The first time I was punched in the face – and I mean, you know, really hit, total whammo!, the kind of punch that fits snugly between your cheekbone and jaw – it was kind of amazing. It didn’t exactly sting, like I’m guessing a bare-knuckled punch would. Because the puncher was gloved, it felt more like having a man’s shoe thrown at my face.
I stumbled back a few steps, fists shooting up involuntarily, but it was too late. I was a little dizzy. Tears filled my right eye and I wondered if I’d bruise.
The owner of the punch was panicking, since I was just a beginner and we were only supposed to be practicing. And since I’m often told I look young for my age, he probably felt like he’d just punched a baby or something. But it was great. I was smiling.
That was the moment last year I fell in love with boxing.
Let me back up a bit: I’ve never been a fearsome girl. In the past, I’ve often described myself as “pancake bodied,” a more appealing way of saying that while I may be thin, rest assured that what my body is made of is more gelatinous stuff than any sort of muscle. I mean, everybody loves a good pancake, but you wouldn’t trust one in a fight.
It’s not like I never put my pancake body to the test, either. My siblings all eventually fell into sports of their liking, so I’m pretty sure when it was my turn and nothing seemed to work, my parents just scratched their heads and kept trying, in the same disillusioned way you try to jam your legs into jeans you owned in the fifth grade.
It wasn’t working. They put me on the cross country team for a few years in middle school; the only reason I wasn’t last in any of my races was the fear of my pancake body being revealed.
Honestly, it was hard to take myself seriously in that regard. Most people I met growing up would have probably more quickly described me as “cute” or “sweet” than “brave” or “strong.” I hated that one of the biggest scars I had came from tripping over a dishwasher, and that wedding proposal videos on YouTube always made me cry. Tears felt weak, and I felt weak, and I just wasn’t sure that it was anything I could fix.
I’m not even sure what drew me to boxing. Before I tried it, the closest thing I’d experienced was catching the end of “Rocky” on TV. But there was something about it that called to me. Maybe it was because I knew that it was nothing like me. Nevertheless, it did call to me, and I went, and it happened, and I kept going even though I felt uncomfortably like I was playing pretend.
Now, let’s get back to the punch.
It’s not that I liked the way it felt, physically. I was only five or six lessons into it, and still struggling with the feeling that I was a square peg trying to fit somewhere I’d never belong. It was the same feeling I still get pangs of when I’m jogging and another jogger passes me, or when I’m at a party and my friend is the only person I know.
But a punch doesn’t care. It treats you like everybody else. It doesn’t make assumptions about what you’re capable of. A punch is a punch, and when I was punched, it finally felt like someone was taking me seriously.
So what if I’m emotional? Who says I can’t be tough, too? It hurt, but I was fine. A pancake would have fallen to the ground, and because pancakes don’t possess motor functions, it wouldn’t have done much after falling.
But I shook my head, shrugged it off like I’d already eaten punches for breakfast, and told the guy I was ready to go again.
Manola Secaira of Tacoma is a journalism and English major studying at Seattle Pacific University. She is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.