Boxing offers challenges enough for pretty much anyone who considers taking it on. Which means most people who try it have guts… and plenty of great stories. In my last post I talked about the critical nature of training yourself to hear your coach, and received some very interesting input from a boxer who has never actually heard her coach. Because she’s deaf.
Meet Sarah. She’s 40 years old, living in Chicago with her partner and her 4 year old daughter. She’s been deaf since the age of three. Sarah has been boxing off and on since 2003, and recently had her first competitive boxing match. She graciously agreed to let me interview her about boxing, about training, and about the challenges she faces in the ring.
How did you get started in boxing?
I always wanted to learn a martial art, even as a young child. I remember putting on red mittens when I was in grade school, trying to convince my sister to “pretend” box. In 2003, when I was going through a difficult time, a friend said “Tomorrow, do something you always wanted to try.” So I called Spears Boxing went the next day. At the time, I thought I was too old to start, which is hilarious to me now. I loved it, and have boxed on and off every since.
What does your family think about your boxing?
It varies depending on who you ask! My partner supports it, she always says “I see how happy it makes you, so I want you to keep doing it.” My mother doesn’t like it, and forwards me articles about head injuries. My sister trains with me, although she doesn’t spar. My daughter knows that I “go to boxing” but she doesn’t know it involves hitting actual people.
It is very hard to balance family and boxing. I have to have child care arranged (either from my partner or someone else) for every minute I spend in the gym. That really limits how much time I can devote to it.
How does being deaf affect your training?
If I wear my hearing aids, I can hear my coach a little bit in regular training, but I don’t always wear them because sweat is not good for them. Being deaf affects me the most in sparring, because I definitely can’t wear my hearing aids under head gear. I generally do not hear any of the bells. I don’t know when to start or end a round, or when the 30 second bell rings. I don’t hear the coach yelling instructions at me. So I miss that aspect of coaching. I also I can’t lip read anyone wearing a mouth guard!
For sparring, I always am careful to let any new sparring partner know I can’t hear. They have have to keep their guard up until I realize the round is over, because I can’t hear the bell to stop. Usually the person will just step back and wave me off. When I had my one actual match, the referee had to break us up more physically because I can’t hear them yell “break!”
Are cochlear implants a possibility?
My audiologist advised me to look into cochlear implants. But one problem with the cochlear is that I would have to stop boxing, at least sparring. To me, that is a major drawback for the cochlear at this time. When I told one doctor that was a factor in my decision not to consider cochlear right now, she looked baffled, like I had made a weird joke.
What does your training look like currently?
The class I take is for 90 minutes twice a week and I try to make both. I don’t always. I am trying to work in a day of weight training but haven’t done it yet.I always do jump rope, heavy bags, and medicine drill balls with my sister. Ideally, I would always do the speedbag but it has been broken in our gym. I almost always spar.
What do you find most rewarding, and/or most frustrating in boxing right now?
The most rewarding thing is feeling like I am improving. Boxing skills did not come naturally to me, it’s not something I have learned quickly or easily. So to start seeing that I am finally doing better is the best feeling. The most frustrating thing is feeling slow. I am not a very fast or coordinated person, and it is difficult to see how I can get to a higher level without some speed.
What exercises do you absolutely hate, dread, or refuse to do? What are your faves?
I hate sit ups of any kind. My favorite is sparring, it just is. However, I also really like the speedbag, it is very meditative. I like practicing uppercuts on a bag, that just makes my arms happy.
What made you decide to compete?
It was a bucket list thing for me! I never did it and I felt like I would regret it if I didn’t try. I also wanted to experience the whole thing…coach taping your hands, a referee, spectators….
Tell us about your recent fight! And what’s next for you?
It was a blast! I lost a match to a firefighter in a Chicago Park District fight. She was a lot more experienced, although I had a size advantage (I’m 5’9). I actually saw a news video of her training before one of her fights and I knew that she would be very tough to beat. She looked so strong, she had the arm advantage!
However, I enjoyed the whole experience…weighing in, wearing the shorts, warming up with my coach. My sister got to be my corner person, which was about the coolest thing ever.
Chicago Park District fights are 1 minute round, and that was way too short to me. It was hard to get a good rythmn. As far as the actual fight went, I was more defensive then I would normally be, and wished I had been more aggressive. I felt like I did not get a lot of punches in.
However, the goal for me was to get in there and box, and I was happy I did that. It was just a really fun, positive night. Someone took a picture of the moment my opponent’s hand was raised in victory, and even in that picture I am smiling.
I hope to have more fights in the future within the Chicago Park district system. My opponent has already asked if I would rematch.
Ideally I would like to fight someone who is more similar to me in experience level. Now that I’ve done the fight, I want to do more. Having a fight coming up motivated me in training and eating better more than anything else. I felt like training to be fight-ready was great for my mental health.
What goals are you currently working on in the ring?
Right now, I would like to work on being a more complete boxer. At Spears, we mostly sparred with guys, offense only. So when I got to Loyola Park, I was aggressive, but incredibly sloppy and terrible about defense. Learning to simply keep my hands up has been a challenge in itself. Now I would like to learn more about footwork and strategies. I would like to be confident doing more than 1,2 combinations in the ring.
What’s the ONE THING you wish you had right now that would really help move your game forward?
TIME! I wish I had more time train more seriously and focus on boxing. It is good to know that others like you have succeeded at boxing, even with a “late” start. This gives me hope that I can keep at it and keep getting better.
Thanks, Sarah, for sharing some of you story with me and everyone else at TGE. I’ll look forward to hearing about your next fight! – Lisa
Image: Sarah, her sister, and her coach after her first fight.