The next few weeks are called “Our Truth” because I have asked a few women who have stayed or gone within our gym to write something about what boxing means to them. Here, we remind ourselves that boxing is just a physical manifestation of the strength that is already there. This blog is meant to connect us together, and so many of us share similar stories—even the darkest and brightest parts of them--but we somehow end up feeling so alone in this boxing world. When you’re sweating out to a point of failure every single day, you create a sisterhood and intimacy with those around you whether you would have liked each other in the rest of life or not. You can’t hide anything, and the societal rules and nicities fall away—all that is left is your raw selves. There are so many sterotypes about who we are, and I think that adds to us feeling like we're alone and different.
It is my hope that by sharing a few of our women’s stories, we can begin to bridge that geographical gap that separates so many of us and create this same team atmosphere on a larger scale. Community is an extremely powerful thing. Even if we’re not all in the same city, state, or even country, we can begin to build that community. Sure, we have to get creative about it. We also have to force ourselves to become vulnerable when the boxing, sweat, blood, and tears aren’t forcing it out of us, but I believe we can do it. If you are a female boxer reading these and feel prompted to share your own story, please feel free to e-mail it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to stay anonymous, that is completely okay! Please let me know that in your e-mail, and please exclude any details that might identify you. We want to hear all perspectives and experiences. You don’t know who you might be helping at exactly the right time when they happen to read your story.
To relate my whole boxing story in one blog post would be impossible. Boxing isn't all of me like a whole lot of people think. I think that's the first thing I'd like to make clear. I am a whole person. Finding boxing didn't take away from who I'd been before it. It added to every aspect of me and made each of those other parts of myself shine: because I wasn't missing this big chunk of me anymore. Because I wasn't trying to use those to fill in for a whole giant piece that I was pretending wasn't missing. Because, as an adult, I became scared of the fact that that part of me even existed, so I shoved it down and filled it up with other things. I distinctly remember a few months of argument between my dad and me when I was about 12 because I very, very strongly wanted to join the middle school wrestling team. He absolutely put his foot down because I was female**. I think I had only wanted to do wrestling so badly because that was the closest thing I knew about to what would have filled this piece of me that I knew was missing. (Joke is a little bit on him since if I had, I bet you I'd be in the cage right now making bank).
At 25 though, I was in a very different place in life. For the first time really, I was unattached to any other adult’s will or pull on my life. I had just come out of an abusive marriage, and I wanted to do something that was just for me. My dad, and later my husband, had both been rather strict on conservative roles for women**, but I had always been athletic and had always wondered about boxing. For the first time, I was really my own, free willed person. I asked myself, if I was only allowing myself one new thing to try, what was it I’d always wanted. Boxing. It wasn’t even in competition with anything else. It had called to me since long before I even knew anything about it. No one in my family watched boxing, I knew no boxers, I had no reason for boxing to call to me other than it did. So I hired a personal trainer and began to learn.
The first time I threw that first punch (which I was absolutely awful at!) I had never felt anything like it. I don’t mean the actual punching. I mean the feeling that I was created specifically to do this thing. That something had always been missing from me, and this was it. I have frustrating days in the gym like everyone else, but when I wrap my hands, and I throw those first few loosing up punches to get into shadow boxing for the day, that first bell rings and I still feel that same joy and exhilaration, six years later, exactly the same as I did that first day. It’s my get right. I’m simply not whole without it.
Boxing gave me a voice when I had no words. Boxing gave me an outlet when I could not—and still can’t—identify names for feelings. Boxing was there for me when I didn’t even know what I needed. And I don’t just mean those first few years getting through my horrible divorce. I mean it’s there for me now. Life just goes to shit sometimes. Because that is life. It’s not going to stop as long as I continue to try to push boundaries—and let’s be honest, it’s not even if I’m not trying to push boundaries. So am I going to sit there and eat life’s punches? No. That’s never been me. I’m going to grab a rope, I’m going to wrap my hands. I’m going to clear my head of everything and let boxing sort through those half formed emotions and thoughts that I can’t organize without it’s help. The more I let go, falling headfirst into the boxing and out of life that surrounds the gym, the more truth boxing shows me. Sometimes gently, sometimes…especially when I’ve been particularly stubborn about resisting a truth in my life, it rocks me as it shows me that truth.
