Last Tuesday night Pedro Martinez’ number was retired at Fenway Park and Vickie was there for it. A text flashed up on my phone reading “SPORTS!” and was accompanied by a photo of her and her boyfriend, Matt, at Fenway wearing their Pedro shirts and smiling brightly. They had decided to go to the game after they realized they couldn’t make it out to Cooperstown for Pedro’s Hall of Fame festivities the prior weekend…because Vickie had boxing training (I’m sure Matt had some stuff, too.)
One of the best parts about this project is discussing possible options before settling on the thing they want to ultimately discuss. The options are usually unrelated, but one of the things I realized during this particular interview is that sometimes a love for something can lead to a love of something else and that’s a pretty interesting road to go down.
It was hard to imagine that we would sit down and not talk exclusively of her love for the Boston Bruins. A table in her dining room is dedicated to autographed hockey gloves, pucks and other memorabilia. Her family have been Bruins season ticket holders for a few years now and she’s made a tradition of arriving to games early and taking photos during warm-ups. The idea for practicing her photography skills in this way came from her dad, a former Patriot’s season ticket holder, who used to take dozens of shots throughout the game and file them away in albums.
She’s managed to take some incredible action shots primarily using only two lenses. “If I have my camera with me I usually have two lens the fix 50 which is really good for being good at being able to get crisp shots. You can get really nice shots if the light’s not super great. It takes having dim lighting and turns it into an asset. I’ll have my standard 18-35mm that comes with most cameras that you can kind of adjust.” Recently she’s posted some amazing photos from her trips to Brazil and Eastern Europe proving she has an excellent eye for photography regardless of the subject.
Vickie is not your typical Red Sox fan. Shortly after moving to Boston from her home state of Vermont in 2007, she became a weekend tour guide at Fenway Park. How did she land that gig? Lots of follow up e-mails.
Having taken a few tours with her I can verify that her Sox knowledge was on point. “I could tell you the day that Ted Williams hit the home run 502 feet into right field. That’s where the red seat is up now. I knew at that point who the pitcher for the Detroit Tigers was and what the count was.”
She spent a few weeks studying and cramming Fenway facts prior to the start of her tour guide tenure, but it was impossible to learn everything. “The alpha dude would definitely want to come up with that questions and try to stump the perky blonde tour guide. If it was a little kid I would turn that into a thing where I would kind of celebrate the kid and be like ‘You know what I’ve been doing this for a really long time and this kid [is the] first kid ever to stump the tour guide’ and get everybody to give him a round of applause.” With parental permission, she would get the kid’s email address, do some research and get back to them. One question that stumped her was how many lights are in the light towers, so she just went and counted them.
Of course the job came with some incredible perks. She joined the organization just after the Sox won their second World Series and was able to take part in the dress rehearsal for Opening Day.
“They needed people to stand in for the people who were going to be getting the rings. So one of the days I was a guy who was like one of the trainers [the next day] I was Coco Crisp and my brother was JD Drew.”
Despite her involvement, she has yet to attend Opening Day and a World Series game, but she came so close to making it inside Fenway Park for their third championship win in 2013. Vickie and her brother were 20 people away from being able to get inside. Since it was a few weeks before her birthday, her brother really wanted to get her in for her present. Instead, she watched the game at home with her friends and boyfriend. Her brother continued to wait in line, but never made it in.
Prior to meeting her boyfriend, a huge Liverpool FC fan, she began to research what English Premiere League football team she wanted to follow. “I said to him ‘I want to learn about things and see what’s going on, but just because you like Liverpool doesn’t mean I like Liverpool. I’m going to try to find my own team.’ He said ‘Don’t let it be Chelsea. Otherwise we’re good.'”
In the end she ended up choosing Liverpool because of their similarity to the Bruins. “[They have] that storied tradition where you have guys that won before and are focused on playing hard and not necessarily being the flashiest and recognizing your price.” She’s a member of the Liverpool Club of Boston often watching games early on Saturday mornings with other local supporters.
She’s not always a spectator. For the past four years Vickie has played in a social dodgeball league. She’s completed a Spartan Race (at Fenway), runs on the Slumbrew team for the Cambridge run series and ran the Chicago Marathon in 2010. Every now and then she contemplates running the Boston Marathon, but the fundraising commitment and training are challenging. Right now she’s putting her time and energy into boxing training and raising money for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society through Lights Out 4 Leukemia.
