Pandora’s Box is open. This post is a narrative summary of my first (real) nine minutes in the ring.
Coach has a way of tricking you into things. He does it all the time, luring in his charges by playing off some ridiculously, intense exercise as a modified workout. Or by slapping a nonchalant look on his face when he says there’s only three minutes of heavy bag work to complete before calling it day.
I’ve learned to be as wary of his casual indifference as much as his enthusiasm. When either crosses his face or reverberates in his voice I take a step back and start running the calculation. What is he up to? Where are the torture devices? He’s turned this into a challenge. How many minutes are left in the session?
However, last week I got conned. Too much in my head, I let my guard down. On Thursday, Coach instructed me to bring my headgear. I’d wear it while we worked the mitts. I had to learn how to move around, fully geared up.
It was time to learn how to survive in it.
But I thought I’d wear the headpiece for fifteen or twenty before we moved on to something else. Coach had other ideas, however. I’m pretty sure his mental wheels burned rubber the second I pulled the gear from my bag and slipped it on my head.
With a camera set up, off to the side, I hit the pads. I pivoted and rolled. Coach threw shots to the body, encouraging me to block. We got down to business until I got too hot under the collar and the sweat poured down my face. The headgear shifted, ever so slightly, against my skull. The bell in the corner blared several times over.
I thought we were done at that point but Coach, obviously, had other designs. He told me to take a quick break while he grabbed some things but, at no point, was I to remove my gloves or headgear. We weren’t finished. Not even close. Not yet.
Next thing I knew he stood in front of me with his own red bonnet strapped on his head. He smirked and, casually, threw down the gauntlet.
Let’s go. Get in the ring,” he said.
I shook my head and looked around for support, knowing there was none to receive. Coach moved his tripod ringside as I contemplated my options, which were either climb the stairs and step through the ropes (#letscrossover) or execute my exit strategy.
In all frankness, I wanted to run. Although grandstanding is a part of athletics it’s been a long while since I’ve stood in the spotlight. It was unsettling to think about getting in the ring to only have all the hard work I’d put in turn to dust. Plus, my shadow side taunted me with reminders of awkward missteps, potential what-ifs, and countless past failures.
But Coach waited, and I’m not a quitter. A forced surrender isn’t my jam. I might get tired, resentful even, of continually jumping the hurdles placed on my path. Yet, I know the journey isn’t about the end point. It’s about being present for each experience.
So I stepped through the ropes and listened to Coach’s instruction before the first bell rang. We touched gloves. I glued my hands to my face. And my first, true, three minutes in hell began.
As I shuffled across the canvas I tried to remember everything I’d been taught. The following is what zipped through my head that round, and the two that came shortly after.
I can’t breathe. It’s too hot.
This headgear can go to hell, the mouthguard too.
Coach is fucking fast and I’m tired of chasing him around the ring.
Damn, my hook is good…
…so is my cross. Use them both, please.
Where is the bell? Where is the bell?!
I might pass out. I need that bell to ring.
These ropes suck, I’ve got nothing when pinned against them.
Quit doubting yourself and punch your way out, Baby.
Wait? We’re done, Coach? It’s been three rounds already?
I’m pretty sure I’ve got a couple rounds left in me.
In the aftermath, I stretched in a corner of the gym and thought about what transpired. I considered my mistakes. I reviewed the things I’d done well. And, as my heartbeat settled back into its natural rhythm, I gave myself a small pat on the shoulder.
I had stared down my fear and slapped it around. In fact, I’d succeeded in clearing another hurdle. And I did it with grace—at least as much as I could muster. Most importantly, I understood that my first time in the ring won’t be the last.
Are you surprised? I’m not. I can’t wait to do it all over again.