Boxing out of my comfort zone…

I’ve been quiet for the last month, much to the chagrin of my resolution to keep blogging once or twice a week. The hiatus wasn’t enforced, rather it was stumbled upon and I guess I needed a break. I only ever talk about bookish and story-related topics on here, but I’ll venture to tackle something altogether different and a little personal. Life is for living, so back in August 2016, I embarked on a 17 week training and dieting program in an effort to raise money for Cancer Research UK by taking part in a boxing match. I’d never boxed before… and I’m not remotely ashamed to say that it utterly consumed me.

It was all in the memory of my dear Auntie Sheila who we sadly lost in early August 2016 after a short battle with cancer. To say this was sudden is a total understatement, and the shockwaves are still barreling through my family as I write. It strikes me as so unfair, so unnecessary, so pointless to take someone’s life like this, and I was angry. I bottled it up. I wanted to pour myself into something meaningful to try to find some kind of silver lining to the horrible madness the family suddenly found itself in.

Auntie Sheila was beset by ill health for over half her life, and never ever did I hear her moan about it. She only spoke about it if asked, and even then it was with a positive spin, or a ‘you know me’ wink. She fought one thing after another with such zeal and backbone, that I wanted to find something that would reflect her own unrelenting spirit and zeal. So I found myself signing up for the toughest thing I could find – boxing.

Now Auntie Sheila would have hated me boxing – just despised it. But I found a company in Ultra White Collar Boxing that is safe, regulated and fights exactly what took Auntie Sheila from us – cancer, with full support to Cancer Research UK. For me, it was a perfect match – plus Auntie Sheila would be the first person up on her chair shouting ‘hit him, Robert!’ when the bell rang.

I started at 191lb give or take. If anything, I think it might be a touch more because I used some dodgy bathroom scales to start with. That is only 9lb off heavyweight, which was a stark reminder that in recent years, I had let myself go a bit. Having kids and lifestyle changes will do that to you. Life runs away with you, and before you know it you are cutting corners. I’m 5’10” and being nearly 14 stone was not where I wanted to be. So I looked at boxing weight brackets, picked something I felt was doable and respectable, and aimed for it. I went for light-heavyweight, at 175lb. So I had three and a bit months to lose 16lbs. I thought that would be tough but I went for it.

Training to begin with was a slog. Lethargy was crippling, but breaking through it was worse. The diet was uninspiring, and too much. Greens, protein, lean meats. Get it down you, and get in the gym again. Ugh, it was knackering, time consuming, and boring.

But after 2-3 weeks, something significant changed. I remembered why I was doing it. I remembered the spirit I wanted to embody, and suddenly word was out amongst my friends and family. The support was huge, and came from all sides. Tickets to fight night started to sell, and the other fighters who’d signed up started chatting on Facebook in a private admin group dedicated to getting the ball rolling. There was a buzz.

And there was a physical change, which was a real shot in the arm. I can’t really define it, but there was something. And there was a bounce in my step that hadn’t been there before. I took my kids to a soft play centre in mid-September, and I had a ball – I could chase them everywhere, be a daft dad, and still felt raring to go. It was empowering and seductive. It was around this time that a veil dropped over my eyes, and my motivation became ironclad and unshakable. Whatever was happening to me, I loved it. And every time like I felt like I hated the whole world for what happened to Auntie Sheila, I channeled it into my training.

By mid-October, a stone had gone, and I was in the best shape I’d been in in years. I was healthy, ready and raring to go – and the boxing training itself hadn’t even started yet. That was to start first week of November – an intensive 8 week training programme to turn beginners into fighters. I wanted to arrive at that in decent nick, and having been a fan of boxing for years, I knew how serious the sport is. I had to give the situation respect and due diligence. So I contacted the gym to get some private sessions in before I got going with the proper fight training, and ended up working with Pele Hall, ex-kickboxing champion, and began conditioning training.

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The first session ended with me in the corner of the gym trying not to throw up. It was unreal. I felt I’d come a long way since August, but this reminded me of just how far I had to go to be ready for fight night. We arranged another session, and went at it. I trained myself six days a week with no diet cheat days, and was building muscle. Pele pushed me hard, but I loved it. I could feel my body and mind responding. I wanted more, and I pushed back.

Progress rumbled onwards until I left to go on holiday with my family, which had been planned long before any boxing training had been arranged. I didn’t want to undo anything I’d already achieved, but I’d been so excited for the trip that I wanted to enjoy it fully and have a few beers with my family. So, I gave myself a beer allowance. No more than 4-5 pints in a given day (sounds ridiculous writing that, but I do admittedly enjoy a beer with my family!) and vowed to stick to the diet while I was away. I had a blast, and the only thing I really missed was joining in on the bacon butties in the morning or traditional pub grub when we went out together. But my goal was always in my mind. I went away at 181lb, and came back at 178 – and I drank pretty much what I wanted and when I wanted. I was made up, and threw myself into proper training again as soon as I got back.

The organised training sessions were underway, and were a hit from the beginning. Pele and Dave Jackson, gym owner of Cheshire Martial Arts Centre, were superb in creating a gym atmosphere that was collaborative, encouraging and competitive. It made for an intoxicating mix, and I found myself waiting for Tuesdays and Thursdays to tick round again so I could get back in. Respect was key, and there was a lot of it flying around between the fighters. Bonds were forged. It was great.

With six weeks to go, I hit 174lb, and decided not to stop there. I wanted to press on and lose as much weight as I could while building myself for fight night. Super-middleweight is 168lb, so I aimed for it. Another six pounds could go, surely?

