I have been extremely lucky in my life that I have had several very good male friendships. Most of them have come through boxing, some of them haven’t. My kids get to watch us do something like have a super intense workout together in the gym and then come inside and have a deep conversation. They’ve grown up with men coming and going, but not probably in the way you might think as a single woman. These men feel free to stop by when they’re having a rough day, or in between clients, or after work to have a meal with our family. Sometimes they’re gone for a little while when their lives get busy, and sometimes they go through phases of being here every single day. It all just depends what all is going on in their lives, but my kids and I always know that they’ll be back—and they always know that they can always come back whenever they need us. Have you ever heard the phrase that women multiply anything that a man brings home? It goes a little bit like, “if you give her a house, she’ll make a home. If you give her food, she’ll make a meal. If you give her a seed, she’ll make a baby…” One of the most amazing things that I’ve been a part of in our gym is opening my doors and saying, “okay ladies, this is all I have, but you are welcome to anything that is here or is in me.” And watching all of them multiply it in their own way. I may have opened our doors, but they built what we call Lions Den.
To walk into our gym the first time might be a little weird for some people. First of all, we live out front from it. Even though there’s parking in the back, people still find themselves usually walking past the gym and into the house before going back out to warm up. There are usually kids running around. Sometimes it’s just mine and sometimes the kids out number the adults. I would say that ninety percent of the time there are snacks somewhere. We have bins instead of lockers for those who have become official in our competitive team, and when you look up, you see that our resident littlest lion cub has earned his own bin that he keeps his toys and diapers in because he’s here more than most of the boxers (that child isn’t mine and he still earned his bin over my own kids). Sometimes when you walk out to the gym thinking it’s a normal day, you reach up to grab wraps or a rope out of your bin and find that you’ve been left a present from a teammate who was just thinking about you, even if she’s been sick and out of the gym for months. On quieter days in the gym, I’ve been known to grab a notebook and direct the workout while helping you map out what’s bothering you so that we can find a solution to life problems together. I don’t know how many of our weights, stretch cords, or big exercise balls have come from people bringing what they had in their home in once they got serious at lions den. And things like kids’ clothes, shoes, and diapers that have been outgrown are regularly getting passed around the gym to the next lion cub’s mother.
You may be thinking, okay, I read about all of this in your team culture blog post, what’s the point? There is something unique about growing up female that doesn't even have a name. Somehow, the lack of privilege actually can become our privilege when we embrace it. I feel very strongly that the first time I ever through a punch I just knew, more than I’ve ever known anything else in my life, that my body was created to box. I knew so deeply that this. This is what was missing, this is where my future is. Being a 5’3 white woman with two tiny kids, a runner by first sport love (so imagine my build), coming out of an abusive relationship and very down on myself (not even very capable of making eye contact a lot of the time) wasn’t exactly who you’d think of to invest yourself in as a coach. Especially being in Indiana. Let’s be really honest: we’re very much a red state and those view points you can call “politics”, but they stem out of the culture that effects our everyday lives. Pence is renown for not thinking of women as people, and it shows walking around as a woman in this state how he was voted in here for so long. The boxing world is made up of people, and each state’s boxing culture is developed by those regular people. I have not been seen the same in the boxing world here as I would have in other states. I would often say, “I don’t know why, if God created me to do this, he made me be a woman and a woman built like this.” But I wouldn’t be the boxer I am if He hadn’t.
I VERY much know that if I had been born male, especially if I was larger, and I am white, that I would have been an asshole beyond any asshole you’ve ever met. I would not at all understand my privileges, and I would still have my crazy strong work ethic and stubbornness, so I would believe very deeply that if you didn’t have what you wanted in life then you just didn’t work hard like I did. I would have my abrasive, brass, truthful mouth, but those harsh words of truth would be spewed out of a physically intimidating body and never heard in love. Actually, I would probably never even really mean them very lovingly, because I wouldn’t have gone through most of the difficulties that I have in life that have shaped me into who I am if I wasn’t a woman. Actually, I’d be Connor McGregor. Yep. That’s who I’d be. Sure, I would have had other difficulties. I am certainly not claiming that white men grow up without any difficulties. They face tons! They just look very different than my own, and they shape the human differently. I am most definitely, definitely not claiming that men of color do not have any difficulties—in fact, I have been grateful so many, many times that I don’t have the same difficulties as men of color more than once as my friends sit with me talking. And for my amazingly strong and courageous women of color, I will never know the things that you go through on the day to day, but I am always a listening and learning person. I can’t always say “me too” to your daily difficulties, but I am always trying. I always want to change and grow. I know that shouldn’t be on you to change and grow me, but anything that I can do, I want to.