A few years back she purchased a Groupon for The Ring boxing gym – primarily because Shawn Thornton trained there. It was not the idea of running into Shawn Thornton that was so appealing, but being trained by the guy that trains him. (I also want to see she ran the stairs at Harvard as part of the November Project for the same reason…) As most people can attest, walking into a boxing gym is intimidating. “I remember walking up to the club and seeing people walking out the door and I was like ‘Okay’ and promptly walked past the place and walked around the corner to the little football stadium area for BU and hung out there until I could actually gather the courage to go back and walk in,” she recalls.
If you’re considering trying out boxing, remember that no one is going to punch you directly in the face the minute you walk in the door. You do not have to spar if you do not want to (a question The Ring’s paperwork asked her TWICE) and you can concentrate on conditioning. There’s so much to learn and be aware of and there isn’t a trainer that would force you into the ring to spar if they didn’t think you were prepared and could execute a safe fight.
Since she started training with Lights Out back in May, she has earned three black eyes and a bruised sternum proving herself to be incredible tough. Despite those injuries, she has continued to push herself as much as she possibly can. She knows she can learn something from visiting the basics while she recovers and learn from watching others.
Despite her previous experience at The Ring, she didn’t arrive into training feeling ahead of everyone else that had never had a fight before. “Going from ‘I kinda have a sense of maybe what I’m going to be doing’ to ‘I know absolutely nothing’ and really having to be okay with that and recognize the fact that it’s a process. Over the course of time I’ll learn enough to be able to get into the ring and hold my own and learning how to take punches, which I am growing very good at being able to do as my face will attest.” She’s going to rock it on September 19th.
Now all she needs is a basketball team.
You can hear our entire conversation over here! We briefly mentioned the Derek Jeter story, but never went in to detail. Feel free to ask either of us to tell you the story next time you see one of us. We also talked about U2’s Beautiful Day and how it ruins fun things, favorite (and least favorite) karaoke songs, attending private Catholic universities and choosing an entrance song for boxing (tell her to use Natasha Beddingfield’s Pocket Full of Sunshine.)
There’s a reason why this has taken forever for me to write. I had foolishly assumed that training for a charity boxing match was just going to be added to the list of things I did. When I sat down to write this I couldn’t manage my thoughts well because they were all over the place. I needed to step away from it and gather them. There were so many things to take into account from that night and it has taken me close to a full month to process them. I went from anxiety to frustration to sadness to happy I could eat pizza and drink beer again. I thought often about cucumbers and combos that I should’ve landed during the fight. (As well as Combos the snack. You’ll see why later). I had regrets about my own doubts and kicked myself for not making it to the gym in my off time. Instead of concentrating on the things that I didn’t do, I had to take some time to reflect on what I did accomplish. And, holy crap, how did I actually do any of this?
For those that don’t know, I signed up for the Young Professionals Non Profit listserv at the suggestion of a friend to help me try to gain some focus as to what type of Masters Degree I eventually want to pursue. Naturally I gravitated towards the email entitled “Looking For First Time Boxers.” Boxing was something I had always wanted to try, but couldn’t push myself to invest the time in. As soon as I read that I would be training three times a week (for free!) and raising money it was a match made in heaven. Volunteering and learning a new skill while meeting new people is tops.
And so training began. The first workout was grueling: step up push presses, lunges, what felt like nineteen different types of push-ups – and all of us trying to prove that we deserve to be there. As the weeks went on I got punched in the face more and more. The first time I sparred, I cried for absolutely no reason after the first round. I wasn’t hurt or embarrassed, I had actually done pretty well. The trainer refereeing our match yelled “What are you crying for!? You wanted women’s rights in the 70s!”
Some people went up against Golden Glove winners while others were placed in the ring sparring with a girl nicknamed X, who was super nice and knowledgeable, but very dangerous. She would smack her gloves together and yell “COME ON!” and when I landed a punch she’d say “Yeah! There you go!.” She was awesome, but good luck to anyone that gets in the ring with her. There were days I left feeling confident in my abilities and days when I contemplated never going back. Ultimately, this was about raising money for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society and not about me at all. My goals shifted the closer we got to the event from trying to be really good at boxing to wanting to win to just being able to finish the fight to not tripping getting into the ring.
