Friday, April 29, 2016

#19: Try Boxing

I made a discovery Thursday night:  I SUCK at boxing. Well, maybe not the act of punching itself, but all of the floor work you’ve gotta do to build your muscle and make your punches effective? SUCK. As I was filling out my entry paperwork for my trial class at Austin Boxing Babes, I’d selected the box that said my health was “Good.” In retrospect, “Fair” or below would have probably been more accurate. I was hoping that the running I’d been doing pretty consistently, along with elliptical and other cardio work, would make the warm-up exercises we’d do easier on me. I was fearing that the cold that’s lingered since I returned from Coachella over a week ago was going to impact me. I was dreading that feeling I got back in middle school, when I was trying out for volleyball and felt like I made a fool of myself, crying in pain as we did relays back and forth on the smelly gym court. We started out easy enough, with jumping jacks. I found myself keeping up easily, and felt excited — like, maybe I’ll be a lot better at this than I thought! We moved to front-kicking leg lift-type deals, and I was still hanging in. When our trainer said we were going to do squats, I had concerns, but I actually did OK (I didn’t go low, but I was able to do all the reps). Then…we partnered up. I was partnered with a very thin, short, and young-looking girl (maybe in middle or high school herself), and she seemed sad not to be paired with the friends she’d come to class with. I couldn’t blame her. At the direction of the trainer, we locked ankles and began doing sit ups — with our arms at our sides. I was used to cradling my neck and head when I did sit-ups, so what at first was a fun challenge quickly became a literal struggle. We had to do 30 or 40 sit-ups (I can’t remember how many now), and on the last 5-10, I found my body shaking under the struggle to get up high enough so I could continue high-fiving my buddy. Uh-oh, I thought. This is getting harder.

The next partner activity was for one of us to continue doing sit-ups while the other did burpees. I’d always heard this term before and thought it was disgusting, but I didn’t know what a burpee really was, so I asked the trainer to demonstrate. Oh. Oh, ok. It’s a leap into the air, a drop from a standing position into a push-up stance, a push-up, and then a jump back up to standing. In laymen’s terms: It’s actual, literal hell-on-earth torture. My partner, blessedly, offered to do those first while I had to continue doing sit-ups, waiting for her to hit 15. I was barely moving, mentally and physically becoming more and more distraught. When we switched, I found that I was more crawling into the push-up position, going from a standing position to a crouch, throwing one leg back and then sort of awkwardly walking the other back, then basically walking both feet towards my hands and standing. I did jump, though, I’ll give myself that. I wasn’t keeping a good count of how many reps I did, so I basically judged by the women around me — when they swapped, I swapped. From here, we had to bear crawl across the floor while our partner stayed propped on their elbows in a plank position. I’m guessing I looked like a dying soldier on the battlefield, dragging my body across the dirty gym mat more than what anyone would consider “crawling.” After this, we did push-ups, bicycles with our feet in the air, planks, sideways-twisty moves, and other activities where we were laying down but somehow I still couldn’t catch my breath.

Me, approximately (Photo by Valerie Abbott)

Once we were finally done with our floor warm-ups (about 20-25 minutes into the workout), I stood up and immediately felt lightheaded. The room wasn’t spinning, per se, but it definitely wasn’t standing still, either, and I tried drinking water to help myself get a grip. This did not help, unfortunately, and more upset my stomach than anything. I was partnered with a more experienced girl to help wrap my hands for shadow-boxing, and as she was wrapping the long length of cloth around and around my hand, wrist and fingers, I felt myself become more and more dizzy. I couldn’t tell if it was purely out of exhaustion from the most intense workout I’d half-assed my way through in forever, or a combination of that and still recovering from a cold that made it harder to breath than normal, or even an added layer of a panic attack (which I hadn’t had in weeks, thanks to a new medication) — whatever the causes, I knew I needed to sit down or I was going to pass out, vomit, or poop myself (maybe all three? Exciting!) I said to the stranger wrapping my hands, “Sorry about this, but can I sit down while you do this? I’m feeling light-headed.” She said, “Of course, I felt the same way when I started.” She talked to me about my Apple Watch and some other stuff — bless her heart, she was trying to distract me with small talk, but I was probably super pale-faced and losing it. The hand-wrapping didn’t help, either, because it was making me claustrophobic. After she finished, I put my head between my knees and my wrapped hands on my temples, trying to take deep breaths. After a couple minutes of sitting there, feeling sorry for myself, the trainer came over and checked in with me. I said, “Sorry, yeah, I just have anxiety actually and I think I’m - I didn’t think it’d be an issue, but I’ll be OK, just need to sit for a minute.” The trainer said, “OK!” and headed back to class, and her reaction made something in me snap.

As I caught my breath and got my footing, I realized — it WAS going to be OK. I was 29 years old participating in a voluntary boxing class. I didn’t need to cry or quit. And that’s when it happened — Beyonce popped into my head. From her latest album, a line from the track “Freedom” started playing in a loop in my head: “I’ma keep running ‘cause a winner don’t quit on themselves.” Yeah, it was embarrassing that I’d sucked so much at floor exercises. But the true defining action, in this moment, wasn’t whether someone would remember how much I sucked or make fun of me later — it had nothing to do with anyone but me. The defining action was, would I try again? Would I get back in the ring? Would I keep going? “I’ve got to try again,” I told myself, and stood back up and headed onto the mat.

This may seem like the obvious choice to a person more self-confident and less afraid of mistakes than I am, but this was a milestone for me. I’ve never enjoyed activities that are difficult for me, or that I’m not good at right away. Flash back to the volleyball tryouts — the very next day, I approached the coach and said I was removing myself from the tryouts altogether because volleyball wasn’t for me. I remember the coach laughing, but not fighting me on it. I think about how violin never came naturally to me, exactly, so I would dread practicing because I just wanted to be GOOD, already, right now! Academics came naturally to me, so I’d always relish in my straight A’s and my studiousness. But if it wasn’t easy, I was quick to dismiss it as something I just wasn’t into. Now, flash forward to Thursday night. I promised myself that, if after a good try (no fewer than 10 classes), I wasn’t genuinely loving boxing, then fine, I could try a different sport or exercise routine. But I had to at least try to make sure it wasn’t just that it was hard and I wasn’t good.

When I got back out on the mat with my wrapped hands, the trainer welcomed me back and quickly taught me a jab, a cross-body punch and a hook. I was able to memorize the moves in about two minutes, and suddenly I found myself putting on boxing gloves and heading to a body bag with a new partner. THIS was what I came for — letting it rip on that body bag was so satisfying, and while I have no idea if my stance was correct the whole time or if I was executing the moves accurately, I gave it all I had, taking little breaks when I got tired to get water and reminding myself to breathe. 

My partner was in the middle- or high-school crew that I’d stumbled upon, and I asked if they’d all signed up for classes together. She said she’d started with a friend and then all of their friends joined up, and then the other four girls in our group started talking to her about class (they hate woodworking, apparently, because the room is really hot). Later in our drills, when we were supposed to punch the bag as fast as we could, I encouraged my partner as I held the bag for her, saying, “Picture this is woodworking class, or your teacher or whatever!” She laughed and punched on.

After our bag drills, we did some stretching and cool down exercises, and when everything was over the trainer came and gave me a high five and we talked about next steps. Mine are simple:  I’m going to buy at least 10 classes, and give this thing a try, and once I’m physically better at it, if I still don’t find myself passionate about it, I’ll move on. But for now, I find myself fascinated by boxing, and sore the day after in all the right ways — a soreness that indicates growth, in my muscles, in my head, and in my heart.

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