When you walk in our gym, male or female, we embrace you. We encourage you in love. It was not another female who taught me to coach like I do. It was a very strong man. He saw me when no one else did. He didn’t even speak much English when we first started, although you would never know that to talk to him now. He didn’t need it with me. He didn’t approach me yelling, but with quite strength, and with love. He demands a level of greatness that is far beyond the point I’ve ever seen in any other coach’s standards. And those who stay with him don’t have to be yelled at. He tells them and they do or die trying. In our gym, even those who don’t compete do or die trying. We stand with the same quiet strength. We encourage, we don’t break down. Boxing never lies to you, so trust me, it’ll break you down enough if you are humble enough to hear it’s truth. If you aren’t, you’ll get angrier and angrier as others surpass you who are willing to hear it’s truth. If you don’t work hard, you simply won’t make it. Don’t mistake our quiet strength for weakness. See, I believe that a unique thing about being a small woman in this giant Alpha male filled world is that I have never had the chance to lean on anything except “put up or shut up”.
As one larger male walked in the gym Saturday, he heard me still talking about trying to figure out this one movement I couldn’t seem to quite get right. “Are you seriously still talking about that??” my response was “Can I do it correctly at the drop of a hat yet?” He just walked away. I have never had the luxury to be able to say “oh, well, I just can’t do that so I’ll use something else.” I have never had the luxury of a coach regularly coaching me on the daily, so I have never just done things just because a coach told me to. I have always had to figure them out for myself, why and when to use them, what benefit do they have? For a short time, the coach I mentioned before would work with me once a twice a week, and he would take the extra few seconds to help me understand. That made all the difference in the world. I have never had the luxury to walk into any gym and grab some sparring. I had to prove myself for a very long time with little kids and small boys before they’d let me get to even anyone my size when I first showed up in a gym. I have never had the luxury of taking two or three days off and knowing that my push-ups will be the same. My muscles aren’t designed the same as the guys, especially as a 22-year-old male. As a 31-year-old female who’s had two kids, my muscles (especially in the chest and arms) go into atrophy much faster than theirs and take much more work to build up to do the same things.
When we all come to the table as women who have quietly stood strong behind everyone else, supporting their dreams, being pushed to the side, or quietly crying over our pain, fear, or the vulnerability that comes with being physically smaller, then those few beautiful opportunities that we have to be lifted up by other women turns into something quite unbelievable. I gave my women the least amount that you could even call a gym. When I first started coaching, just for free on Saturdays for women at a church, I had no education, no experience coaching, and I was still fighting as an amateur myself. I said, this is all I have, but please, please take it because you are worth so much more than you know. They took it—reluctantly for some who understood I was giving all I had—and they took seriously the responsibility to multiply it by everything that they had. No one told them to, it was in them from the understanding of what the sacrifice to them was. It was understanding out of a lack of privilege through life, that they would take the small gift and make it into the amazing, one of a kind place that it is now.
There are those who say that boxing is the loneliest sport. I have seen that. In so, so many of my closest male friends' lives before we met. But the funny thing is, I have never felt that. Even all of those years when I had no one in the gym, I always had my sister. I had my mom. I had my kids. Even though my dad wasn’t the biggest fan at first, he always showed up. Then, I had one teammate, and then another, and another. See, I think for women, we spend so much of our lives quietly fighting for those we love, rarely even giving ourselves a thought. Sometimes we live in such pain or exhaustion and no one even knows, and sometimes we quietly listen to so much pain of our sisters and watch so much exhaustion or frustration of our mothers and we don’t have any way to change it that when we finally have a place that we can be strong, that we can reach across the mat and hold another woman’s hand while she pushes through, that we can actually do something, anything to help another woman suffer less and see more of her own strength that it just explodes inside of us.
Yes, we hold each other to incredibly high standards. But it’s not out of out-doing each other. In fact, it’s often out of pushing as hard as we can to help her not quit because we know her strength even if we can’t see our own. It’s out of our joy of that strength and belief in the woman next to us. It’s out of the peace and joy that comes from actively being able to actually do something about a situation for her, even if that’s just explaining a technique or drilling with her that thing she’s struggling with, or screaming encouragement as you all finish that 100th burpee, when so much of our lives we can do nothing except listen as she cries or worries or sorts through the thousand things she has to get done in too few hours.
Our final female fight privilege is actually our lack of privilege. Simply being female in this world has shaped us in ways that we could otherwise not be shaped. No, we wouldn’t choose for our daughters to have that lack of privilege, we would love to change it for them. But because this is how we grew, out of it we have to gather together, grasping at all that it has given us, and making all of those little pieces of hardship from each of our lives into something so strong and so beautiful.