DECEMBER 17, 2014
The holiday season is around the bend.
46 years of age, weighing in at 83 kilos, with an undefeated record of 20+ cigarettes a day (make that +++ on days such as this!), I am throwing back brews with my mates, Stu and JK. We are well ensconced in the cosy colonial confines of the wet bar at Tanglin Club. Its way past happy hour and the waitress is more than happy to keep our tab open.
Growing up I used to be fairly fitness conscious. I had maintained a fairly balanced lifestyle by subscribing to the “off & on” school of training, intense phases of abstinence and workouts followed by equally intense spurts of merry making. That worked well enough for me till I was in my late 30s. Come the wrong side of forty and the necessary willpower to throw the switch back to “off” has abandoned me. In the last couple of years I have developed a fitness regime so tailored to my smoking habit, it would fail to qualify as “light stretching” on the daily activity roster of any self respecting Old Age establishment!
I veer the chitchat into sombre territory.
”Am I truly over the hill or should I be finding some purpose or goal that would help take my fitness to another level”?
If sober this line of enquiry would have evinced a couple of raised eyebrows and concerns about the true contents of my cigarettes. In their current condition I see JK and Stu actually get quite serious about steering me to redemption.
“How about the White Collar Boxing mate?” enquires JK. He goes on to give me a low down on what it’s about.
The sober me would have promptly clarified that I had meant something along the lines of the Lawn Bowls event at the Club. The pickled version of me slurs…..“That shounds aweshum mate! Lezzz sign up……………we gotta give thish a ssheerious shot”.
We shoot the breeze on another 336 subjects before we close the tab and head out to the next watering hole!!!
6th of Jan and there’s an email from my friend JK asking me to walk the talk (well – that’s the politically correct version of it anyways!). It carries a link to apply to WCB 2015.
At first I’m gobsmacked but then the chat of the night of the 17th of Dec starts ringing distant bells. Is this guy serious!?!
Over the years I’ve had a number of adjectives tagged to me – ‘impulsive’ is not one of them. I understand there is a remote possibility of being selected (I believe there were more than 150 applicants for the event this year). But black swans do exist; so I get down to researching the event in earnest. The following factors weigh in –
- (a) FOR – I figure charity is centric to the whole affair. It’s been a while since I did anything truly socially responsible (besides for sparing a few dollars to different causes). Putting in personal effort to make a difference for the Children’s Surgical Centre (CSC) in Cambodia; now that’s really appealing!
- (b) FOR – This would be the last opportunity for me to push boundaries I’ve imposed on my own physical abilities and readjust my status to ‘fit for a 40 plus dude’!
- (c) AGAINST – I check out some of the past years’ fights on YouTube – that turns out to be a bad idea and puts a dent in my gumption!
- (d) FOR – I speak to my wife (half hoping she’s going to freak out and have none of it). I can tell she probably did some quick math in her head and the present discounted value of cigarette costs turned out far higher than potential immediate hospitalisation costs. She is hugely supportive of this manifestation of my mid-life crisis!!! She gets ahead of herself and suggests that I could use “Sub-Optimus Prime” as my stage name on fight night
- (e) FOR – My girls love the idea too (they are still at that age where Pappy can do no wrong and I am not yet an embarrassment to their very existence!)
On balance I decide to apply and find myself invited to a registration and briefing session on the 17th of January
Come 17th I throw on a sporty T, suck in my belly and head out to the briefing session at Vanda Boxing Club (VBC) on Robinson road. A bunch of 20-somethings board the train at the next station – they are all beefed up and look fit enough to be picked for the next Olympics (probably just about any event!!!). I swear I have a moment of such severe panic that I decide to catch the next train back if this bunch gets off at my stop. To my utter relief they don’t alight at Raffles Place!
I reach VBC and get into the mix of aspiring pugilists. It’s rather difficult to conduct an effective reconnaissance while maintaining an indifferent, “bring-it-on”, game face. But I manage to do a decent job. My review of the competition quickly tells me that the bunch from the train have not taken an alternate route to VBC (phew!). Nevertheless, the majority of applicants appear to be fitness junkies. Some dressed like they are ready to drop and give a 100 to anyone who would care to ask. The butterflies in my stomach go on a rampage!
I’m quite impressed with the presentation. A concise yet comprehensive effort at educating the audience on what the event stands for and, what being selected would entail. One part that stuck with me is – “if you love floating around Boat Quay on Friday evenings then this is probably not for you”. I could swear Tina, Marketing Manager VBC, was looking squarely at me while making that remark.
