Little Juan Ocampo

I said I’d write about my last fight, but something else happened about a month before that I want to address first. Not only is it more important, but it feeds into my last fight and will make more sense. So that story will be told in the next installment—as a continuation of this one. I do my best not to mention names of people who may or may not want to have their business out in public, but I have to talk about Little Juan. (Well, talk some—but mostly show pictures.)


Little Juan Ocampo died in a car accident close to home on September 29th, 2014, at the age of 19. He was the passenger in an SUV driving too fast in rain on the interstate very close to both the gym and his home. He was the only one who died; another passenger was taken to the hospital. He went through the windshield and shattered the heart of the gym.

Juan & Terri

I found out about our loss when Terri (our trainer) texted a group of us a link to a news article (here, and later here) along with a picture of her with him. The picture was taken at the weigh-in for his first boxing match, which was on Atlanta Corporate Fight Night 7, our first boxing promotion since opening Buckhead Fight Club.

Before the gym had even been open for one week, “Little” Juan Ocampo joined and took up residence with us. He would come train in the morning, hang out and talk for half the day, run off, and then return to train again in the evening. He kept this up all summer. He lied a couple of times about his age, but it turns out he was 18 at the time. He was great company, and a real talker—he knew everybody and everybody knew him. He wouldn’t leave the gym until he’d said bye to every person there. Sometimes his friends from outside the gym would come looking for him at the gym, because that’s where they knew to find him.

Every Juan in the gym has a nickname so that we can tell which Juan we’re talking about, and “Little” Juan came right after “First” Juan (who joined a day or two earlier). It was a bit of a joke because he was actually relatively tall, but he was young and that made him little. :) It was also definitely a term of affection because he was our Little Juan and we loved him no matter how big he kept growing.

After that summer of hanging out with us, he came and went—sometimes for months at a time. He always came back, though. Sometimes just for a couple of days; sometimes for a steady few months. That’s part of why it was so hard to believe he was dead after we learned about the crash, because it was normal for him to be gone for a while. We still expected him to come back any day, running down the stairs.

Retired LockerNot long before he died, Terri told him to claim a locker at the gym so that he could stop leaving his things in the open. I happened to have a lock that I wasn’t using, so I gave it to him. I didn’t trust him to remember his lock combination, so I wrote it down to keep it in case he forgot. To his credit, he never forgot his combination—but the fact that I kept the numbers means we were able to open it and return his belongings to his family. The locker is empty now, but we locked it back up and put his name and picture on it.


Little Juan’s boxing shoes, gloves, and jump rope.

Remember how I said that his friends and sometimes family would come by the gym to find him? This continued after he died (overwhelmingly so). Family dropped in as if they wanted to connect with the place he loved. It was hard to see them come in crying, wanting to hear stories about him. I’d end up crying, too. His friends would come by, as well. One guy called the gym for information about the funeral, because he wasn’t able to get in touch with his family any other way. He hugged me at the funeral and thanked me for making sure he didn’t miss it.

Even months later, every now and then, someone comes in and sees his picture and tells me that they knew him. (He knew everybody, because there isn’t a person in the world that he’d turn his back on.) People who don’t know about him ask questions, too, because his picture is all over the gym.

That week, his family asked if they could hold a vigil in the gym, and we did. The car accident was on Monday; the vigil was on Thursday evening. We didn’t know what to expect, but I was overwhelmed by the number of people and their singing and grieving. We had his picture set up in the ring with some of his belongings (his backpack!), flower arrangements, candles…


That was rough. I stayed on the outskirts because I couldn’t handle being close.

His funeral was held Friday, October 3rd, at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church. Between there and the burial at Gwinnett Memorial Park, I was amazed to see how many people attended, and especially people that I recognized from the gym—some of whom hadn’t been around in a really long time.

He’s still our boy, with a prominent place in the gym. Little Juan was anything but little. His big heart changed my life.


Picture posted at the front desk.

Left: portrait for ACFN 7. Right: behind the scenes before ACFN 7.

Left: portrait for ACFN 7. Right: behind the scenes before ACFN 7.

One of the posters around the gym.

One of the posters around the gym. (Juan is in the blue trunks.)

The picture people notice and ask about the most.

The picture people notice and ask about the most, right above the speedbag.

