Success … depends on the ability to sustain discomfort for prolonged periods of time. All it takes to relieve it is to stop — and that’s what we’re fighting against, all the time… It’s about winning the battle against the urge to stop.
- Ultramarathon runner Ted Corbitt as quoted by Sam Sheridan.
Before heading out to the fight, I walked into an empty church and sat in one of her dark stained pews. I haven’t been to church in some time, but a lot of boxers pray and I wasn’t about to mess with tradition. There was an older gentlemen at the piano, tuning the keys, hitting the same note over and over again, slightly adjusting the tightness of each string. There were eighty-eight keys he planned to go through but it didn’t bother me. In fact, for first time in a very long while I wasn’t bothered at all. I sat in church not because I was suffering and needed relief, not because I did something stupid and needed forgiveness, not because I was confused and wanted to ask why. Instead I sat there, visualizing the fight in front of me, before my God.
I went over the plan: the combinations, the footwork, the bobbing and weaving. I closed my elbows in, put my guard up and shifted my weight around in my seat, colluding in a prayer of strategy. As the wooden pew squeaked underneath me, I wondered aloud if it were okay to go over such things in the solemnity of a church. Maybe any reason to come to church would be a good reason. To balance out any ill will, I prayed for the safety and protection of my opponent. For myself, I humbly asked for courage, strength and determination, then went back to the business of preparation. I was crossing my t‘s and dotting my i’s, but something was still missing.
I sat there searching, and then, during the Lord’s Prayer, I remembered what this fight was all about: that somehow this would serve the work we are called to do. When I realized that, my focused changed. I realized this wasn’t about just me. I remembered it was about who and what I was fighting for. I didn’t know exactly how it all was supposed to fit in — I left it up to the big guy to worry about — but a calm came over me. I trained very hard for this moment, this opportunity, this first step towards the Golden Gloves. Now it was a matter of doing the job. Everything else was secondary. I was ready.
Nine hours later, however, it all went out the window. We were at the venue waiting for our turn and for the first time that night I saw my opponent across from me. My coach noticed I got nervous. “You alright?”
“No,” I said. “I’m scared.”
She was a significantly shorter but we weighed the same — meaning the muscles in her arms, her calves and her thighs were very, very big. Depleted from not eating properly (to make weight), and realizing that time had been inching past my usual 10:30pm bedtime, I didn’t know if I had enough physical resources to put it together. Add to that the fact that I would be toe to tow with someone physically more powerful and I began to panic. Would I even make it past the first round? I had all this nervous energy. I started to shadowbox, but my coach told me to stop and save it for the ring. I had to psych myself up some other way.
Okay, you’ve prepared well. You’ve gotten hit with big shots before. You can take her. She can’t hurt you more than you’ve already been hurt.
We were up next. A rush of adrenaline overtook me.
The bell rung and she went straight for my body. POW-POW-POW! It was a blur after that. It was fast paced, intense and close. She kept going for my body, swinging for my head. She caught me with hooks, body shots, body blows. All power punches, all heavy handed. Is this what it’s supposed to be like for my first fight?
Two rounds past and it didn’t look good. My coach sat me down. I was breathing heavily. They lifted my arms up. He said, “Look, I’m not going to lie to you — you lost that round. You lost that round! Is this what you wanted? Is this why you trained so hard? For you to lose? All your hard work, all your training! You have one more round and you have to do better, you’ve got to throw more punches to win this fight, you got it?”
I nodded my head and with a fierce look in my eyes I threw everything I had. I was tired, I was out of breath and I didn’t know if I was going to win, if my form was proper, if I had any power behind my punches, but I gave it as much as I could. A minute into the round the ref told us to break — my opponent’s headgear shifted around for the third time and her corner needed to fix it.
Standing in the neutral corner, gasping for air, I was thinking, Oh my gosh, this is never going to end, it just won’t end! The gods are prolonging the pain! I just want to eat!
And then I said to myself, What am I saying? Why am I complaining? This is what you wanted. This is your first opportunity, your first fight, right here before you! Here, look, just don’t quit. Don’t quit. This is what it’s all about, you take the punches and you keep on hitting, you keep moving forward. It’s up to you now to find it, to get it done. No one else. Don’t quit. There’s only a few more seconds to your first fight, you’ve got to give it all you have. It’s up to you. YOU have to decide if you want it badly enough! Do you?!!
I did. Once we began to fight again I caught on that my opponent was swinging as if she were trying to knock me out. Knock outs in amateurs are few and far between, even rarer for women. But is she really trying to knock me out? In our first amateur fight?Okay, well, if this is the game she wants to play, let me show you how it’s done!!!
That’s when I began throwing combinations with no mercy. Her guard fell and I did my best to land consecutive, unrelenting power punches. In the last few minutes of the fight, I wasn’t pretending to box, I wasn’t pretending to fight. I became a fighter. I brought it to her and closed it out. The final bell rung, she, whether intentionally or not, threw in a cheap shot. I approached her, still in the zone, looking at her as if saying, you still want a piece of me?! The ref had to break us up and make us touch gloves.
Exhausted, out of breath and still trying to figure out what just happened in the past nine minutes, the ref took each hand and waited for the decision to be announced. “Good job guys, real close. Too bad there’s only one winner. 2-1-Split.”
I said to myself, It’s okay if I lost, I fought hard, I’ll learn from this. I tried my best.
“And your winner, from the BLUE corner, Amanda Wang.”
Oh Shoot!!!! Did they just say my name?!! What?!! I was shocked. I gathered my composure and shook hands with my opponent, with her corner. I went back, still in shock. I couldn’t believe it. Somehow, we won. We did it.
A few days passed and my coach said to me, “You must be happy.”
“Happy about what?”
“That you won.”
My coach is always testing his fighters, seeing what they’re made of. I could tell he was challenging me, so I thought about it before I opened my mouth. Sure I experienced something I’ve never felt before — working so hard for something until the very end, pushing with all your might and realizing what it feels like when athletes talk of determination, willpower and never quitting. I know I’m just an amateur, but I’ve never physically and mentally prepared so hard for something, so much so that in a weird way I didn’t want to connect all that work with just winning or losing.
Yes, the object of the sport is to win. Sure I had a big smile on my face; I was shocked, elated and riding a high. But the highs of the night fade away, crowds disperse into the parking lot and time continues to move forward. It’s sobering. It’s humbling. If I didn’t learn anything except that I won, then it would be hard to consider myself a fighter.
Fighters comes back to the gym and pick up where they left off. They listen to the lessons the match spoke of and grow from it. The fight has broken them down and now they must build themselves back up again. They prepare harder, smarter; they know that somehow, someway, the next fight will test them even further. They ask more from themselves, wondering whether or not they’re training harder than their opponent… because when you enter the ring, you can’t save it up for later. You have to leave it all out there on the floor.
I told my coach, with a serious face, “It’s not about winning. It’s about the fight.”
He looked at me with a smile. I think I passed the test.
*Special thanks goes out to all those who cheered me on, for your support, prayers and good vibes. To my coach Moises, my sparring partners Karen, Kevin, Ed, Hector & Susanna and everyone who helped prepare me for my first fight, I could not have done any of this without you. Thank you for getting me one step closer.
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