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ND boxing coach expresses creative side

Joe Hettler | Friday, March 5, 2004

There are some days when 81-year-old Jack Zimmerman doesn’t feel like doing 151 straight pushups. But once he begins, he always finishes.”I’m a pushup freak,” said Zimmerman, who normally does between 151 and 201 every morning. “I do pushups every day.” The Notre Dame boxing coach has undertaken a variety of hobbies during his life – from pushups to racing pigeons. Zimmerman now officially adds the title of poet to his name, recently publishing a book, Dead Mouse, of almost 30 poems. “I tried things like writing my initials on a tree; after a while, it grew over. After a while I marked mud turtles with paint – never caught the same ones. As I got older, I got thinking, maybe I can make something a little more permanent than that. All of my life I’ve pointed toward writing because a writer needs to have an innate love for literature.”Zimmerman has been writing for much of his adult life and said he always wanted to have his work published. He continued to write and occasionally took his poems to two friends at Office Max, who would then critique Zimmerman’s work. Both sides made corrections and after numerous revisions, Zimmerman had his poem book.”I have 26 poems that are more or less accidents to be in here,” Zimmerman said. “I didn’t exactly select them; they just evolved and we had to have a display [for the poems].”Zimmerman, or “Zimmy,” as he is called by some of the boxers, writes about a diverse number of topics in his poem book. He has poems about love, drugs, insects, death and other themes throughout the collection. Zimmerman has priced his work at $19.95, though he is not yet seeling it anywhere. He said he is working on selling the collection online. Zimmerman is also quick to point out that writing poetry is not a simple or fast process. He usually goes through several stages of revisions with each poem.”I stole this from another writer: When I write, it’s like I just vomited and I have to clean it up,” Zimmerman said. “I have a writing, a rewriting, a rewriting, and I never quit. I might go back to a poem and correct it or adjust it years later.”Zimmerman got the interesting title of his poem book – Dead Mouse – from an experience he had 30 years ago. While repairing his fireplace, Zimmerman found the skeleton of a mouse. He was going to throw the mouse away, but Zimmerman’s mother came in the room and told her son that she knew what to do with the mouse.”She was delighted,” Zimmerman said. “She said, “That’s nice – I know what to do with that.’ She put it in a glass and hung it on my wall. It’s been there for 30 years.”That wasn’t the only story that contributed to the title, though. “The reason [the name] is so prominent is that I had a childhood friend – Marvin Peterson – and I would say to him, ‘How you doing, Pete?’ and he’d say, ‘I have the strength of a dead mouse’. So that’s where that came from,” Zimmerman said.Poetry was not Zimmerman’s first love, though. As a youngster, Zimmerman’s father took him to boxing matches, and as Zimmerman grew older he would frequently get into fights with other kids, eventually leading him into the ring. “I had a couple of street fights and gained a reputation,” Zimmerman said. “After that, it was like I had to get another notch on my gun. I had to prove it.”Despite being small in stature, Zimmerman made people take notice of his boxing abilities.”The best thing ever said about me was that I looked like I couldn’t bite a marshmallow, but you’d better watch your [butt],” Zimmerman said. “I always loved that because I did look like a wimp.”Zimmerman has been working with Bengal Bout fighters for 12 years. Before each fight, he prepares the boxer’s equipment and gives them some final words of encouragement. “[Bengal Bouts] is unlike the professionals,” he said. “You’re fighting your friends to the extent they might even beat you. It’s just that way.”When Zimmerman is not coaching boxers or writing poetry, he keeps pigeons as pets and is a member of the American Racing Pigeon Union.Part of the season, pigeons are first, and part of the season, boxing is first,” Zimmerman said. “I’ve been grandfathered by the American Racing Pigeon Union. I have an honorary membership.”As for boxing and poetry, Zimmerman does not plan on quitting anytime soon, “as long as [God] allows me to keep going.”