It took me a while before I could drive on the interstate without feeling sad, but I still keep this in my car.

It took me a while before I could drive on the interstate without feeling sad, but I still keep this in my car.

Every time I see this building, I smile and think of Juan. One time he told me that the top can close (someone had told him that). I still wonder if it's true!

Every time I see this building, I smile and think of Juan. One time he told me that the top can close (someone had told him that). I still wonder if it’s true!

Juan was proud when he drew first blood at Buckhead Fight Club by breaking a nose. He was thrilled to sign the ring mat. (That ain't his blood!)

Juan was proud when he drew first blood at Buckhead Fight Club by breaking a nose. He was thrilled to sign the ring mat. (That ain’t his blood! He had the BEST defense.)

One day—after he died but before his funeral—I was babysitting and the toddler and I were out on a walk on a sunny morning. When we walked past this rose bush, I thought the dewy petals were so beautiful (like life, somehow, I don’t know). I had to take a picture and stop to admire them… trying to get the 1.5 year-old to do the same. I posted the rose as my profile picture on Facebook and someone (who didn’t know anything about what was going on) commented that it was a “knockout” rose.



On November 1st, 2014, we held Latin Fight Night: “Dia de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead) at Buckhead Fight Club. You see, months earlier, we had already sanctioned this promotion to feature local Latin amateur boxers. Once Juan died, suddenly the show felt very heavy: while it might’ve looked like any boxing show in the entertainment business capitalizing on a traditional holiday, for us it was solely dedicated to Little Juan.

More about that next.

When a Year Wasted Isn’t a Wasted Year

If the title of this post seems conflicted, it’s because I’m learning one of those lessons that the mind is quicker to pick up than the heart. The story starts like this: I slipped and fell down a flight of stairs. I wanted to help the UPS man carry some boxes down the back steps of the gym on a rainy day, and there you go. I don’t even know how I fell or how I traveled down so many steps, but all I know is that I thought my right elbow was smashed to smithereens (it wasn’t) and that my lower back was screwed (it was).

The scene of the crime.

The scene of the crime.

Though it’s not my first reaction, I have to consider myself lucky! I didn’t hit my head, I didn’t break any bones, and I’m not paralyzed. There are a hundred ways a fall like that could’ve been worse. Still, my first reaction was: OOWWW! Followed by hysterical tears, followed by ice and ibuprofen, followed by shattered expectations for the summer amateur boxing season.

I fell on the 17th of March, 2014 (to be exact), which was less than a week before the Georgia Golden Gloves tournament that I’d been preparing for. With six novice bouts under my belt, I was pumped to fight all summer, go open, and fight some more. I wanted to close the fall and waltz into winter with a nice stack of wins and oodles of experience. Right? Wrong!

Initially, we thought I’d still be able to box that weekend after the swelling and inflammation went down. The problem is, the inflammation never went down! My elbow healed up and that pain gradually disappeared after a few months. The lower-back-and-butt injury, however, did not. First, my uninsured self tried a slew of treatments:

  • Chiropractic adjustments.
  • Acupuncture.
  • Icing my back multiple times a day (every day for months).
  • Using a TENS unit.
  • Self-massage with a lacrosse ball.
  • Massage therapy.

I don’t know about the acupuncture, but the chiropractic adjustments were helpful for quick pain relief. Icing my back numbs the pain and the TENS unit covers up the pain, but the best treatment that has encouraged healing is the massage therapy. Not just any massage therapy, but the fantastic work by Jeff Trotti at Comprehensive Bodyworks. Side note: he ROCKS! A lady at the gym recommended him to me and I’m so glad. If you need help, go to Jeff. Now. (What, you live in another state? What’s the problem?! When I’m famous, I’m going to fly him around with me. He doesn’t know that, though, so don’t tell him yet.)

So June rolls around (almost three months after the fall), and I’m thinking that this is starting to get ridiculous and I just have to suck it up and go to a medical doctor. I’m pretty sure that ordeal was a colossal waste of money, but maybe it wasn’t. I got an MRI that showed good results, so at least there wasn’t a herniated or ruptured disc. And I tried some medications that didn’t work… The doctor’s conclusion was that I shouldn’t be hurting. (Thanks for clearing that up, Mr. Orthopedic Specialist.) I think he dismissed me because I didn’t have insurance. It was definitely the worst experience I’ve had with a doctor. I recently got health insurance (hooray!), so I’m trying again with a different orthopedic doctor this week. Wish me luck!