In order to cut weight before the fight I ate a banana for breakfast, a dressing free salad for lunch and a cucumber every two hours. I would bite the end off, spit it in the trash and eat it as is, savoring every bite and making it last as long as possible. I may have been cold all the time, but I lost 11lbs. Due to cucumber diligence, my opponent and weighed in at less than 15lbs apart and we were able to have a USA Boxing sanctioned fight. After the weigh in, eating mouthfuls of plain, wheat protein pasta and a quick medical assessment – where my blood pressure was 170/110 and I was diagnosed as “just really nervous” – I made my way downstairs, gloved up and worked the mitts while I waited for our match, the second of the night, to be announced. I figured we had about ten minutes to prepare since the first match had just started, but 30 seconds in a knock out was declared and I was asked if I was ready.
“Nope,” I replied. And then “Army of Me,” my entrance song, played and I had to figure out where the hell I was supposed to go. I safely made it through the ropes and into the ring. Achievement unlocked. My opponent and I touched gloves, retreated to our corners and were called into fight when the bell rang.
Now, if you’ve ever seen a boxing movie, you’ve noticed that the fight is always a close up of the boxers throwing punches in slow motion against a backdrop of darkness and bright lights. It feels exactly like that when you’re in there. I tried to do everything I was taught: control the center of the ring, go for the body (my opponent was much, much taller and therefore impossible to hit in the head), block punches and not fall into a trap of a flurry of punches from her. I heard people cheering for me specifically or just yelling “Come on, blue!” It was an entirely different change of pace from the energy of the first match. We were slower, far more tired and less experienced. I have no idea how we looked, but I felt great after. None of the punches that she landed on me hurt as bad as I had expected and I didn’t pee as much during the match as I thought I would. There was a hesitation in announcing the winner during which the referee asked us individually if we enjoyed ourselves, if it was our first fight, etc. You know, what we in the business call “boxing small talk*.”
My opponent was announced as the winner and I’ll admit to being bummed out, but I met half my goals and was happy overall with my performance. I stopped being bummed out when I went to see my friends and family in the crowd and was greeted with drink tickets, pizza, flowers, pizza, lots of hugs accompanied with an “I’m so proud of you” and pizza. Training and getting in the ring had never seemed like that big of a deal to me, but everyone’s reactions proved otherwise. I made it a point to run over to the exit after each match and high five or hug everyone while congratulating them on their matches – unless I was eating pizza, but even then I managed to bring the pizza with me.
The rest of the night was so much fun. A friend of mine was the MC and my cousin, the DJ, unknowingly played my favorite jam, “Return of the Mack,” during intermission. The event flowed so smoothly and was practically flawless. To top it off, a bunch of my friends won raffle prizes! Could it seriously get any better!?
Yes! It could!
As we all know, one of my favorite wrestlers ever is Daniel Bryan. He became my favorite in 2012 when he started chanting “Yes!” on his way to the ring as a over the top heel. This phenomenon caught on, created a “Yes Movement” to make him champion and arenas would yell “Yes! Yes! Yes!” while raising their arms and pointing their fingers in the air.
My friends did this as I walked into the after party. It was amazing that some threw or attended a fundraiser to help me raise money or that they donated to the cause in addition to purchasing tickets. I was humbled by the number of people that encouraged me throughout the way and showed up to cheer me on. It might be silly, but I was not expecting a “Yes!” chant to happen.
I am so appreciative of everyone’s donations and well wishes. I am so grateful to the trainers, who I can now count among my friends, and to Boston Boxing for giving me an opportunity like this. Likely one that I will never have again. And to everyone that fought that night, you are incredible and I am so lucky to have gone through this experience with you all. Learning, commiserating, flipping tires, trying to get the courage to sing “I Will Always Love You” as a group to cut down on our workout time. (Only one person did it, the rest of us knew we needed that workout) and making up songs. If you’re going to do this, and I highly recommend that you do, you need someone with a similar sense of humor. Thankfully, I had Chris (who just wrote a BOOK) to help rewrite lyrics to Lil’ Jon songs using ridiculous things the trainers yelled at us during workouts (see title of post.)
So, would I do it again? Maybe. I love the classes I am taking at Boston Boxing right now and the culture there is really great. Everyone is supportive and the emphasis is on the technique and sportsmanship. There is no showboating allowed. If you’re looking to knock someone out so you know how it feels, then it’s not for you. I’m no where near ready to compete again and I want to make sure that I can be in an appropriate weight class for my height.
Lights Out 4 Leukemia is already looking for people to sign up to train for next year’s event. For more information, check out their website.
*No one calls it that.
