I replay every moment in those few seconds while coach takes off my gloves. I know that everything always looks different when you’re inside. I try to remember if I even hit her with anything…actually, I can barely remember a thing. I hear Coach telling me how proud he is of me…I think he’s replaying something…I know he’s excited even though I can barely hear or understand him through my breathing. Oh wait...he’s telling me to go over to the other coaches. I try my best to jog, but my legs are complete jelly. When did that happen? Actually…I can’t even feel my arms…oh wait, there they are…wow…now they’re lead. I sincerely tell the other coach thank you and good job. I incredibly appreciate any chance to have been in the ring. I’m trying to jog back, but I stop to hug the girl and give her a fist bump. We now know each other in a way only very few of us will ever know each other. Her eyes will forever be ingrained in my memory, her movements in my sparing.
As I make my way back and then get called to the center I do a final run down of anything I can remember. I did everything I could. There was nothing left in me at the end of the last round. I played every card I had, I used every tool in my tool belt, my corner was the best I’ve ever had and he gave me everything that he had and then some. I have to know, in my core, what my answer is before they raise someone’s hand. Yes. Yes. He and I did everything and gave everything. Everything that I can remember of the fight, I won that. Okay. I hear them saying numbers. My coach is grabbing me, my hand is raised. I’m trying to get down these stupid stairs…why do they put stairs here when I can barely hold myself up? I hear my voice saying over and over to the doctor that I won…oh great. Pull it together woman or he’s going to think you have brain damage or something…oh wait, he doesn’t care. Okay. Arms. My sisters arms around me. I’m using her to hold me up, I’m crying. I’m always crying--after win or lose. I have nothing left to even keep myself together, I gave it all in there like I always do.
When did I win that match? I won it a long time before I ever stepped inside that ring. I won it on every early morning workout before I went to work a million hours, only taking two breaks: 1 for my own conditioning of the day and one for team practice. My coach won it for me every late night he spent in the gym with me running pads when everyone else had gone home…even the wrestlers were leaving that had their practice after the big team practice was finished—that’s when we got our best work in. He won it with me every Friday and Sunday when we and two others were the only ones in the gym. His wife and kids and my kids won it for me every one of those late practices or early morning runs that they sacrificed their own family time all for me to step in and represent us. My sister won it as she listened every day to things that didn’t even make sense to her, but she was going to be damned if she wouldn’t look it up and be the research queen. She won it when she loaded her kid up to drive me right after I finished my homework down south to the fight and made sure I was there in plenty of time for weigh ins, to stretch, recover, and eat. I won it by ever single push-up I stayed late to do that I didn’t even know I still had in me. My family won it every time we had holiday and family meals and they asked me what would be the best separate meal for me that they could prepare to be on track. They won it when I wanted to sneak a bite of their food from the meal and they reminded me that I wanted something bigger. My teammates won it every time they were willing to come in early or stay late to do extra drilling, conditioning, or sparring. We won it together every time my opponent didn’t show up and we found another match and I re-cut my weight and refocused.
- - - - -- -
I thought of all of this as I stood across the ring from one of my newest boxers. She had asked what happened about a friend who was mad when he sparred and hurt another friend. She had tears in her eyes as she began to understand how deep the love between us in our boxing family runs. Love that she’d begun to understand, but hadn’t yet experienced in the way those of us at the end of our careers know the love to be.
“Julio* took it for him, he took it for me, and he took it because Paul would have taken it for him too. In boxing, it brings all the rocks in your stomach that you’ve been carrying around for years and didn’t even know up to the surface. Maybe they’re anger, maybe they’re fear, maybe they’re pride, it doesn’t matter. You didn’t even know you had them there because you’re so used to walking around with them. But boxing doesn’t just bring them to the surface, with the right team and coach, it brings them up—one by one—to heal you from them, together. Paul has been carrying this weight for at least five or six years. He had to deal with it. It finally had reached the surface, and together, we’ll all take a piece of that rock and break it up. Because we love each other, we trust each other, and we want the best for each other. In boxing, if you don’t have trust and love with your sparing partners and coach, you are doomed. Because eventually, the rocks will come up. Will you partner help you get it out and help you smash it? Or will he take hold of it and smash you with it when it comes up? Or will he tell you to shove it back down and leave it for an opponent to use against you later?”
What does love look like? For me, I have never known love bigger than this:
What are you even looking at?
There’s so much here I can’t even begin to tell you if you don’t understand from looking at these. The trust that it takes. The times that we have broken each other on accident, and the other person took it—because your healing was more important to them then their own face or ribs, or even that up coming fight that they’d been building towards their entire career—gone now because you needed to let go and heal. The times that we showed each other our mistakes in love instead of letting our opponents show each us as an opportunity to finish us off. The times that we’ve shown up for sparring because we had a big fight coming up even though the other had a big date she’d been dying for a year to have, and now knew she’d now be going busted up. The times that after that busting up we went back to the other’s place and took the swelling down and applied our magic make up solutions to help cover up and kind of face busting to make sure that first date went perfectly. The times that we’ve put locks on all the cabinets and fridge to make sure the other made weight—literally, not even a joke. The times that we have broken each other’s face so permanently that we ended their career…but we know that they needed to do that, and we are still best friends and train together, giving up everything to make sure the one who can still fight is ready. The times that we watched each other’s kids. The times that we cried while sparring or said “I need one more round” while we let the tears mix up with blood and run down, and nothing was said.
So what is love? To me, this is it. Those who said “Ride or Die” often don’t even really know what it means. Yes. He broke me. He needed it, and I care more about him than myself. They sacrificed everything for me to be in that ring. They sacrificed more than me sometimes, and I will always be happy to sacrifice all that I have for their time in the ring. Their wives, girlfriends, first dates, and kids are all mixed into the blood and tears, the opponents backing out, the accidental face and rib breakings, the training at 2 am after you’ve both worked a double and have to be done in time to get your kids up and ready and off to school. What does it mean to be a fight family? What does it mean to step into that ring and represent? It means to have more love and joy and fierce, fierce fire in your entire body then I’ve ever felt in my entire life.