Latin Fight Night: “Dia de los Muertos”

Crazy things have been going on recently (er, in the last two years) that I want to share, but first I’m going to travel back in time to a good memory and the next piece of my story: my 7th fight and one of the funnest shows I’ve been on so far.

On November 1st in 2014, Buckhead Fight Club put on Latin Fight Night: “Dia de los Muertos” and boy was that a fun show! You should’ve seen the gym. The decorations were cool, we had an Aztec warrior walking around, and the place was packed. So fun!

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Stage one of our decoration prep.

This was my second fight in my home gym (I lost last time). It had been eleven months since that loss, and I hadn’t fought anywhere else due to injury. My bout was matched at 119 lbs and I was thrilled to be getting back in the ring!

The point of the show was to feature talented, local Latin boxers in every bout. The problem: my opponent and I were both white girls. Seeing as she’s a tall blonde and I’m a short brunette, my trainer and I decided that I should be considered the “Latina” fighter in our bout. We joked that we’d change my last name to a common Hispanic one, and we picked Sanchez. I thought it was funny, but I didn’t think we would actually do that. What if I offended someone?

I weighed in at exactly 122 pounds, which was the lightest I’d been at that point in time. Abel and I went to Waffle House together for breakfast after that, and then I returned to the gym to help with the last details of the show. The downside of fighting at home is that it can be tough to work the same event you’re fighting on. Every time this happened I always promised myself “I’m not doing this again,” but I always did because I wouldn’t turn down the chance to fight.

Luckily, as any good fight day would, this day included a long nap and multiple episodes of Fresh Prince. When I returned to the gym, I was stoked and ready to go. I hung out in the back room for a while, but before long I went out to the main area because I wanted to be right in the hustle and bustle of fighters and their teams getting ready. This is my favorite time; I love the energy!

When it was time to warm up, I started to freak out because I felt tired and worried about how long it had been since I last fought. Ring MatHalf-way through my warm-up, our ring announcer called everyone’s attention to the ring for a 10-count and silence for Little Juan. Everyone stopped working pads, everyone went quiet and we listened to the bell ring ten slow, sad times. When Terri and I looked back at each other at the end of it, we both had tears in our eyes — and resumed warming up right where we left off. I was about to fight in the ring with Juan’s name on the canvas. Swallow that lump in your throat and do it.

My fight was the fourth bout of the night and the only female fight. First, my opponent was announced and brought to the ring. Then, preceded by the Aztec warrior waving the Mexican flag, I was announced in the red corner, “hailing from Mexico City… Kelsey Sanchez!” I was astonished, but it didn’t throw me off. I later learned that the ones who knew me were laughing at this, while most of the audience was confused–though some believed it. (I was asked for an interview by a Hispanic news source, but that was before I could fake fluent Spanish.) So, Sanchez became my ring name and an inside joke at the same time. As for the fight…

1st Round: So hard! I didn’t throw much, and it wasn’t good. In fact, it was pretty bad.
2nd Round: Better! I threw many more punches and they connected more.
3rd Round: Much better! I could tell that I was rocking her…

During our last round, her hair started coming out of her headgear, so the referee sent her to her corner to fix it. I threw a whole bunch of punches when we resumed fighting to try to take advantage of the situation–the fact that she was frustrated and I was on a roll. Her hair came out again; the ref paused the match again. They were in the corner for what seemed like forever, and I was thinking “Come on, come back out here…” I was feeling great.

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Coolest medal ever! 

At some point that was unclear to me, the ref stopped the fight. I was confused and asked Terri if it was over, so she got confirmation from the ref and removed my gloves. I won by disqualification, which was less than satisfying! I was certain that I was ahead. I could’ve easily lost the first round, but not the second one. The third round was also in the bag, barring a surprising comeback from my opponent in the time left. I felt like I might’ve even had a chance at getting my first win by TKO in that 3rd round. However, a W is nothing to whine about! I had a great time.

aztecI got my picture taken with the Aztec warrior. This is the only picture I have from the night, which is a shame. Another drawback to fighting at home–everyone’s busy working the show! I couldn’t even find my corner after my fight, but I knew they had to move on to Abel, whose fight was after mine. I wandered around the venue for a while before I changed and watched the last of the fights.

When the event was over, clean-up was relatively quick because of the extra hands there to help. However, Terri’s idea of celebrating included a lettuce fight, HA! What a mess. That’s when the drinking and partying started. I finally came home exhausted and already getting sore muscles from the fight. I went to bed with an ice pack at almost four in the morning. Sanchez out!

 

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Ofrenda for Juan set up at the show.

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.)

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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.

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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…

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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.

FrontDesk

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.

Rose

Grave

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.