Remember Zoltar, from the Tom Hanks movie “Big”? You gotta watch out for those crazy boardwalk games, they will flat mess with your life.
Wanna know how Crista Orefice, 37-year-old board-certified music therapist and a singer/songwriter from New Jersey got her start in amateur boxing? Wait. I’ll let her tell it.
Ummmm, boardwalk games and boxing, Crista? WTF?
Last summer, my boyfriend and I went to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. At the beach there was the usual boardwalk with an arcade. Well, in this particular arcade stood a video game that changed my life.
It was a boxing game. You put on these heavy plastic “gloves” and “boxed” with an opponent on the computer screen. As I played this game, throwing a ton of punches, something ignited in me. It was exhilarating! I wanted to play the game again and again.
It didn’t take me long to make the next step. On the way home, while my boyfriend was driving I was looking up local boxing gyms, and I found one 20 minutes from where I live. Now Dover Boxing Club is more or less my second home.
And the coolest thing of all is that I learned shortly afterwards that my grandfather, who died before I was born, was an amateur boxer and Golden Gloves champion. And he was also a southpaw just like me! He was known as “The Southpaw Wizard.”
What a great story! My grandfather was a Golden Gloves boxer, too. What other sort of responses did you encounter when you first started boxing?
Many people were kind of shocked that I took up this sport. People have said things like:
“Boxing? You? No way!”
“Oh, please be careful!”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“You don’t look like a boxer!”
I understand where the responses are coming from, and I am small in stature; people don’t want me to get hurt. But I also think many people believe I’m more docile than I really am. In boxing, I am learning to tap into my strength, confidence, and assertiveness.
Share a little bit about how you train.
I train 3 to 4 times each week. My normal routine consists of running, jumping rope, shadow boxing, and bag work. One night a week, there is a class that focuses on plyometrics (like box jumps, etc.), duck walks, and calisthenics (jumping jacks, burpees, mountain climbers, bicycle crunches, push-ups, and leg lifts). I also use a 13 lb. resistance ball alone or with a partner and drop it on my abs and/ or have someone throw it onto my obliques with some pressure in order to strengthen those muscles so that I will better be able to handle punches to the body.
There is also this killer drill we do called the Gauntlet which involves a couple of minutes at various stations (e.g., fast feet, shadowboxing, heavy bag, uppercut bag, etc.) – it is brutal but great for stamina and endurance.
What do you love or hate most about boxing? What’s your biggest fear about it?
At times, I do hate being small – it can get frustrating, since most people have a longer jab than I do. I am learning to work more on the inside which involves getting right in there and not being able to sort of “hide” behind a long jab.
My biggest fear is something severe happening to my nose, which would impede my ability to sing!
I know I am taking a risk, but I am working on not letting my fear stop me from trying. Boxing allows you the opportunity to face your fears head on (pun intended); it lets you learn to take punches or learn that you may be able to handle more than you realized. I love the empowerment and the self-confidence boxing builds.
Building up the skill and technique of boxing is deeply satisfying. This is not brawling. It is a sweet science. It requires thinking and strategy as much as it does conditioning and strength. It’s been stimulating to learn something new and outside of my comfort zone.
Do you feel accepted and welcomed into the boxing life? Have you encountered prejudices as a woman or an outsider?
When I first came to the boxing club a little over a year ago, I was mostly the only woman there, but I never felt like I was not accepted by any of the guys there. My coach is so welcoming to both men and women in his gym. He’s had female amateur champions under his wing, so I was not the first woman to set foot in there.
Recently my coach paired me up to to spar against this young man who had 30 plus pounds on me. He said to him, “Now, just because she is a girl does not mean she can’t fight – she can fight! So don’t hold back with her.” And while he didn’t have us go on like that for too long, he gave me an opportunity to hold my own, and he has commended me for handling strong punches.
For a while, I was sparring only guys. But now we have about five other women who come and train regularly, so it has been great for me to have other females to spar with, and to whom I can relate on a different level. The guys watch our sparring sessions and offer encouragement.
You’re training for your first match! How is that changing things for you?
I am very excited and a little nervous, too! I intend to give it my best. I have been training for over a year pretty consistently. I know it is for real now, so the level of pressure to succeed has increased.
At each training session, I am trying to absorb everything that my coach teaches and spar as much as I can. In my humble opinion, sparring is the only way to truly up your game and really learn about your strengths and your weaknesses both within offense and defense.
I am working on mentally preparing myself for this as well – trying to keep a clear head and just rely on all that I am learning. It will be a comfort to know that my coach will be in my corner the night of the fight. He knows his stuff and I trust him.
What phrases are starting to come up on your “Boxing Manifesto”?
- “Protect yourself at all times!”
- “Stay in your rhythm!”
- “It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward.” (from Rocky Balboa, of course)
Have you seen particular ways that boxing relates to life, in your experience?
Boxing, like life, is about resilience. You stay “on your toes” and learn to “roll with the punches.” You adapt to whatever comes your way. You learn to dig deeper and offer more, even when you’re tired. The courage you discover within yourself allows you to go after what you want and won’t let you be stopped by taking some hits or some falls. Even if you lose the round, you can still win the fight.
Got any advice for someone thinking about taking up boxing?
I say try it! Members at my boxing club range in age from 8 to 78. You will eventually know if it is your thing or not. Boxing doesn’t mean that you have to become a professional fighter or even an amateur fighter; it has so much to offer even if you only do it as a workout routine. It conditions your entire body. But whether you do it for the workout or to build your skills in boxing, I suggest finding a gym that really teaches the technique, because bad habits won’t help you (and may hurt you) if you do decide to step into the ring. Good luck and keep punching!
Photos of Crista by Bob Larson