“I tried surfing once, but I got sucked under the white. Thought I was going to drown!” said Cornell, giving me an air jab. “I took up fishing. You don’t drown in fishing.”
“You don’t drown in boxing, either,” I observed.
I was sharing the glory of boxing drills with rambunctious teenaged boys. I’d done three rounds of three-minute mitt work with Jesse, a 15-year-old competitive boxer who channelled teen angst toward messing up my balance. But I stood my ground, my catcher’s glove- type mitts resisting his every punch. Jesse never went easy on me, though I was 30-something years his senior. At my boxing gym, it’s all ages, all sizes, all levels in the ring together: One for all, all for your best workout.
Cornell was a line cook at a restaurant I worked at. He liked to shadowbox the dishwashers when they came into the kitchen and throw punches at me through the grill window. Cornell loved hearing my boxing stories, but he himself was a die-hard fisherman.
I’ve been training at a boxing gym for six years, but I hadn’t been fishing since I was six years old. I remember worms on a hook and staring into a lake, summer sun in my eye, and elbowing my big brother whenever I thought I had a bite.
“I always loved fishing outings,” I assured Cornell.”I just don’t recall breaking a sweat.”
It was timely, this confluence of fishing and boxing. Our pre-shift banter grew livelier.
“Speaking of boxing v. fishing," I said, clearing my throat. “From ESPN’s Ultimate Degree of Difficulty Grid. And I quote: ‘Take the word of our panel of experts, a group made up of sports scientists from the United States Olympic Committee, of academicians who study the science of muscles and movement, of a star two-sport athlete, and of journalists who spend their professional lives watching athletes succeed and fail...Boxing is the most demanding sport -- and fishing is the least demanding sport.’”
Cornell scoffed. “Well I don’t know ‘bout all that,” he said. “Fishing? The least demanding sport?”
He faked a left hook, then struggled with what looked to be a blue whale. “We’d best table this for a bit,” he announced.
“Sure thing” I said, with a chuckle. I didn’t need a panel of experts to understand the benefits of boxing.
As an athlete, I’ve always found my flow through more extreme sports. Snow skiing 12,000-foot peaks and rock climbing my way out of 1,000-foot canyons rank as personal summits, both physically and spiritually. When life choices led from alpine to a more urban existence, both body and soul craved the exhilaration, the challenge, the level of outdoor exertion that had long defined me.
I walked into a boxing gym, and things changed. From that first round of movement, boxing became my new landscape. The benefits of boxing have permeated all aspects of my life, from total body workouts to ongoing mental conditioning; from personal bests to a fluid, flexible mindset—in the gym, and in life. And like any enterprise I’m passionate about, I always want to learn more.
From boxing biographies to contemporary findings, the benefits of boxing abound. “A boxing workout incorporates the movement of all of the body’s muscles. Unlike other workout regimens that focus on a certain group of muscles only, boxing will help you train your upper body and lower body muscles at the same time,” says bodybuilding.com.
I’ve felt that head to toe soreness that puts me to sleep on otherwise restless nights, and the kind of appetite that comes from really pushing yourself.
Increased cardio from running, jumping rope, and moving your feet back and forth, side to side, training to outwit your own shadow before trying your gloves on a partner—the cumulative benefits of constant movement cannot be overstated.
The experts agree. Says expertboxing.com’s Beginner’s Guide to Boxing: “Boxing is a great workout, perhaps the most challenging of all sports. Requires speed, agility, finesse, power, endurance, and ultimate mental toughness. Boxing pushes you like no other.”
Like climbing, I took to boxing immediately. I didn’t know what I was doing, of course-- had no technique to speak of--but that didn’t preclude the essence of the movement, nor my enjoyment of it. One of the greatest benefits of boxing is its ability to benefit all levels of practitioners.
To each her own, at her own level of challenge. Like anything you sink yourself into, you grow more experienced—and stronger—every time. “Boxing is incredible for people at all levels of fitness. If your goal is to build lean muscle mass or lose weight, boxing can help with that,” says Tommy Duquette, former USA National Boxing champion, on classpass.com.
Stress release may be one of boxing’s greatest gifts to boxers of all ages. When her kid gets bullied, a mom stops by the gym—not to develop his street fighting skills; to develop his confidence. A month goes by, and the 8-year-old with the stutter beings to hold long conversations around the heavy bag; the shy little girl who was shunned at school walks a little taller now and smiles a lot more.
For me, boxing channels whatever needs release—from the irksome nature of adulting to interpersonal challenges or frustration. While the heavy bag occasionally has a face, I’m learning to harness the power of whatever weighs heaviest on my mind.
“Boxing’s not about being mad,” said one of my first mentors, watching me scowl at my inanimate target. “It’s about being focused.”
“Boxing takes you further than you ever thought possible,” I said to Cornell, revisiting expertboxing.com and one of my favourite passages about the sport. “Boxing makes you more alive than ever, more humble in defeat, and most glorious in victory. Boxing reveals the true fighter deep inside every single one of us.”
He nodded in appreciation. We’d resumed the debate, or parts of it, anyway;
Cornell just wanted to raise fishing’s ranking a bit. He fully endorsed boxing as the culmination of proper exertion.
“There’s glory in fishing,” he said. “And, it’s hard work!” I gave him a look. “You ever wrestle a 400-pound stingray?” he asked.
Neither had Cornell, but his fishing hero had. We YouTubed highlights from Jeremy Wade’s Rivermonsters, Cornell’s extreme fishing go-to. I conceded the fight.
REVISED FINDINGS/CORRECTION: Barring a tussle with a 7-foot-long alligator and/or dragging a 161-pound goon catfish the length of a riverbed, fishing is likely the least demanding sport.
Boxing is still the most.
Photo Credit: Dawn Dexter