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Strong bodies fight

Mark Witte | Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Down! With the strength I shouldn’t have left, I slowly lower myself down to the floor and back up again. 48! Before either I or the sweat coursing over my eyelids have a chance to recover, it’s back… Down! My arms plead with me now. 49! The sweat pours off my face, running for its life. Down! Why does my sweat taste salty? 50! Thank God! I spring to my feet and look at the clock. I blink once or twice. This can’t be right, only 4:45… I blink again. The big hand hasn’t moved. My head sags. More sweat escapes, cascading to the floor. It’s only been 15 minutes.

To be honest, I am not really sure why I signed up for Bengal Bouts. Perhaps I felt compelled to follow in my father’s footsteps – he participated in Bengal Bouts as a junior way back in ’84. But he did insist that I not feel compelled to do the same. Perhaps it was because, now that I’m 21, I could sign my own form even if my mother gave me that sinister look of disapproval. But then again, she signed the form anyway. Perhaps it was because, when a veteran stopped me at Activities Night and asked if I wanted to fight, my manhood felt a call to duty. Or maybe, as my uncle insists – and this seems the most logical of all the explanations – I’m just stupid.

And maybe I am.

Practice is only two hours a day, but what’s lacking in time is easily made up in intensity. For the first two weeks I went to bed so exhausted from the hundreds of sit-ups, pushups, arm circles and endless calisthenics that not even the worst lion’s roar of my roommate’s snoring could keep me awake.

Like the other novices, I’ve learned to dread certain exercises. When one of the captains bellows out “Six inches,” you’d better say a quick “Hail Mary” and keep praying that nobody drops his legs. After that I’m not sure which is worse: hearing a captain yell “Get it bouncing” when there’s still 15 minutes left in practice, or being asked if anyone knows a good joke while holding push-up position at the end of a set. Neither usually ends very well.

But for all this bodily punishment, sometimes it’s best to examine the larger picture.

The motto of Bengal Bouts is “Strong bodies fight that weak bodies may be nourished.” The words are valiant, the cause even more so. Each year the fights raise tens of thousands of dollars for the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh. And this season, as much as any season before, Bangladesh needs the contribution.

On Nov. 15, Bangladesh was rocked by a category 4 cyclone. More than 4,000 people were left dead by the 150 mph winds and enormous tidal waves. An estimated 5.5 million were homeless or displaced, and the country’s economic growth will likely take quite a blow.

At a Mass he gave Sunday in the Dillon Hall Chapel, Father Lou Del Fra stressed the importance of finding ways in our future or current endeavors to serve and help others. He pointed out that if we work only for ourselves, we’ll eventually run out of reasons to get out of bed in the morning. Now that finals are fast approaching with the usual assault of papers, projects and all-nighters, Father Del Fra’s words provide new incentive to keep fighting.

While you may not be able to hit your professor or his final with a right hook, know that your studies are strengthening your mind so that someday you may nourish others.

I know that next time I’m at practice, feeling exhausted, clenched tightly in the plank position and fighting tooth and nail to keep my knees from touching the floor, it’s not any personal glory or thought of winning that will keep me up.

I know what got me out of bed this morning. Maybe I’m not that stupid after all.