Archive for June, 2013

18
Jun
13

Thinking about my birthday …

Thinking about my birthday …

Happy Birthday Boxing Gloves

This morning, I was tickled to learn that Richard Boone, the actor who played Paladin on the late 1950s-early 1960s show Have Gun Will Travel, was born on my birthday.

Richard Boone, Paladin, Have Gun Will TravelBoone’s character, Paladin was a soldier-of-fortune/knight in not-so-shinging armor.

Between jobs rescuing people and otherwise righting ambiguous wrongs, he lived in a hotel in San Francisco, played poker, enjoyed the classics and let loose tidbits about his background as a West Point graduate and former Union Army officer during the Civil War.

On the trail though, he always wore black: black shirt, pants and neckerchief, black boots, black hat, and even a black holster with his trademark silver knight’s chess piece emblem on the side. As a nine-year-old watching him on reruns, I thought he was cooler than cool, maybe even cooler than Bat Masterson because there was something a wee bit dangerous about a character whose only allegiance was to his own code of ethics.

I got to thinking about Paladin and the ambiguity he represented during the height of the Cold War. Here was a man who could be mistaken for an Eastern “dandy,” but brought sensibilities to his tasks as a gun-for-hire that eschewed the easy answers of black and white morality for the grayer tones that teased out the palate of black and white television images.

Having been a kid in the midst of such things as the Cuban Missile Crisis and Kennedy’s assassination, characters like Paladin seemed to make their way through the thicket of issues that pitted civilization versus barbarism as a frame for the collective discomfiture of living under the threat of annihilation while coping with the angst of allowing our humanity to shine through.

Flashing forward what amounts to me to be a healthy lifetime later–the world I grew up in is altered beyond recognition. Watching an old episode is to step back in time to moral choices that seem simple and naive, with ideas about women and men that seem laughable and anachronistic. And yet, we still dither among them; finding ourselves in wars that make no sense, still telling ridiculously offensive jokes that have impossibly made it more into the mainstream.

The outgrowth of Paladin, a mere five years later was James T. Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise, pushing their way into space toward a utopian future that belied the nightmare dystopic visions of such programs as Rod Serling’s Twilight ZoneAnd yet Star Trek‘s utopian ideal did not embrace the spaciness of Kennedy’s call to technological wonderment. Gene Roddenberry’s future (who incidentally wrote 25 episodes for Have Gun Will Travel) was more in line with Thoreau and  Emerson. The ideal was a simple life fulfilled by meeting one’s essential needs as part of a small communal existence based on a natural order of elders leading novices, and where technology, in service to the greater good, remained hidden under the covers of houses which resembled the adobe buildings of the Zuni tribe from the American Southwest, or as malevolent interlopers manipulating the simplicity of natural living.

The Paradise Syndrome, Star Trek

The Paradise Syndrome, Star Trek

Certainly the economics of 1960s television had something to do with the simplicity of Star Trek’s sets, but the visions, not so unlike the western frontier towns of Paladin’s world were also very contrary to 1960s America which was on fire–literally–as part of the daily diet of nightly news. Why not envision a simple communal existence when the alternative was watching entire portions of cities being clear-cut by riots not unlike the swaths of jungle in Viet Nam carpet-bombed by napalm.

Having lived through the extraordinary shifts of the past half century and more: I am amazed to be in a world where marriage has been redefined to allow young men in love to marry other young men; where women box in the Olympics, and on that wonderful show that leaks tears called So You Think You Can Dance intricate Bollywood numbers are standard fare.

To consider all of this and the myriad of stuff that’s happened between my nine-year-old self watching Paliden and catching the second installment of the Star Trek reboot a couple of weeks ago, is to realize that the life I am living and the larger society around me is one that was never particularly anticipated. The 2013 we all thought about in the 1960s had flying cars–and in Star Trek canon would have already seen Khan and his group of genetically enhanced super beings propelled into space in frozen animation.

It puts in mind the thought that no matter our visions for the future whether utopian, dystopic or somewhere in between–we really can’t know what it is going to happen or how one incident or another will cause us to pivot and realign. It is what happened to the world globally in 1914 when Prince Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo and is repeated over and over again as large scale events and tiny happenstance that causes each of us as individuals to move through life in directions we never thought we’d find ourselves in. Sometimes those changes are for good and at other times wreck terrible havoc that may take generations to recover from, if ever.

