(Image - Clash of Champions 2015 - Maureen O'Mara)
by Missy Fitzwater
A first-hand account of how boxing changed 17 year-old Missy Fitzwater's outlook on life.
Recently I was asked the question that I am asked with a fair amount of frequency… why boxing? Boxing is my sport, and being a girl that participates in boxing is somewhat of an anomaly. So, the question ‘Why Boxing?’ has become a recurring query from family, friends, as well as strangers. My usual reply is simply to grin, shrug my shoulders, and quietly say, “I don’t know, I just love it.” This is my quick answer.
This is the answer that allows the conversation to move forward and hopefully past me. I’ve never felt that people truly want to talk about me. However, the last time I was asked “the question,” I wondered if I gave the expanded version, maybe…just maybe, someone would truly be interested to hear the truth…my truth.
Boxing is far more than just a past-time for me, or something to keep me in shape. If I were to find something to correlate my relationship with boxing to, it would be religion.
From the first moment I was introduced to my sport, I felt I had found my religion. It seemed as if some divine intervention had occurred to bring me to this sport, gym and trainer. This is the only explanation I can find. Religion, to me, always seemed to be about devotion, sacrifice and the will to be better every day, in every way. Although I felt that this is what religion was, it had never hit me with such clarity and a sense of purpose than on the first day I stepped foot into my new life. I have to admit, boxing was not something I had a driving desire to pursue.
My dad had a heavy bag in our basement that was fun to hit and work out a little anxiety on from time to time. So, when my mom suggested maybe attempting boxing as something fun to do to keep me in shape, it never entered my mind that it was something that I could achieve.
My dad, a retired firefighter, contacted a firefighting buddy of his who happened to have been a professional boxer and set up my first lesson. I was petrified. Not only was I going to attempt something new, something I felt like I was clearly going to fail, I was going to do that in front of someone who had so much success and a stellar reputation in the sport.
As each day to “the lesson” grew closer, my anxiety and dread increased, until finally the day came. The car ride to “the lesson” was a special kind of torture. As we pulled into the parking lot, I was visibly shaking. How was I ever going to pull this charade off without total humiliation to me and my family? But, there was no turning back now. I got out of the car, the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and followed my parents into the fire station. Yes, I said fire station … a fire station full of men that I had never met, to me, there was nothing more intimidating.
But, an interesting thing occurred when we came through that door. My dad was greeted with warm handshakes and hugs, there was laughter and joy. I had heard so many stories about the brotherhood of the fire department growing up, but I never fully understood it until this moment. My dad introduced me and I was greeted with the same warmth. I felt like I was meeting uncles that I had known all of my life, yet had never met. I was in the presence of family.
I began to relax slightly, this firehouse was a safe haven. There was history there. My dad spent many years living one third of his life in that station. I had heard so many larger than life, yet absolutely true stories; heroic stories, hilarious stories, heartbreaking stories, heart-warming stories.
From that very moment, I felt a spiritual connection to that firehouse. If someone were to ask me now, where my church is, I would tell them in the very back of this old firehouse. I felt it even on that very first visit – the warmth, acceptance and safety. Although I wasn’t fully aware at the time, this was my sanctuary. This is where I would find salvation, worship, solace and redemption. I had found my church, and I was about to meet my preacher … Craig Cummings, Mr. Cummings to me. I was oblivious to the fact that my life was about to be powerfully altered.
At the time, all I knew was that I was about to meet my dad’s buddy, who happened to be a professional boxer. I was, to say the least, quaking with apprehension. In my imagination, a boxer would be tough, gruff, no nonsense, intimidatingly foreboding persona. I just knew that he was going to take one look at me and wonder if this was a joke. Yet, when he entered the station he had the brightest smile on his face and greeted my dad with a bear-hug of an embrace. Then I was introduced…this was it…I was going to have to speak. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to find my voice, but something happened that had never happened to me before. I spoke to him with ease. I was still uncomfortable, but that was more about me not being comfortable in my own skin. I felt a sense of peace talking with Mr. Cummings. It has always been simple with Mr. Cummings. I knew that this was going to be a profound relationship in my life.
We spent a few minutes getting to know one another, and then the lesson began - my introduction to the single thing that was going to change everything in my life. The lesson itself was basic, but empowering. Not that I-felt-I-could-take-on-the-world empowering, but quietly empowering. I saw a tiny flicker of light inside my soul ignite where there had only been darkness before. I would later discover that boxing often attracts people with a story.
There are common themes that run through these stories. Some people use boxing as a way to overcome wayward or criminal behaviour. Others may have been bullied and belittled and need a means of self-defence. None of these were my story. I was my own bully. I could not remember ever liking myself. I’m not sure why I didn’t like myself, but I never did. I certainly didn’t understand anyone who said they liked or loved me. Why would they? What was there to like? No one ever treated me badly, it was completely internal. My family loved me, but in my mind, they had to love me, what kind of monsters would they have been to not love their daughter/sister.
So, for what it’s worth, that was my story. But on that fateful day, something inside of me began to change. For the first time in my entire life, I felt something besides despise for myself. In the weeks and months that followed, I would return to my “church” and just as any preacher does, Mr. Cummings would teach me… put me on the right path in my new found “religion.” He gives me guidance with patience and acceptance. He believes in me, and that is everything.
I can now believe in myself. I’ve set goals, attained them and moved on to other goals. I have been allowed to work with kids who are brand new to boxing. To me, that means someone has enough confidence in me to let me help someone else. I can honestly say that I like who I am now. I find new confidence and reasons to enjoy my life every day. This is why I equate boxing to religion. It is necessary to me; it has filled my soul with light.
When I’m training, I think of winning my fight against myself…left, right, slip, left, pull back, right left hook, dip under hook, three straight jabs…this is like a prayer to me. It connects me to something powerful. There is a peace that comes over me when I’m in that ring. When my work is done, I feel like I was just baptized, freed and forgiven. So, the next time someone asks me “Why Boxing?” I’ll probably still answer quietly, but with an enlightened smile. I’ll say, “I have to box, it’s my religion.”