There’s a well known boxer at the moment who I won’t “name and shame” (read here why) but who is spouting out negativity everywhere he goes or so it seems, eagerly falling into line with the stereotype that boxing is negative, misogynistic, and just plain bad. People are lapping it up, outraged and appalled in equal measure, opening the door for all the clichéd nonsense about boxing. It’s aggressive, violent, should be banned, blah blah blah.
I train at a boxing gym now. I’ve lost quite a lot of weight this year, mainly through healthy eating and ditching processed foods. I’m not a pious clean eater, anything but; each weekend I bake a cake which gets eaten over the following days, plus I’ll never stop enjoying wine. But I do make my own bread, pasta sauces, things like that, and cutting back the amount of cheese you eat as a non-meat eater can be a pain, but I give it a go anyway. It’s amazing how much removing additives and preservatives can alter your body and make it healthier. I’ve dropped a couple of dress sizes in the past nine months or so.
Once the main bulk of weight I wanted rid of melted away, the next step for me was getting fit; I wanted a cheap way of doing this, and getting rid of the dreaded writer’s belly and bottom. But I don’t have the self-discipline to do that on my own. I can sit and happily write for hours, I’m ok doing that, but there’s no way I’d exercise on my bill, and regularly. I won’t push myself physically, off my own back. I just know it.
Running was suggested, and dismissed; I don’t go for public displays of sweating. So, that left exercise classes. Zumba is fun or so I’ve heard, but there are no sessions near me. The only thing I found for women – I didn’t fancy doing mixed gender classes, they hold the same horror for me as unisex toilets – was ladies’ boxing. And as it’s only £3.50 per session at the gym near me, off I went.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d never even been to an exercise class before, apart from yoga. With yoga and meditation, even if you’re in a room with other people it’s still a solitary pursuit, or so I find. I wanted something more group oriented.
I was worried before attending my first boxing class. I know everyone says that they were always the last picked for teams when they were at school, but with me it honestly was the case. There was never a time when I wasn’t standing on my own, the unlucky team pulling their faces at each other in response to being landed with me.
Also, I’m not keen on sport. I don’t even watch it, apart from the odd game of Rugby League (I’m from Lancashire, it’s a religion there). As soon as I left school, that was it, no more sport for me. I said goodbye to it gladly. PE was the horrible low point of my school week. I hated it, and it hated me.
So, trying to keep an open mind, I went to the boxing gym. I turned up five minutes early. It was raining. I was on my own, just me and my pink rucksack. I nearly turned and ran. Then a woman turned up.
‘You been here before?’
‘You’ll LOVE it,’ she beamed.
Lots of other women joined us. One showed me where everything was. Another found a pair of boxing gloves for me. (A note at this point – pre-used boxing gloves stink. Of what, I’m not quite sure. I don’t want to think about that, too much.) The women were so unbelievably kind. One of them offered to partner up with me. I nearly cried. That alone was a kindness too far.
The class was tough, I won’t lie. I was gasping so much the trainer asked me if I wanted to have a sit down. If you’re as pale as me and on the road to getting fit you don’t look good, mid-workout. There’s a blink of a window early on, in the first minute or so, when my cheeks turn pleasantly rosy; after that, they’re a violent red.
The class was an hour long. It seemed to last forever.
I hobbled home. The next day, lactic acid flooded my muscles and I couldn’t move. But I went again, the next week. And I didn’t struggle to get a partner. That’s the thing I was dreading the most I think, no one wanting to train with me. I believed week one’s welcome to be a fluke. But no, everyone was again so nice to me.
I kept on at it and I was surprised to find that by the third week I wasn’t the worst in the class. In fact I wasn’t even the second worst. Result!
Week four and I braced myself the next day for the usual stiffness I enjoyed moaning to all my new friends about, but it never came. My right shoulder had a brief whinge, the wimp, but apart from that I was fine.
It suddenly hit me. I was getting fit. I’m getting fit. Me, of all people! ME. And no one is more surprised. The fitness thing is the main thing I was going for, so it’s a case of job done, as long as I keep at it. But I’m still genuinely stunned how great everyone is to me. Supportive women are the best ones in the world. I wouldn’t have gone back that second week if not for them. Indeed I’d have come scuttling home before the class in the first place if that initial woman had not extended a welcoming hand.
School sports were such a nightmare; my experiences were terrible. PE lessons in 1970s and 1980s Britain have so much to answer for. I think a lot of people from my generation have hang ups about sport. Most nerdy types feel the same, years on after leaving school. No matter what you do with your life, successes ticked off, things like that always lurk in the back (or forefront, if you’re me) of the mind. With these women’s help and a sport I’m starting to really like, I’m waving them goodbye.