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Reflections from the ring

John Sandberg | Wednesday, February 15, 2012

No other arena compares to that of a canvas square bounded by taut rope. No other environment relates to a brilliant white light thrust upon a timeless clash of muscle, heart and guts. No other atmosphere can imitate the paradox of one man, backed up by so many, standing alone against his challenger.

Three minutes and 45 seconds. For some of us, that’s all we get.

I’ll never forget the words that coach Tom Suddes spoke to us that one foretelling day at practice. More so than anything else, he told us, it is imperative that we enjoy the training. Enjoy the sore legs, the piercing ab workouts and hundreds upon hundreds of pushups. Enjoy the aching shoulders, the monotonous hand wrapping and the repetitive technique drills, because for exactly half of those who were in the room that day, our version of the 2012 Bengal Bouts would be over after the first fight. More than four months of training would culminate in less than four minutes of battle.

Yet in victory or defeat, the simple realities of life that are reflected in those brief few moments are unlimited.

You learn about strategy. You go in with a plan. And if you’re sitting in your corner after the first round with scarlet drops of blood painting your white Nikes, you decide that maybe it’s time to rework that plan. You adapt. You sacrifice breathing out of your nose for the next couple rounds because just plugging up the left nostril isn’t going to stop those scarlet red drops from appearing on your shoes. Plans, adaptations and sacrifices, working together to ensure that the fight goes on.

You learn about complexity. The constant juggle between being the aggressor while playing defense at all times is a balance that even the most seasoned fighters must find. You learn about misconception, how stumbling on your own feet can look like a knock-down or how it is easy to judge from the sidelines yet once inside those ropes it is an entirely different ball game.

You learn about defeat and how to tip your hat to your opponent when he takes advantage of those three short rounds better than you do. The warning from your trusted veteran coach just a few weeks back, which you never wanted to believe but always knew was possible, appears at the front of your mind. You’re glad you took the time to enjoy the training, but the frustration of an immediate end to such a long journey is undeniable.

With that it is time for more strategizing, more adapting and more training, because there will surely be more challenges on the road before then. But no matter what happens between here and there, another fight awaits and it certainly must go on.

The things boxing reveals about life are what make it so enjoyable. Indeed, it is what makes sports as a whole so enjoyable. They speak messages about people that are greater than the competitors themselves. They reaffirm the innate capacity of human beings to rise up to challenges, continue in battle and find virtue in defeat.

A look at the world outside the boxing ring is enough to produce a sense of hopelessness in even the most optimistic among us. From the indiscriminate killing in Syria to starvation in the Horn of Africa to talks of nuclear build ups between bitter enemies, it is easy to wonder what we have to look forward to in the months and years ahead.

It’s unclear exactly what role the U.S. should have in international affairs. It’s more unclear how so many worldwide problems have perpetuated for years and yet we’ve found no way to stop them. However, what is obvious is that something must change. Strategies need to be adapted and sacrifices have to be made. Lessons from yesterday’s defeat have to be applied in winning today. The killing and the starvation have to stop. The threats and the fears have to end.

Victory over all evil is unfortunately not entirely possible, but when the alternative to fighting back is indifference, the fight must go on. With so many questions remaining with regard to the misfortunes of the world around us, one question remains above all others: Win or lose, what will the human family choose to make of its lessons learned from three minutes and 45 seconds in the ring?

John Sandberg is a sophomore political science major from Littleton, Colo. He can be reached at jsandbe1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.