From April through October, I tried my best to train around the injury. I rested for weeks at a time here and there, but never more than 2-3 weeks at once. I would get so restless and upset! When I say I was still training, don’t get the wrong idea. I’m talking about low-impact, six-round workouts that sometimes didn’t even require gloves. Nothing near the intensity of even average training sessions, and definitely nowhere near the conditioning needed for sparring and/or fighting. No running, either.

Meanwhile, I felt like everyone around me was training and fighting and having the time of their boxing lives. But this was a lesson in itself. Instead of being in the ring at the fights, I was snapping pictures of our fighters, filming their fights so they could watch themselves later, and cheering from the sidelines. It stunk, but it taught me about supporting my friends and teammates. I was supportive before, too, but this time I didn’t have my own matches to worry about. (That isn’t even true, because I was still thinking about when I would finally be able to compete again…) Ok, so I’m trying to sound all wise and learn-ed, but really I was just jealous.

Look at our boys and their belts! Who wouldn't be jealous? 9/1/2014

Look at our boys and their belts! Who wouldn’t be jealous? 9/1/2014

Even at home in the gym, I felt left out. When I could box, working in the gym was fabulous because it kept me close to what I love. When I couldn’t box, though, it was torture because it felt like all of the work with none of the fun. (It wasn’t so bad once I readjusted my attitude. Again.) It’s amazing how something physical can affect my emotions so much. I know many people have been through so much more physical trouble than I have and for much longer, but I still feel like this has been a long nightmare that still isn’t over. You can tell, right? Even though I’m trying to be logical and level-headed, you can hear that I’ve still got whine and boohoos under there. It’s all about perspective. So many other people are feeling much worse pain, but I’m not feeling their pain… I’m feeling mine.

Just as a pick-me-up even though I still wasn’t in good shape, I did have a fight on November 1st at my home gym and won! That was a bright, happy spot that capped off the worst and shortest training period I’ve ever had before a fight. Whew! Tell you more about that later.

My hope right now is that I can start training again within the next couple of weeks and build up my conditioning and strength to fight and go open this summer. Just a year later than I was hoping for.

Happy New Year!

Ha! I thought I should liven things up. Here I am on my third anniversary of boxing (Jan. 4th), with entirely different thoughts and lessons than I hoped I would. But who’s to say one lesson is better than another, especially when there’s no telling what’s coming in the future?

I re-read my post from my first anniversary of boxing, and I’m proud that I can see so much growth in myself since then. Those lessons are still important basics for me, but I’ve learned so much more. Here are three big ideas that I’m still trying hard to digest:

Keep dreaming big dreams.

Keep dreaming big dreams, but don’t let your impatience to get there spoil what you have here and now. In this song by the Eli Young Band, the main line is: “Keep on dreaming even if it breaks your heart.” I’m not an aspiring country music artist, but I can relate to the lyrics because they tell me about reaching and reaching and reaching because you don’t have a choice. Scratch that! You do have a choice, and you’ve chosen this one thing, no matter what.

Get to work and expect fun.

When I return to training (whenever that may be), it’s going to hurt. My trainer and I will work together to make sure I ease into it the best way possible, but there’s no getting around the aches and pains that even healthy bodies have when getting back into something like boxing. I don’t care about that. What I’m excited about is boxing, and no pain is going to take the joy of that away. (Remind me of that when I’m complaining about it later!!) I’m serious about my boxing and I will focus and train hard, but I fully expect it to be fun and good because this is what I want and what I’ve chosen.

THIS: I can always learn and advance.

This is my number one boxing lesson for the year. For a while, I thought I couldn’t do anything because I couldn’t train hard. In reality, when I shifted my attitude, I could do more than I realized. I watched a whole lot of boxing (in the gym, on TV, on YouTube, at tournaments…) and imagined myself doing everything impressive I observed. Everything sharp, slick and devastating—I can do all that. I practiced on lighter and faster bags, danced around with footwork here and there, and played around.