What I’ve discovered on this journey from then until now is that life is analogous to riding on the back of a truck facing behind. What I can seeing unfolding is only the road as it comes. And while I have plans for the future that will keep me busy for as long as I can stay afloat on this wonderful place called planet Earth–I really never quite know what is going to happen. All I can do is live each day with as much love as I can muster in my heart along with enough good fortune to keep on truckin’ (hat tip for that last bit to my dear friend Pren).

… Peace!

15
Jun
13

Women’s Boxing champ Frida Wallberg KO sends her to the hospital for emergency brain surgery.

UPDATE 3 (6/16/2013):  The Swedish press is reporting some very good news. It seems Frida Wallberg is off the respirator, awake and talking. It’s also been reported that the bleed was not an internal brain hemorrhage, but a blood vessel at the outer edge between the meninges and the brain. This is excellent in terms of her recovery and likely she will be kept in the hospital for another 5-6 days so that she can continue to be assessed and have the rest she needs. Meanwhile, the matter is being investigated by Swedish boxing authorities.

Women’s Boxing champ Frida Wallberg KO sends her to the hospital for emergency brain surgery. UPDATE 1  & 2 (below)

Boxer Frida Wallberg being assisted by Lucia Rijker and opponent Diana Prazak shortly after Wallberg's devastating KO loss to Prazak on 6/14/2013. Credit: Maja Suslin/Scanpix

Boxer Frida Wallberg being assisted by Lucia Rijker and opponent Diana Prazak shortly after Wallberg’s devastating KO loss to Prazak on 6/14/2013. Credit: Maja Suslin/Scanpix

Swedish Boxer Frida Wallberg (11-1, 2-KOs) suffered a devastating KO in her title fight against the new WBC super featherweight champion, Australian fighter Diana Prazak (12-2, 8-KOs). It has left the wildly popular Wallberg in an intensive care bed at the Karolinksa Hospital in Sweden on a respirator. She was placed in a medically induced coma after receiving emergency surgery to relieve the pressure on her brain from a cerebral hemorrhage. Surgery took place in the early morning hours after the bout.

Prazak spent the night pummeling Wallberg with bombs and rocked her in the 7th round with a sweeping left according to a report on boxingscene.com. Wallberg buckled under the force of the blow, but continued the round.  In the 8th round, seemingly still under the effects of the 7th round blow, Wallberg was on the receiving end of Prazak’s hard punching. Wallberg was knocked to the canvas by short left hook, but after getting up and receiving an 8-count from the referee, Bela Florian, she continued only to be hit by a short right hook which sent her to the deck again.  Bela Florian called the fight at that point and Prazak was given the KO win.

Wallberg was assisted to the corner by Florian, her nose bleeding and tentative in her movements. Even as she was being examined by the ring doctor, one could observe her visibly slumping and hanging on to the ropes. Still he walked away, and it was the quick thinking of Prasak’s trainer, Lucia Rijker who while celebrating her own fighter’s victory saw that Wallberg was in trouble and ran to her aid. Rijker demanded that the doctor return and that Wallberg be given serious medical aid. Wallberg was subsequently attended to and brought out of the ring on a stretcher.

Wallberg’s boyfriend, Robert Ludwig later told the Swedish press that she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage described as a stroke. In other reports, it has been said that doctors may try to revive Wallberg at some point today to assess her condition.

UPDATE 1: According to press accounts from Sweden, Frida was partially brought out of her coma and has had her medications reduced to assist in the process of bringing her to consciousness. That will reportedly happen at about 4:00 PM, 6.15.2013, Swedish Time. No word was given on the state of her injuries or likely prognosis. The press is continuing to state that she suffered a stroke.

UPDATE 2: Wallberg was reportedly awakened, was able to move her fingers and answers questions, but from what could be gleaned, she has likely been re-sedated somewhat to allow her time to heal. There is some cause for optimism, but no answer yet on whether she will make a full recovery from the stroke–and things are still very serious at this point. She remains in the hospital in intensive care.