We are told to submit a detailed online application by the 20th (if we still believed we could make the sort of commitment this required). I am tired by the end of the presentation from having to hold in my belly!
Now this is mainly about the charity right? It’s predicated on my ability to get supporters in for the black tie event on fight night. If I drum up enough support, the contributions from my tables would help make a difference to CSC.
Subconsciously I am still looking for an out. So I decide to gauge what sort of support I could muster before I proceed to apply.
I am surprised by the level of interest and support this draws from friends (within and outside my work place). In some instances I am pretty certain the enthusiasm is driven by the opportunity to see me humiliated. Whatever the driver……………….I am now out of excuses. I make the application by the deadline.
Now that I’ve taken the dive I anxiously look forward to being selected. I try to remain realistic about my chances. However, deep down I crave this with the indignation of a spoilt brat who is perennially filing complaints against Santa. I step up my personal physical regime in anticipation of it.
Come lunch hour on the 27th of Jan and I am told by JK that all applicants have been notified of the outcome. There’s nothing from VBC in my inbox. I decide to take a peek in my junk mail folder before I lurch into despondency. Sitting there is a communication from VBC.
My cursor hovers over the email as I stare down the subject tag – “White Collar Boxing Singapore May 2015 – Boxers Selection”. With the trepidation of a bomb disposal expert choosing between the blue and red wires, I take a deep breath and muster up the courage to double click.
It regrettably informs me that I have not made it to the main squad (my heart stops) but goes on to say that I have a spot in the Reserve Squad (beating resumes!). My inclusion to the main squad would depend on any drop outs as well as my own performance. I will know whether I make the cut in about 6 weeks’ time. Training is on offer thrice a week commencing 2nd Feb – Monday and Wednesday nights as well as Saturday mornings.
Being in the reserve squad is of course much better than being excluded. But more importantly, in hindsight this turned out to be the best possible outcome for me. I enter this with the zeal of an underdog that the bookies won’t offer any odds on. I can’t influence any drop outs from the main squad (short of consulting a Voodoo doctor) but I’ll be damned if I can’t make it to the squad on account of my own performance.
I have about 5 days to go before official training starts. I figure stamina is my Achilles’ heel so I focus mainly on running and free-hand exercises to build core strength. My body resists venturing beyond its normal activity range as I build on the intensity and duration of my workouts. Determined to do justice to my formal training program, I put pain aside and power through my pre-training boot camp.
2nd of Feb – it’s a week day and I will be heading into training from work. I pack my gym bag in earnest. Over the years, on account of past injuries, I have accumulated quite a bit of paraphernalia to assist with any movement that goes beyond the call of sitting or walking. Knee straps, wrist bands, compression socks…………..they all go into the gym bag along with my workout clothes. In time, as other items would come to be added to my gym bag (16 oz. boxing gloves, boxing shoes, head gear, power bars, sports drinks, skipping rope, groin guard, etc. etc.), I would begin to hate it with the intensity of an oppressed Sherpa mounting K2 while lugging a 100 cans of the Sahib’s favourite brand of luncheon meat
The best way to describe the first training session is that it was a blur! We’re all in a little early and tentative introductions are passed around even as squad members measure up each other. Coach Alexis introduces himself and the other coaches, provides an overview of what to expect in the coming months and shares some administrative directives.
He then launches into orchestrating a cardio session so intense, Darwin would have willingly sighted it to Quod Erat Demonstrandum his principles on survival. As far as the Coach is concerned, the meek may inherit the world but it will be sans a berth at the May 9 fights. I now realise my boot camp was just a nudge out of my comfort zone!! My lungs probably gave up during the warm up routine. Adrenaline and testosterone alone see me through the rest of the session………… by the end of it I want to crawl into a corner of the gym and sob myself to sleep. But the underdog in me manages to portray an air of BAU before I fist pump the other squad members and limp home.
The alarm from the i-Pad alarm is beeping from a million miles away. An elbow to the ribs from my wife reminds me it’s actually on the bed stand next to me. A command from my brain to reach out and snooze the alarm manifests in a twitch of my index finger. It’s as if concrete has been injected into long forgotten parts of my body!! Lying there flat on my back, all I can summon is a groan. I eventually roll out of bed and do a few stretches to get on with my day. I somehow go about my daily routine and also manage to put in a run the same evening. While I’ve had my share of bad days since, I have no doubt that Day 1 of training was the worst for me – it was far too much of a shock to the system.