Not kidding: even though I trained so little this year, the few times I sparred or even moved around a little bit throwing jabs, I’ve felt and looked way better than before. Progress! Don’t get me wrong, the above activities were NOT a satisfying replacement for full-on training, but it was something. Involuntary resting absolutely sucks, but you don’t have to rest your mind.

Which leads right into that lesson I mentioned at the beginning: that I “know” in my mind, but still struggle with in my heart. This period hasn’t been a waste of time. It’s a set-back, no doubt, but I’ve still grown. It delayed my plans in terms of fights and advancing into the amateurs and eventually the pros… But the year wasn’t a wash. It didn’t go down the drain. I don’t know all the reasons yet, and I don’t know the end of the story! But I sure do have big dreams for it.

Next time, on a happier note, I’ll tell you about my fight in November, how I became a Mexican, and how I got a new ring-name! :)

P.S. I’m not allowed to carry anything down those steps anymore.

6th Fight — In My Home Gym!

Sometime in October, it was arranged that Buckhead Fight Club (my gym!) would host the 2014 Georgia USA Boxing State Championships! It was a two-day tournament held December 14 & 15, 2013. I signed myself up as soon as the registration form went live and entered the tournament as a female novice in the 119-pound weight class.

For the longest time, I didn’t have a match. Only three or four women entered this tournament, all in different weight classes. Luckily, we found me a match who was even willing to pay the late fee to enter just days before competition. We changed my weight class to 125 lbs to match her weight and make it happen.

I was excited and determined to train well for this tournament, especially because I was going through a rough time personally. I was going through a break-up, starting to catch a cold, and generally felt worn down and spent. For the three-or-so weeks leading right up to the tournament, I had problems both falling asleep and staying asleep at night. I wanted this fight to be a bright spot in a dark period of time—something that I could look forward to positively.

Day One (Saturday)

My opponent and I both showed up early to get our yearly physicals done. The weigh-in was technically much later, but the officials went ahead and weighed both of us to speed things up since we were the only female match. I weighed in at 124.8 lbs; my opponent was 124 on the dot.

After that, I manned a table of boxing memorabilia (t-shirts, mugs, watches, retired competition gloves, etc.) that the president of GABA brought to help raise money to send our open division winners to Nationals. I was getting sleepy while sitting there, but I was mostly hungry! Once someone showed up to relieve me, I took myself to Waffle House for a breakfast of champions. I had an awful waiter, but the food was good!

When I got back to the gym, my job was to sell tickets at the door. I had good company, including one of the kids in my kids’ boxing class. I guess he got bored of watching the fights, because he came up to the front and spent the rest of the night helping us. When the day’s bouts came to an end and people left, I finished up the VIP and Will Call assignments for the following day. After that, I headed home. Terri and some of the boxing chicks invited me to join them for dinner, but I was SO looking forward to bed. I wasn’t worried about my fight—I just needed one good, whole night of sleep to set me straight.

I literally read one page of a book to unwind, and then I crashed. I did finally sleep that night. I fell asleep easily AND stayed asleep until my alarm went off, which was a miracle. I don’t think that had happened since before December!

Day Two (Sunday)

I had set my alarm for 9:30 that morning because my coach and I planned to go to breakfast together. She ended up not being able to, so I tried to go back to sleep for a while, but couldn’t. Oh well! My morning started with a smile when I received a text message picture of a little baby that I babysit. She was holding a boxing glove, with a funny and confused look on her face. It made me smile! :)

Still, I started to feel down that morning and struggled to stay positive. Driving to Waffle House (a better one with friendlier service), I tried to turn my thoughts around. Finally, I told myself: “Screw it! I don’t care. I’ll rip her apart anyway.” It was sort of positive, but it was in an angry and grim way.

After breakfast, I went to the gym and laid down for a long time. I didn’t sleep, but I relaxed and got myself into a really good mood. My heart started pounding anytime I thought about throwing quick combinations, so I decided to mostly think of calmer things.

20140103-213923.jpgOne of my friends handed me a Christmas tree cut from wrapping paper, saying that a boy in my kids’ class sent it to me to inspire me. I LOVE it and I’ll keep it forever! My mom sent me periodic text messages of quotes from the movie Cars, which cracked me up!! That’s one of my favorite movies ever, so I loved the quotes and appreciated the support.

