Hooked on the Hook: How I Learned to Relieve Stress and Tone My Bod with Boxing

The author spars with trainer Douglas Tatore during a workout at the Maximus Gym in Riverbed.
The author spars with trainer Douglas Tatore during a workout at the Maximus Gym in Riverbed.
The author spars with trainer Douglas Tatore during a workout at the Maximus Gym in Riverbed.

By Gianna Volpe

“I’ll come clean,” I confessed last month during a stand-up comedy set at Southold’s Taps and Corks. “I only started boxing because … I want a new nose.”

The line got laughs, but my Roman nose isn’t entirely to blame. My ringside passion began back when I was barely double digits, punching the most handsome boy at school because he’d insisted I give him my best shot if I was really telling the truth about my stepfather teaching me to spar.
Setting the record straight really does it for me, and while that has helped in journalistic pursuits, I’ve been unable to do so regarding last summer’s snap decision to buy boxing gloves.

My renewed interest in combat could have simply been spurred by Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” spilling from my Honda hybrid’s stereo speakers, but sparring would have likely remained a daydream if former fighter and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Douglas Tator hadn’t offered to train me at Riverhead’s Maximus Health & Fitness, where gym owner Frank Distefano — a 1987 National Junior Olympic Championship boxer — had just built a brand-new boxing room.

I’ve trained there most days since October, but Tator said my evolution into some heavy-handed southpaw capable of 12-plus punch combos isn’t only the result of commitment, childhood training or a muscle-memory cushion left over from afternoons spent weightlifting with the high school wrestling team.

“Every individual has a different genetic predisposition to boxing and some may not be able to learn at all,” said the fitness trainer with nearly 15 years experience, adding women are more likely to take up boxing and seek instruction.
“Guys become less likely to seek instruction with age, but women only become more likely to do so up to a certain point,” he said. “I’ve had women in their 50s who have never thrown a punch decide they want to try boxing.”

Even though I conquered the jab, cross and hook — as well as how to correctly wrap my writer’s claws for wrist protection — during my very first Tat-orial, I would still recommend anybody capable, willing and interested in the sport to stick though several sessions despite the learning curve because boxing isn’t just doing wonders for me in attaining a summer bod of dreams; it’s erasing all the feelings of frustration, fear, restlessness, anger, anxiety and depression that once plagued me.

Workouts aren’t just challenging, they’re fun and full of variety because boxing takes in development of certain muscular skills and advantages, in addition to overall musculature. I often do cross-fit exercises because, as Tator says, “creating an environment allowing my muscles to continually fire in a ballistic manner” is just as essential to my boxing success as core strength.

“Boxing is being able to rhythmically move your body in a series of events where you float and flow much like the ocean,” he explained. “It’s this combination of being a graceful dancer, an explosive athlete and having the will of a martial artist who can persevere through hurt and injuries.”

If he knew I began my workouts with 50 sit-ups, he’d most certainly respond à la Muhammed Ali:
“I don’t count my sit-ups. I only start counting when it starts hurting. When I feel pain, that’s when I start counting, because that’s when it really counts.”

I once found ‘maxing out’ by bench-pressing my weight — 120 pounds — exciting, but that’s not something I do anymore. It’s far more important that I practice pushing through the pain of an increasing number of sets resisting roughly 75 pounds.

I’ll warm up using medicine balls, battle ropes and/or kettlebells, then stretch before my trainer utters my favorite phrase.

“Glove up” means it’s time to don my wraps; it means it’s time to box.

“I am the machine,” I’ll often remind myself as Tator presents each boxing glove.
Then I’ll slide a wrapped hand inside, resting each upward-faced glove against his belly while he velcro-seals my knuckle inside before slipping on oversize, padded gauntlets and drilling my punch combinations, footwork and evasive movements for twenty minutes.

Mitt-training is followed by “bagwork” in the boxing room where a stoplight-like contraption affixed to the wall neatly divides workouts into two- or three-minute rounds.
I’m only interested in the next round when the light is red, so having a trainer provide instruction and rehydration is helpful, otherwise I’d spend every round interval shifting my weight, swinging my arms and pacing across the boxing lair like a caged animal.

I become the machine when the light is green and won’t notice I’m fatigued until the buzzer announces 30 seconds remain until the round ends.

Though the actual boxing part of workouts never seems long enough for me, they’re often longer than when I train alone.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve almost immediately hurt my wrist on the spherical uppercut bag because my aggressive instincts are just too intense for my corporal ignorance.

Obscenities that don’t even exist will flood my mind because I know I’ve got to stop immediately or prolong the time until I can safely box again.
My trainer understands humans better than I ever will, so I don’t pout long when he asks if I “wanna go lift,” even if that means boxing is done for the day.

I almost always ‘wanna go lift’ and have a protein shake afterward. Protein is a gym rat favorite and — again, I’ll come clean — I’ve become attracted to anything amino acid related since my regular gym occupation began.

I’ve been hooking a growing handful of East Enders hoping to unleash their inner warrior for half a year now, but who knows how long it’ll be before I step into a ring — if ever — because despite these mouth-watering rumors I hear about our little boxing room in Riverhead one day spawning into a full-blown boxing gym, I’m grateful enough just having some place to go, punch the bag and pretend ‘I am the greatest.’