Whatever happens, under Swedish boxing rules, Wallberg will no longer be able to box professionally in Sweden.  It is also said that she had an MRI two weeks ago as part of her pre-fight medical which showed no signs of abnormality or vessel weakness.

Wallberg’s last fight was 14 months ago against the tough Brooklyn fighter, Amanda Serrano (17-1, 12-KOs). Wallberg won the fight by decision in her native Sweden. Prazak on the other hand most recently fought Holly Holm (33-2, KOs-9) for a shot at the then vacant IBAF and WBF female light welterweight titles. It was Prazak’s only loss.

Responding to questions about Wallberg in a post-fight interview, Prazak with her coach Rijker was overwhelmed by the quick succession of winning the title after a long hard road of training — and the sense that her only way to defeat Wallberg to take the title was by KO, given that the fight was on Wallberg’s home turf in Sweden — and the devastation of knowing that Prazak was so seriously injured.  As Prazak said on her Facebook page last night, “All fighters want the win by KO … just what we had planned and trained for [came] at a big cost.” She went on to say, “My prayers and thoughts are with Frida and her loved ones. Please send your prayers and thoughts for her too.”

Ishika Lay in Recovery, Photo: Florida Times Union

Ishika Lay in Recovery, Photo: Florida Times Union

The injury sustained by Wallberg and subsequent surgery is reminiscent of the devastation suffered by Ishika Lay in November 2011. During Lay’s bid for the National Golden Gloves in the run-up to the Olympic Trials, she collapsed in the ring, the likely victim of second impact syndrome–a form of brain injury that occurs when brain injuries are not given adequate time to heal.

Whenever this happens in boxing — questions arise as to the role that coaches, managers, referees and ringside physicians play in the health and safety of fighters in the ring. The safety of fighters outside the ring, during training, is just as important, if not more so, and it is up to those who care for their fighters to take the precautions necessary to keep their boxers safe–incorporating the adage “when in doubt sit it out.”

It is helpful that in Sweden fighters are required to have brain scans on a regular basis. The fact that Wallberg was cleared two weeks prior to the fight is also good. What we don’t know is whether she sustained any serious head blows in the interval between her MRI and the day of the fight that could have compromised her in some way. By all reports both fighters had tough training camps in preparation for the bout–Wallberg had also been coming to the fight after a 14 month layoff and whether that had anything to do with the severity of her injury is also unknown.

What we do know is that boxers, hockey players, football players, MMA fighters and other athletes in close contact sports sustain traumatic brain injuries–the question is how can we all help protect these remarkable athletes from further trauma. We know that fighters in particular aim for the KO. It is the “cookies” in boxing–and let’s face it, is what garners the big money fights on the men’s side of game, and while women make a pittance by comparison, the KO remains the holy grail.

Making sports illegal is certainly not the answer, but making sports safer with headgear that can minimize the impact of such injuries, as well as vigilance in the gym, on the playing field and in the ring, would seem to be a step in the right direction. Rethinking the importance of big hits is also something to consider–though that is an unlikely change.

04
Jun
13

Speaking to power …

Speaking to power …

Superwoman!

Having gotten back into my boxing groove starting at the end of December when my surgeon gave me the all clear to whale away, my body has begun to find its power again. It’s not all the time or even some of the time, but an occasional thing when I’ll come upon something that I can lift with ease even though I know it’s really heavy, or when I’m about to finish up my light run from my house to the gym and realize that I could keep going for quite a ways.

That sense of comfort with my body or the sense that it has power is not something I’ve had very often in my life. Growing up in NYC in the 1960s meant very little by way of sports–as in punch ball, stoop ball and King, a kind of hand ball where each person had one concrete square in the sidewalk as their “box.”

At summer camp I swam and otherwise did what I could *not* to have to play softball in the heat of the afternoon in a field swarming with no-see-ums. As for basketball, I was hopeless when it came to anything but drippling the ball. The only running I ever did in those days were “chase” games and aside from tap dancing lessons at the age of 12 (for three months at Charlie Lowe’s School where I learned to use my “personality”), I didn’t do much of anything until my mid-thirties when I began to run.

