When someone asks you to go boxing, it’s not the sort of invitation you accept without asking questions. I had two: “Are you going to hit me in the face?” and “Will there be blood?”
The retired United Methodist minister who invited me is congenial, witty and not the sort of man you would picture taking a swing at your face and breaking your nose, but all the same I felt better asking.
As it turns out, nobody in Marvin’s boxing class hits anybody else. They box heavy bags, speed bags and practice with two female trainers — one a three-time world champion boxer.
Oh, did I mention that all the boxers in the class have Parkinson’s?
Marvin was diagnosed at 61, a few months after he retired. Seven years later he’s still boxing, working to stave off the progression of Parkinson’s.
With any affliction, challenge or brick wall, when the determined ones can’t pass through, they hunt for a way around, under or over. It’s called grit.
Grit is what they develop at Rock Steady Boxing. It’s an intense 90-minute workout. They start with warm-up exercises in a ring that used to be a backup ring at Madison Square Garden years ago.
After their warm up, they hit the exercise machines and after that they don the gloves. Then they box against the heavy bags and the speed bags. Periodically, a trainer yells to drop and give her three pushups. Some shake, some tremble, some falter, but nobody quits.
The drill with the jump rope is fascinating. One man jump ropes the length of the gym, others lay the jump rope on the floor and practice jumping over it, back and forth, back and forth.
Making the feet move is hard for people with Parkinson’s. There is something about seeing a line that encourages the brain to tell the feet to step over it. Maybe it’s the same effect as signs that say “Wet Paint” or “Don’t Walk on the Grass.”
And then there is the drill with the focus pads. Focus pads are the baseball gloves of boxing. Trainers put a focus pad on each hand, and boxers punch into them, working on speed, endurance and agility. A trainer calls out a large man with an unsteady and halting gate. He turns toward her and nearly loses his footing. He hesitates. He doesn’t say anything verbally, but it looks like a body language no.
She calls him again. He lumbers over, raises his gloves and throws a punch. His stance is uncertain. She yells and he throws another punch. Then another. Left, right, left, right. She demands more of him. More and more. She’s pushing him hard, and if he falls it won’t be easy getting him back up.
He throws faster and faster, harder and harder. He has found a rhythm that a moment ago was beyond reach, or at least beyond my imagination. She slowly raises the focus pads higher and higher still yelling, challenging, encouraging. His punches follow her moves with a fluid grace. Her arms are extended as high as they will go. He reaches high and throws hard in complete and utter defiance to the forces working against him.
Determination 1, Challenges of Life, 0.
Lori Borgman is an Indianapolis columnist. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.