A week ago I was telling two of my friends about how the training for this charity boxing event I am in has been going when one said “I feel like this season in the sitcom of your life is going to be the most entertaining.” When I’m done either complaining or squealing about it to everyone the reactions have been the same. “So, what’s the next thing?” And my answer is, I don’t know. Truthfully, I may lay low and try to add some normalcy to my life. I can’t really think about that right now though. Boxing isn’t even really close to being over and yet we’re just two weeks from fight night.
This is a new feeling for me. Usually my mind is on a million other things and I am already thinking two months ahead. All my usual activities are on hiatus, but I’m managing to fill that time with performing and more boxing. Instead of focusing on thirty different things, I should’ve been spending these last two months on just boxing. Whoops.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. When I step into the ring on September 13th I will be short just 9,950 hours. I’m at the “just don’t get yourself killed out there” level of mastery. I will try my best. I admit that I am grossly out of shape for this, but I’m in a lot better shape than I was two years ago. I had anticipated breaking my plateau and supplementing my days off with some November Project style cardio, but time and injuries have been an obstacle. I’m back in physical therapy for super cool low back pain that causes me to scream when I sneeze. I haven’t lost any weight, but my body has changed, I guess.
If it seems like I am talking about this a bunch it’s because I am. Anything that you do three times a week will creep up in almost every conversation. Add in a fundraising element [DONATE OR BUY TICKETS HERE] and it’s endless. I need all of your attention always anyway, but now I need it a little bit more to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
LLS is an excellent organization that doesn’t just throw money at research.The money we are raising will help pay for medical bills, transportation and medication for the uninsured. I am immensely proud to be able to be a part of this and am so grateful to all of my family and friends that have purchased tickets, made donations and planned one heck of a fundraiser with wrestling prizes. This has been a large commitment and having all this support from everyone has been incredible.
Unlike arm wrestling, this is legit. Not that arm wrestling wasn’t hard (I did lose, afterall), but I get punched in the face a bunch. I wear head gear, hand wraps, gloves and a mouth piece, but it hurts. I’ve developed an obsession with Fruit Punch Gatorade. Everyone that I have met, from the trainers to the other first timers to the veterans at the gym, have all been wonderful. Since there are a million things to remember while trying to not actually remember them while you’re in the ring, it’s nice to have so many people willing to approach you to tell you just what it is you’re doing wrong and tell you that you’re doing a good job when you are. I had no idea what this experience was actually going to entail when I signed up, but I’ve met some absolutely incredible people in doing this and it’s going to be tough not seeing them on a weekly basis when it’s all over.
I wish I had been writing about this all along. This is the first year that this particular event (Lights Out 4 Leukemia) is happening. And you should come! Not entirely convinced yet? Read some excepts from my very, very loose journal* that I’ve been keeping the entire time.**
Today sucked. So, I decided I would leave feeling good about myself. I don’t know who that girl I sparred with was, but I’m told she’s pretty good. Glad I commemorated that moment with a bitch face selfie in my car afterwards.
As I am writing this I have a bag of Market Basket frozen veggie medley on my face. Tonight did not really go in my favor. There was a brief moment, after I was punched directly in the nose, I thought it was broken. I heard my nose snap, my neck snap and I became a little nauseous. I expected blood to start pouring and was surprised when I only wiped away sweat.
The near death experience:
Well, almost swallowed my mouth guard tonight in sparring. Twice.
So, what has been the most challenging part of this experience? Even though I’ll have a PTSD flash back every time I hear “That’s 50 push ups,” it wasn’t the grueling work outs. It wasn’t trying to master my form and balance, but both still need a considerable amount of work. It’s been trying to find the confidence to go through with this or at least make an attempt at hiding it. I had joked in the beginning that the fight was over when I knocked out my opponent because I didn’t actually know how long we were boxing for. I stuck with that answer because it sounded the most bad ass and generated a decent amount of laughs and interest in the event. It’s been pointed out to me throughout the process that my lack of confidence is glaringly obvious and that maybe the reason why I am doing this is to become more confident in my every day life. And here I was, thinking I was hiding it so well! It’s just hard to feel good about yourself when you get punched in the face, but it’s deeper than that. I generally feel bad about my performance after every single thing I do in my life. To have it pointed out by people that have spent such a short amount of time with me hits harder than it coming from someone close to me, but it’s helpful, because it’s shown me what it is that I truly need to work on.
I think I know what my next project is going to be.
**Nah, I just remember these small details