Sparring was ramping up in intensity, and there was a buzz in the gym as fight night grew nearer. There was always the possibility that the person you were talking to or sparring with might be named your opponent on fight night, and that lent a real edge in the gym. I found myself watching people, in terms of who I fancied fighting and who I thought might be a real handful. All the while the weeks flew.

Suddenly, it was fight week, and our opponents were announced with a traditional face-off in the gym. I was announced to be fighting a cracking bloke called Scott, with whom sparring had always been competitive and who had joked from early on in the process that we would probably end up fighting each other. But sadly, Scott broke his foot three days before the fight. I was gutted for him, because like everyone else, he had put in eight weeks training for the fight. I was told I’d have a fight, and the organisers were brilliant in finding a replacement. Unsurprisingly, boxers who have trained for exactly 8 weeks don’t grow on trees, so a fighter from the gym was called, Lee. Lee had trained for two years and was undefeated in four such fights, not to mention a bit bigger than me – but I didn’t care. I had a fight, I was buzzing, I felt better then I’ve ever felt. Lee was a complete gentleman, and the fight was set.

I was 170lb in the days leading up to the fight, and was a bit gutted that I wasn’t going to make 168 – but the morning of the fight itself, I checked the scales. 167.4lb. Made it, somehow. And it took my total weightloss to almost 24lbs. I was, and am still, delighted with that result. I enjoy life much more being almost two stone lighter.

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The organisation of the event was superb, and at the venue (Halliwell Jones Stadium in Warrington) we were treated excellently with medicals and facilities at our disposal. Here we saw the ring being built – and it was tiny. Postage-stamp tiny. There was nowhere to run in there at all, if that happened to be your game plan. All you could do, was stand and fight. Adrenaline was coursing, the music was blaring, and before I knew it, I was heading to the ring.

I felt invincible, unstoppable, unbeatable… right up until I got hit. Testament to Lee’s skills – he hits like a train. He was unlike anyone I’ve ever faced in sparring, and I was quickly learning also just how different sparring and fighting actually is. Nothing hurt, because of the sheer adrenaline, but the stopping power behind Lee’s shots was incredible. We went toe to toe, and I gave everything I had, exchanging shots at a high pace.

I made it back to the corner at the end of round one, and could barely speak to Pele, who was my cornerman. He looked at me and said something along the lines of ‘surprised you that, didn’t it’ and told me to take my time and breathe. I still couldn’t say anything.

The second round started, and we were back at it again, but Lee was pulling away from me now. I could feel it. My arms were leaden, his shots were taking their toll, and he looked fresh still with real snap in his punches. I managed to get him back against the ropes, and gave him a right hand – to which he responded with a one-two that unleashed a white light at the corner of my vision. The room started going sideways, and the blue of the canvas was coming up. All I could think of was ‘this is not the plan, this is not the plan’ and the next thing I see is the ref waving his arms over my head. It was over, and I had been beaten by KO.

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I was hoisted up, and waved to my family, then embraced Lee who was ever the gent. We were both given trophies, and we were suddenly out in the cold stadium with our bloody noses and jangled senses, walking back around to the changing rooms. We had our medicals, swapped war stories, and wished each other a merry christmas. It was most civilised!

I got showered, and went out to meet my family, while a beautiful black eye was blossoming on my face. We had a great night, spent time with the fighters and their families, and I watched the remaining fights from ringside. What struck me from watching as a spectator was just how much effort everyone was giving. All the fighters have their own families, jobs, their own bills to pay, their own life stories in the background – yet here they were laying it all on the line in a function room just before christmas, getting their noses busted and their eyes blackened so they could raise money for Cancer Research UK. I’ve got huge respect for each and every one of them. You don’t have to do this. There are other things you can do. But these people chose this and just went for it.

I went home, explained to the kids my black eye was from falling over (not a complete lie), and had a wonderful family christmas with this beautiful shiner around my left eye. I contemplated on what I learned.

  1. The body is powerful, but your mind is even stronger. Get it into your head you are going to do it, then just jolly well do it. You can do it. YOU CAN.
  2. Anyone who steps into a boxing ring deserves respect. Watching it is one thing, but stepping into the ring so a bloke can try to take your head off? There’s guts in that. Big guts.
  3. Combat sports and gyms are incredible places to learn about respect, control, sportsmanship and discipline.
  4. Setting yourself goals is brilliant.
  5. Leaving your comfort zone is better.
  6. Boxing is a hugely skilful sport, make no mistake.
  7. The key to achieving things like weight-loss is control. Self-control. Listen to yourself. Make yourself proud. You can do it.
  8. People change their lives doing this. I’ve met them, and they’re doing much bigger things than losing a few pounds like I did. Their stories are theirs to tell but they are nothing short of inspiring and I admire them hugely.
  9. I would do it all again.

I’m so proud of the money we raised for Cancer Research UK – almost £2000. I am so grateful to everyone who helped support me through this, be it through sponsorship or kind words. This is a fantastic way to raise money for a charity that is doing so much to help KO cancer for good. Ultra White Collar Boxing and their staff and trainers looked after us so well, prepared us and advised us wonderfully, and gave us all an experience I’ll never forget. They have raised almost £7 million for Cancer Research UK – think about that. What they are doing, and in turn what these boxers are doing, is actively changing people’s lives. I was delighted to be a part of it…

And I’m doing it again. I’m hooked. March 25th. My motivation is still here, and still iron clad. I want to raise more money in the memory of Auntie Sheila. I want to help beat this awful disease – and I love that this is pushing me to places that I didn’t know I could get to. Bring it on.

You can sponsor me here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Robert-Parker11

Or if you’re feeling brave, you can sign up here: http://www.ultrawhitecollarboxing.co.uk

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