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Lessons from inside the ring

Andy Zicarelli | Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I came to Notre Dame fully realizing that my experience here would be very different from my high school friends. Notre Dame is unique, I was told, and it is true. The proof is everywhere. At most schools, kids go out to bars or fraternity parties on Thursday nights, but you are more likely to find me in the Dillon Hall chapel at Mass then. Most schools would have given anything to have President Obama speak at their commencement; at Notre Dame it was controversial (to say the least). And most people tend to gain a little weight their freshman year, the so-called “freshman 15.” I, however, experienced the much less common “freshman negative 15,” thanks to another Notre Dame tradition: the Bengal Bouts.
Not that I knew what being a boxer meant when I signed up. It sounds cliché, but until you experience a boxing match, you really have absolutely no idea just what goes into it. It is the epitome of the individual sport. Once that bell rings, it is just you and the other person inside that ring: no timeouts, no substitutions and no way to escape. You’re trapped. The rush of adrenaline so completely takes over your body that a plane could land behind you and you wouldn’t notice. That rush, combined with the nerves that everyone inevitably feels in the spotlight, makes boxing the most physically demanding sport in the world. Not once have I ever left the ring feeling as though I had anything left to give in my body.
Now, as I sit here and look back at my Bengal Bouts career having just finished my third year in the program, I can honestly say it has been the single most influential experience I have had in my time at Notre Dame. Personally, I have given the boxing program a lot of myself over the past few years. I have given the Bouts money in the form of donations, an uncountable number of pushups and sit-ups and a hell of a lot of my time. I’ve even contributed to the blood stains that are on the canvas of the sparring ring in the boxing gym.
However, everything that I have given to the Bengal Bouts has been repaid to me in some way, and then some. Boxing has given me a sense of direction and purpose and, in college, it can be very easy to not have one. How many people swear that they are going go workout every day, and then two weeks into their resolution, they stop? Particularly as a college student, when there is nobody that can force you to do anything, people get lazy. As a boxer, though, you don’t have that luxury. If you miss a workout, enjoy it, but don’t be surprised if you happen to get popped in the face when you come back.
More than that, though, Bengal Bouts gives you a chance to be part of a team; something I thought I was saying goodbye to forever when my high school days were passed. It is certainly an interesting dichotomy. In many ways boxing is the loneliest of all sports. However, during the season you train as a team and everyone who will fight goes through the same grueling workout day after day. Regardless of who comes out on top in the end, everyone has mutual respect for every other fighter in the gym because you know just how much they had to go through to get to the tournament. It is a brotherhood, something that can’t just be created and certainly not something that you ever can take away from anyone who has fought in the Bouts.
The best part of the whole experience, however, is the fact that I learned more than I could imagine by putting myself through the program. I’ve learned that it is better to be tall than short (that one I can’t do much about, unfortunately). I’ve learned how to handle disappointment. Believe me, there isn’t a worse feeling in the world than the one you get after losing a four minute fight after spending four months of your life training for it. I’ve learned that persistence can be more valuable than talent. And I’ve learned (been reminded, actually) that I have the best friends and family in the world, people that took time out of their life to support what I was doing, even if they disapproved of me doing it in the first place or if they spent the whole time hiding behind their hands.
Boxing is not for the faint of heart. But if you have a strong urge to work extremely hard, experience an adrenaline rush like nothing you’ve ever felt before and discover more about yourself than you ever wanted to know, then maybe I’ll see you in the ring. Just don’t drop your hands.

Andy Ziccarelli is a junior majoring in civil engineering. He can be reached at aziccare@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.