughesin. (*Side note: yes, I know. I sweat like a beast.)
Along the way, I tried on the ill-fitting garments of kickboxing, cycling, and swimming. I dappled with a couple combat sports as well. Yet, the game changer was finding boxing nine months ago. (Or, existentially speaking, boxing found me. Who knows?) In the last quarter of my 38th year I, in the spirit of Alice, fell deep down the rabbit hole. I bought a jump rope, gloves, and boxing shoes. Soon, I’ll secure headgear.
I rock the learning curve, sucking more wind than I ever have before.
But I do it all willingly. Every time I wrap my hands it is of my own volition. I slip on my gloves when I’d rather lie on the floor and take a nap. Each week I show up to learn the exquisite art of fighting: how to dodge punches, take hits, and move deftly on the offensive. Things every fighter, regardless of age, ought to know when they plan to enter the ring and find out what they’re actually made of.
I test the boundaries because of the lessons to be learned. Yes, the workout is great but boxing has helped me stare down innumerable demons. In less than nine months, it changed the way I think about life outside the ring. Knowing I can break and not shatter is beyond empowering. It is freeing.
I box because this body is more than capable.
I fight because I can. I don’t need any other reason.