We recently had guests stay with us who were attending the 2013 Ringside World Championships boxing tournament. This is the first year that the tournament was held in the new Independence Events Center. It was an amazing experience. There are several insights that I would like to share.
I never was a boxing fan or even had any real understanding about the sport or the people who live that life. And I do mean “live.” It is not something that is taken lightly, for to be successful you must eat for the sport, live your daily life in a way that is centered around the training and conditioning necessary, even sleeping revolves around a different schedule. A strict discipline of mind and body are essential. The commitment it takes is astounding. What I saw in just a few days was a mere tip of the iceberg.
One small group of boxers arrived from far to the east, Philadelphia. Six guys crammed into a small car for an amazing eighteen hour trip. If that wasn’t enough, upon arrival they crammed into our largest room and stayed together, supporting and encouraging each other for the next five days. Late that night they ate one can of tuna and a few crackers and then went for a long run. Some of them wrapped in plastic, sweating, to maintain their body weight within a few pounds. All of this is critical control as in a few days it would be time to weigh in. They must qualify for their weight class. The next morning was more of the same, sleeping, running and even finding a local gym that they sometimes used into the night.
It was so very different than my own life.
In the first few days, we began to get to know one another. I am talking about conversations of their lives and backgrounds. It is not like the gritty “Rocky” scenes that you see in the movies. These are men who have stories, aspirations, and struggles. Boxing became real for me then. I connected to the humanity of it all. I connected to the ones who had entered my life. My family went to the Independence Events Center and watched them in the ring. I cared, I cheered, and shared the disappointment when they had their first nights of losses and in that one stroke, for them it was over. But, the team stayed. They cheered each other on. Victory for one would be a victory for them all. They had pride in their home gym. The others continued to train while they waited for their one chance in the ring.
I have never cooked so many egg whites or turkey bacon in my life! We went through ten dozen eggs this week. Out went the B&B menu and I began cooking for “my boys.” Some started calling me Mom. I was the house Mama. They could look up into the stands and there I was, watching for them.
Another group of boxers was a family from Kansas who stayed in our beach cottage. They have a gym and their son and his teammates came to fight. This family lives for boxing, and their son’s success. He is a champion, aged 15. You would never know it. He is gentle and humble. His extremely conditioned body would be the only tip off of a dedicated athlete. His family has drive and passion not only for their own son, but the other boys at the gym. These gym owners literally fund the location, equipment, and trips out of their own pockets. Why? Because they care. Many of these boxing clubs are located in areas with low incomes, gangs and the like. The boys they help have little, but what they get from boxing is beyond measure. They turn a cocky young boy with attitude into a conditioned, disciplined young man. I appreciated the heart they have and they way they give of themselves. The dad has a regular job, a cattle farm, and works at their gym every night from 4-8 pm. While they were here they had some car problems. There he was, out in the parking lot, with those boys, pulling the tires and brakes off. He was teaching them outside of the ring. Those life skills will be a valuable asset to them. His wife was totally supportive. The two of us ran to the auto store to get parts that they needed. She is making a difference in the lives of these young men. They treat her with respect and she cares about them. She is an amazing lady. Her husband told me that and so did her son. This husband and wife are a team with passion and purpose. I now consider them friends.
A coach from St. Louis stayed with us while his team fought. He had 3 young fighters, somewhat green, here to experience this huge event. It is important experience to gain. There were six rings set up for the tournament, with boxing matches going on continuously. That is a lot of commotion and noise. While the fights are going on there is cheering and mass confusion in the room. Each boxer needs to learn to focus, tune out the distractions and spectators so that they can hear the coaches shouting to them instructions during the match. It is difficult at best. This was a time for the St. Louis group to learn as well as compete.
Breakfast was a grand time. Since I had a house full of boxing people, the conversation flowed freely and friendly. They made connections. They shared stories. They also had the same experience as me. I heard them talking about life and shared interests outside of boxing. They were getting to know each other, making new friends. I was proud for that to be happening at the Silver Heart Inn. I felt a small part in the bigger picture.
The other guest is a retired boxer and now a gym owner from far away Canada. He has always wanted to come to the Ringside Tournament. He may have arrived alone but soon found many new friends. He is a gentle soul with a passion for the craft of boxing. He shared with me a dream of coming to the USA and opening a gym here. He described a feeling of destiny every time he has come to the U.S. He wants to change lives too. He loves the diversity of the U.S. and our many landscapes across it. But what he would choose is the inner city where he can reach more boys and touch more lives. Maybe we all want to leave our mark in the world. I think that the greatest contribution that we can leave behind is the lives we have touched. We may never know what a difference we might make on one person. I had this conversation with one of the young men from Philly. What is the difference between ordinary and exceptional? I think our friend from Canada wants to give these young men a chance to live an exceptional life. I admire him and hope that he gets the chance to live his dream. He is a very kind man with a huge heart. I will definitely be keeping in touch to see how his future plans unfold.
The tournament ended today and most of my new friends have gone home. Tomorrow our friend from Canada will depart. Somehow I am sad, the Silver Heart Inn seems empty without all of them. Boxing has made me a better person. My own world is bigger.
What I take away from all of this is that I have looked through the sport and have seen the people. Pain, desire, aspiration, disappointment, joy and above all passion and commitment. I just want to thank all of you for becoming a part of my world. You are people, just like me, striving to live your dreams. You are extraordinary.