Jogging in the 1970sThe jogging craze that began in the 1970s seemed to pass me by. Sure I tried it, but huffing and puffing for a block or two along the East River of Manhattan on the Upper East Side near where I used to live (and admittedly sucking back a cigarette or two), even along side a boyfriend, just wasn’t for me. Aerobics in cute white Reeboks was also “not my thing,” and if I exercised at all it was disco dancing at places like The Salty Dog, where I could happily gyrate for hours at a time.

Flashing forward to the late 1980s, my body still woefully unexercised, I decided to take up running in a bid to quit smoking. My first runs, attempts to run around Central Park were pathetic. I barely made it down two blocks, never mind to the park, while my chest heaved in pain and spasmed from coughing fits. Knowing that I needed to rid my lungs of years of inhaling junk into them, however, gave me the motivation to persevere. The remarkable thing was that by the end of the first week of daily runs, I was able to run ten blocks and by the end of a month I began to eschew distance for time having ran for thirty full minutes. By the second month my runs were taking me the full circuit around Central Park including the famed 110th Street Hill–a run that took me an hour door-to-door to cover the seven miles. Throughout that Spring I pounded my way through the Park, testing myself with brief sprints, and feeling for the first time in my life, the power of the body.  The experience was humbling, if a little frightening, because I had spent so many years in denial of my physical sphere. But there I was, running as long as an hour and a half, my legs and arms toned, and feeling for very brief moments as if I was invincible.

Life interceded and I quit running after a while, but when I found my way to boxing a decade later, the sense of myself as a physical being began to kick back in. Even now, as I begin to live out the last of my 50s, I find the body’s capacity to renew itself to be truly remarkable.

Sometimes speaking to power has to do with embracing those parts of oneself that extend out in a giant roar of confidence and well-being. My younger self would never have believed that I was capable of saying that–which tells me that whether it’s through the pounding of feet along a path in the park or the extension of a jab in a boxing ring, the magic of finding an alignment of all the parts of one’s being is always within the realm of the possible. All one has to do is take the first step to try.

 

02
Jun
13

The Accidental Boxing Manager: Mary del Pino Morgan

The Accidental Boxing Manager: Mary del Pino Morgan

Mary del Pino Morgan

As a boxing manager, Mary del Pino Morgan is pretty unlikely.

She first walked into the Striking Beauties all-women’s boxing gym in North Attleboro, Massachusetts nearly four years ago wanting to lose weight. She’d been a boxing fan and remembers watching fights with her Argentinean father. One of her uncles was a champion boxer as well, “so, it’s in my blood,” she said in a recent interview with Girlboxing, “if not one way, than another.”

Still, during her first forays in training, Mary did not envision herself as the boxing manager for Shelly “Shelito’s Way” Vincent, a rising star in the East Coast professional women’s boxing world, whose perfect 9-0 record and most recent win against boxer Angel Gladney have netted Shelito the Women’s International Boxing Association (WIBA) super bantamweight title and a fan base that seems to grow exponentially with every foray into the ring.

The latter, Shelito’s fan base though has a lot to do with her manager, and friend Mary del Pino Morgan.

Shelito Vincent, February 2013, Credit: Mary del Pino Morgan

As Mary tells it, her growing love of boxing and dedication to the sport and the women who practice it led her down a path she never expected.

“I was there [at Striking Beauties] all the time and got to know everyone. It was more like a club than a gym and pretty intimate. At first I volunteered there,” she said, wanting women coming into the gym for the first time to “feel comfortable especially with losing weight.” She felt good about introducing them to an environment that was really safe and supportive no matter what their body type or skill level.

Mary, in her “other” life as a personal chef and wedding cake designer was so good at customer service that she the owner of the gym, Dena Paolino, offered her a job managing Striking Beauties. With several National champions, including two 2010 National Golden Gloves title holders coming out of the gym, Mary became pretty excited about the sport and the possibilities for women. It also brought her to the fights and an awareness of Shelito Vincent who was making a name for herself as an amateur boxer in the New England area. This led Mary to strike up a casual friendship with her on Facebook.