There is no where safer in the world for me than in the ring. I know exactly what can and cannot happen in there. I can completely relax when I step into that ring because I know I am, without a doubt, safer there than anywhere else in the world. For those glorious minutes of perfection, there are rules. There are only so many ways someone can hurt me—and only with their fists. They aren’t going to attack my children. The opponent is somewhere close to my size and strength. I’ve been training and am prepared for anything they throw. I can relax. This. This I know. There are no real surprise attacks in boxing, not like there are in life. Maybe that’s because we take the society part out? Or the human part out? We allow ourselves to let go into a whole other animal like place, using ourselves as weapons, not even caring that the same damage I’m throwing into your face is coming back up into my arm and into my shoulder. …but I don’t even like that term of it being “animalistic” because it’s not barbaric…it’s..it’s actually the most pure form of ourselves. Before society shaped us. For those glorious moments I can breathe, sit into my hips, and not even think. I don’t need to worry about the person across from me’s well being. She signed up for this too, and if I finish her then she should have trained harder. This was no more of a surprise to her than me. If I didn’t do her the honor of finishing her if I have the chance then I didn’t show her the respect that I would want to be shown if I enter that ring with a better opponent. The same goes for me: if someone holds back for a second or hesitates before they try to rock me with a punch I think to myself that I will show them that this is not the place for that. I can honestly let go and breathe and just let my body completely take over. I even know that someone has my back as they call. I’m not even alone!
I close my eyes as I shadow box sometimes. I know as my back nears the ropes, I know when to cut, pivot, when to back peddle while throwing straight punches. I know when to just use footwork as I relax into the music playing in the background and allow my mind to search through every movement I’ve ever watched in an opponent, a teammate, a film, a match, an idol. Actually, I don’t. My body does. I piece these all together in my mind into the best war I can imagine. Sometimes they have Kylee’s eyes. I fought her in Bloomington. Sometimes they’re Minigi’s eyes. Sometimes they’re the eyes of the girl in that very last match—I’m sorry, I can’t remember your name because there was so much else going on that night, but I do have the same respect for you that I have for every girl I’ve stepped across the ring from. My family and I prayed together before I stepped in there for both of us and your family and coaches like we always do before I step in there.
I call the place I go mentally my dark place. The funny part is, it sounds intimidating—and once upon a time it did rule my life in my darkest years. But boxing has allowed me to take control over that place inside of me that has always existed and always will. Now, I come and go from it in my time, and it’s become a safe haven. In there, it’s not so much dark as devoid of anything else. While it used to be a scary place that I didn’t know the way out of, now it’s the kind of dark that happens on a soft summer night when everything else in the world is so quiet and not even a breeze is passing through. It’s the kind of dark that you sink into and all feels right. And when I’m finished in that peaceful place, I can leave to head back into the rest of the world feeling refueled, rejuvenated, and like I’ve gotten myself untangled from the loud, bright, and sometimes overwhelmingly rambunctious life that surrounds us in the world outside of the gym. I walk back into that loud, bright world with fresh eyes, heart, and energy to tackle it. The dark place, a powerful part inside of me that I used to fear with all of my being, has become my most peaceful place as I handed it over to boxing to show me exactly how that power is actually me. …I had been scared of my own power this whole time.
I don’t know where my gym will end up. I stepped out on faith when we opened it. But I know that my world will always have to be inside of that of boxing. It will always be inside the world of women’s boxing. We have such important stories to tell. We have such important things to do. We’re already doing them. I am not the only one who deserves to know, without a doubt, that we are so strong in all that we face every single day, that we don’t even give ourselves credit for. The thing that most people consider to be the most dangerous thing you could go out and choose to do is my safe place. No one can rape me. No one can hurt my children. No one will attack me because I went for a run just a little too late, and by trying to get that extra mile in it got dark out. No one will misread me being friendly for more and then decide that they “deserve me” or any punishment they dole out that I said no, they don’t. What we walk through as women, every single day, is so scary that an enclosed space with someone punching you becomes your safe place. I want every woman to know her worth. To realize that she can put her foot down, and link her arms to other women who have put theirs down. We can do this.
**I would like to note that my dad has been to almost every single one of my matches no matter how much he hates watching me get hit or that I box. He has helped me with building my gym, and him and my mom get me boxing equipment for almost every present despite initial feelings about my participation.