As February progresses so does the training regime. Intense cardio-centric programs make way for shadow boxing and working the bags. I feel much better adjusted with each passing day of training and can perceive a palpable change to my stamina and fitness levels. On my days off from the gym, I ensure I work on my endurance and brush up on techniques shared at training. I keep increasing the intensity of my runs and jump rope longer. Through month 1 I keep a day of rest each week to allow for my body to recover. I lose around five kilos through the month but proportionately lose even more in terms of inches. Old trousers that I had hoped to bring back into commission make a re-appearance. I don’t care that some of them are out of fashion; it feels too good to have them fit again!
A sense of joint achievement pervades the squad. Camaraderie grows as we begin to get more familiar with each other.
Old injuries do come back to haunt me every now and then. But I have a secret weapon in Mei Ying; my massage therapist. A session with her is as intimidating as sparring in the ring – but I have never left the spa without the theme of “Born Free” playing in my mind. She speaks just one word of English – “Okay”
Me: how are you?
Me: My deltoids are killing me.
Mei: uhh! OhKay!?!
We’ve never really had to communicate. She has a way of figuring out the trouble spots and kneading them till there are tears streaming down my face! And no……………..I am not going to tell you where she works. Despite the ‘platinum client’ status I have gained at her spa, I already have enough trouble getting appointments with her.
However, besides for the pain and soreness there’s another problem that Mei Ying unfortunately can’t help me with. I have pretty hyperactive sebaceous glands and during my sessions rivulets of perspiration would find their way to assemble in the men’s department. As a result, I came to experience some pretty serious chaffing where the sun don’t shine! The silver lining is that I now have an alternative career option as a Chaffing Consultant. I have views on every conceivable remedy from nappy rash creams to lubricants for high performance athletes as well as on the range of innerwear that would facilitate walking without your legs having to be held at a right angle!.
About 3 weeks into training and Coach says he is happy with the performance of the squad and will be advancing the sparring sessions. I have been waiting for this moment. With all the endurance and technique I’ve picked up in the last few weeks, I picture myself executing this with the precision of a Pacquiao……………..
It’s difficult to articulate exactly what went wrong in the ring for me. A good summary would be…….. ……………………’just about everything’!
My first 2 minutes in the ring felt like an eternity. It’s just a whole different ball game when you are being punched back! The constant moving, focussing on keeping your technique right, concentrating on defence as much as offence while the Coach is screaming directions at us both. I was gasping for breath and using up energy faster than a Bugatti Veyron guzzles gas!!! By the end of the second round I am flaying my arms like Rowan Atkinson in Mr. Bean; only more effeminately. Had a punching bag stood in for me it would have posed a more serious threat to my opponent.
The confidence I have built up in the past weeks takes a serious knock. At the same time the underdog in me snarls and gets me to be more resolute about the vast improvement I need to bring about.
In case the above narrative conveys the impression that all I did was train in the first month, I hasten to add that I had a life outside of training. Unfortunately it was less worth living! Allow me to explain…..
It pains me no end when people ask inane questions like what my all time favorite song is. At any one moment my favorite song is influenced by the time of day, my mood, surroundings and company. There is no single favorite to speak of. You would imagine that I would be even more irate if people made broader philosophical inquiries to seek an absolute truth. Such as – “what is the all-time wisest quote from any human ever”?!?
I have you there because I happen to have the answer to that poser! Having reviewed all memorable quotes from the beginning of time (whether religious, political, philosophical, literary or academic in nature) I know with absolute certainty that the wisest words ever spoken were by Frank Sinatra……..
“I feel sorry for people that don’t drink, because when they wake up in the morning, that is the best they are going to feel all day-”
Please don’t get me wrong……………it’s not that I miss alcohol per se (otherwise you would be reading my post on the AA site!). It’s just that, given the usual company I keep, social gatherings have come to hold no meaning any longer. After my company is on its fourth round, I begin to have this ‘outsider’ experience where every silly jibe is lost on me while others are crying with laughter. I always seem to hang on the periphery of the amusement zone. I so want my membership to la la land renewed!
While my liquid intake has been limited to sky juice, excitement levels in the food department have also dropped considerably. VBC was generous enough to arrange for a highly professional nutritionist to make a presentation to us in Week 1 of training. It was an extremely informative presentation that highlighted how critical nutrition will be in supporting our training. The main implication for me was to overhaul my entire consumption pattern and adopt healthier food types that I normally would entertain only under rigorous life imprisonment. Eating has become a highly functional activity designed to optimize my performance.
I look back on Month 1 of training and realize I have saved a considerable amount on cigarettes, liquor and fine dinners. Then I take stock of additional expenses incurred on balms, pain relief patches, massages and nicotine gum and realise they offset my savings three-fold!!!
But there’s no taking away from the fact that I feel a whole lot better than I did just a month ago.