It was finally time for me to get up and re-join the land of the living. I watched Terri wrap another boxer’s hands (she had two of us fighting), and then changed into my boxing jersey and trunks. He was bout #1; I was bout #5.

Boxing started! While I watched the first fight, I started warming up and getting loose. Our guy lost by TKO at the end of the third round, unfortunately, but he fought hard against an opponent much, much bigger than him. After his fight was over, Terri talked him through it some, which made me a little nervous about how much time we had left—even though I know it was important not to leave him hanging after his first fight. Then she wrapped my hands.

The third bout was in progress by the time I started warming up on pads, and then the fourth bout ended by a quick TKO before I was anywhere near warm enough. Terri asked me, “Are you feeling rushed?” I said, “Yes.” We inserted a brief intermission in the show. (The promoter can do that!) I felt pretty good on pads, but didn’t get sweaty or hot. I figured I was ready.

I walked to the ring with my song playing and heard cheers. I’ve never had so many people there for me at a fight before! Between the boxing chicks and the people who regularly come to the gym, a lot of people were wishing me luck and cheering me on. It was a good feeling, for sure! The fight started.

Round 1: Half-way through, I felt like my thighs had turned into jelly. I already felt that it would be hard to stick to the game plan (pressuring her) because I wouldn’t last. I was way too exhausted in the first round. Mentally, too. In the corner, Terri told me that I lost that round and asked if I wanted to win. I said yes, but I didn’t tell her that I already didn’t feel like I would be able to last. (And that, my friends, was the beginning of the end because I’d already decided. I was in despair even when I still had a fighting chance.)

Round 2: The ref gave me a standing 8 count, which was my first. This was also the first time I felt that I was behind. (My other two losses were close, but I knew this one.) Again, in the corner, Terri asked if I wanted to win. I knew I wouldn’t. She told me, in strong terms, to just put my head on her chest and throw punches.

Round 3: Which made for a desperate (and agonizingly long) third round where I think I might’ve thrown more punches than in the rest of the fight. I rallied some pounding body shots inside, but never went back up to the head—which she was open for. I was totally spent at the end!

Never once did I hear Terri’s instructions from the corner during the rounds, which is a bad, bad sign. After the fight, the ring announcer drew out the announcement a crazy-long time, so I took that as a sign that the bout was much closer than it was in my head. In my head, I lost by a long shot. However, after watching a video of the match, I saw that it was pretty close.

I cried some after leaving the ring. Got a lot of hugs from people saying I looked good, it was close, it was an exciting bout to watch, etc. I knew these things were true, which is why I felt like I should’ve won!

More than half of my kids’ boxing class was there. They surrounded me with hugs and excited chatter and questions. I had to pull myself together to be a good example. This helped me because then I could speak with people in a much more respectable, dry-eyed way. A lot of people, friends and strangers alike, came up to me to talk about my fight. I got all kinds of congratulations and compliments. Though they were difficult to accept right after a loss, they were encouraging!

After boxing was over and most people had cleared the venue, I went to be alone. Terri came in and talked with me for a while. A bunch of us went to our favorite Mexican restaurant across the street, and I stayed in good spirits even though I felt like a disappointment among friends. I was glad to have them there with me!

The Day After & Beyond

The morning after the tournament, I woke up with the usual sore muscles. Physically, this was the least painful fight I’ve been in, which I think is funny because the most painful fight I’ve been in so far was one that I won. At any rate, I drew an Epsom salt bath (which I’d never tried before) and soaked for twenty minutes. It sure felt good, and my muscle recovery in the following days was quicker than usual.

Right after this tournament, we looked at the GABA calendar to see what was coming up. Terri got to work finding me an opponent for a club show on February 1st. I had a match lined up, but that opponent back out. We also tried to set up a re-match with the girl that I just lost to, but we couldn’t get them to take it. Now I’m training for the GA Golden Gloves towards the end of March. I can’t wait!

I don’t feel like a disappointment because of this fight anymore. There was no shame in my effort, though I initially felt that there was because I wasn’t “up to snuff.” Of course it would’ve felt fantastic to win on my home field, but there’ll be other opportunities!! This fight taught me an important lesson about staying on top of my mental game, and I’ll gladly accept that as a boost that’s going to help me with every fight here on out. I’m nowhere near finished!


Evander Holyfield & Boxing Chicks on the first day of the tournament.