Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My Brief Career as a Boxer*

Dear George,

Antioch focused heavily on the life of the mind, but the college did require freshmen to take a token year of Phys Ed. I signed up for tennis the first quarter because I’d played a lot and that seemed easiest My roommate, Ross, however, took boxing, and he let me know each week how great it was. I was already jealous of Ross from his constant bragging about his high school experience in New York City, and his boxing stories just made me more bitter. Ross was short and overweight, and I couldn’t believe he was such a masterful boxer. I was busy struggling with late adolescent masculinity issues, and boxing seemed like a really manly thing to do. I decided that Ross’s boxing class was just what I needed.

I signed up for the Winter quarter. The teacher was Coach Mike O’Geary. Mike was Antioch’s only Phys Ed teacher, and he taught football, basketball, golf, swimming, badminton, volleyball, archery, and whatever else the college needed. Boxing, however, was Coach O’Geary’s forte since he had been a professional boxer himself (and had the remnants of an oft-broken nose to prove it). I was taken aback at the first class meeting because nearly all of my classmates looked like villains from James Bond movies. I started keeping track in the college cafeteria, and, literally, all the tallest, heaviest males on campus were in my boxing class. There was one other kid named Andy who was my size at 150 pounds, but everybody else was at least 6-1 and weighed upwards of 200 .

During the first two weeks Coach O’Geary taught us the rudiments of the sport – footwork, feints, hooks and jabs, uppercuts, offense and defense, etc. Then all our class sessions consisted of dividing up into pairs and sparring with one another. Needless to say, I was paired up with one burly opponent after the next, and they pretty much used me as a punching bag. Though we wore headgear and Coach O’Geary had given advice to keep people from getting hurt, I left every class session with a throbbing headache. My only relief came when I fought a muscular senior named Jack. Jack was the best boxer in the class, and he used me to practice his defense. He’d instruct me to try to hit him in the face as hard as I could, and he promised not to hit me back. As first I was wary, but then I’d start throwing lefts and rights until I got exhausted. Jack fended off my every punch with ease. I don’t think I ever connected a single time. Then for the last thirty seconds of our bouts, he’d practice punching me. Rat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat, machine gun blows to my forehead and chest, one after another. Jack didn’t hit me that hard, or otherwise I would have been killed, but it was clear that he could have knocked me out any time he chose to.

There were nine other guys in the class, so one-ninth of the time I would get paired up with Andy, the other boxer in my weight class. We’d often commiserate after class about facing such big opponents. However, when Andy and I would fight, we would go all out, each of us trying to knock the other to the canvas. Andy was the only person I ever got to hit a lot, and vice versa. Neither one of us was very effective, but, because it was our only chance, we were each insanely determined to pulverize one another.

A few weeks after I’d started I confronted my roommate Ross about boxing class. I said it was like going in and being murdered every time. Ross said that’s how it had been for him too. He said it had been a terrible experience, and he was overjoyed when the quarter came to an end. Incredulous, I asked him why he’d told me it was so great. He looked kind of apologetic and said he hadn’t wanted to appear like a wimp. A couple of months later we were at a party in the women’s dorm, and, after a few beers, I told Ross I wanted to duke it out with him. I said that, since we’d both taken boxing, we should go outdoors and see who was the better boxer. Ross laughed and slapped me on the shoulder. He thought I was joking. I was worked up and completely serious, but Ross just said I’d had too much to drink. That was the last time I’ve ever tried to pick a fight with anybody. It’s just as well. But, if the occasion ever arises in the future, I still have those fisticuff skills that Coach O’Geary instilled in me. I’m not sure if boxing was my best college class. But it was definitely the most memorable.



*Pseudonyms used in this story

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-Jennifer M (2-8): :-)