Mary del Pino Morgan and Shelito Vincent. Credit: Mary del Pino MorganOne fateful night, Shelito wrote a post on Facebook that struck a chord with Mary. “She put up a message that said she was in a car accident and stuck. And it was like, January and raining and at night. I checked back in a few minutes to see if anyone was helping her and Shelly had put another message on that said her car was dead and her phone was almost out and I thought, that’s it.

“I wrote ‘You’re in Connecticut right?’ and she wrote back, ‘No. I’m in Providence.’ And then I wrote her to say I’d get in my car to pick her up. A couple of minutes later she got back to me and said, ‘somebody is right down the street, so I’m okay, but I have your back now. You were going to come get me and you don’t even know me!’ and I thought, wow, Shelito Vincent’s got my back.” By then Shelito had won her October 2011 debut match by decision against Karen Dulin and was looking forward to a rematch in March 2012.

Shortly before that fight Mary and Shelito finally met at a boxing match that had women on the card. “We were sitting behind a couple of gentlemen who were having a great time.” After a lot of banter back and forth Mary said, “You need to see one of her fights, she’s really great.”

Of the meeting Mary said, “It really blew his mind that she was a woman and a professional boxer.” At the end of the night, Mary took his email address and she wrote him to let him know the particulars of Shelito’s upcoming bout. As Mary tells it, “He bought a whole bunch of tickets and the night of the fight Shelly said, ‘you’re my manager now,’ and I thought, ‘what does that mean,’ and said yes.”

Mary del Pino Morgan and Shelito Vincent, Credit: Mary del Pino Morgan

Pretty immediately it meant helping Shelito set up for her upcoming fights. Shelito had already inked her deal with CES Boxing (Classic Entertainment Sports) (where she is one of two female fighters on their roster), guaranteeing her five fights a year for each of three years for 4-6-8 and 10 round bouts, though most of her nine fights to date have been four- and six-rounders with the exception of her eight-round title fight this past May. It has also meant working full-time helping to keep Shelito in the public’s eye.

Shelito Vincent Victory Bash 7/28/2012Mary spends hours and hours drumming up publicity for Shelito’s fights working closely with CES. She sifts through speaking engagements, interviews and photo shoots, and lots of press relations with local papers, regional television and radio news outlets, and boxing websites and bloggers–not to mention her forays on social media such as her active Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. Mary is also a one woman machine getting fans to pep rallies, pre-fight and post-fight victory parties, as well as keeping Shelito on track with her motivational speaking appearances with school kids which are a true labor of love. The combination of activities can bite into her gym time with famed boxing trainer Peter Manfredo, Sr. and her hours as a trainer at Striking Beauties, but between Mary and Shelito, they make it work.

Peter Manfredo, Sr. and Shelito Vincent, May 17, 2013, Credit: Kelly McDonaldIt has also meant gaining sponsorships for Shelito to help defray the costs, which include the $20 and more in gas money a day needed for Shelito to get back and forth from training and to her various appointments. Mary’s success at that has been phenomenal, having landed several sponsorship deals including the well-known Havoc Boxing who custom make all of Shelito’s boxing trunks, tops and robes for her fights. In the scheme of things when considering paychecks such as Floyd Mayweather’s recent $32 million dollar guarantee for fighting Robert Guerrero this may not seem like a lot, but in the world of women’s boxing where the margins are that close, it is the difference between being able to pursue a professional career and being shut out completely.Havoc Boxing with Shelito Vincent and Mary del Pino Morgan, Credit: Mary del Pino Morgan

But for all of that Mary sees her main job as ensuring that Shelito’s best interests are always in focus.

“I help her negotiate … I have to look out for her. That is my motivation. It is not for anything else. Not for money, it is all for Shelly.” Mary also feels that the other important component is “having a loving trusting relationship with your team,” saying further “that trust has to be there so she knows we are not going to take advantage of her.” That team is Mary, Peter Manfredo Sr. and his trainers, and the folks at CES Boxing who have come through for her at every turn.

As for the frustrations, probably one of the biggest is the lack of exposure for women’s boxing on broadcast and cable television. Mary put it this way, “I don’t know why and I don’t know how to fix it, but I am getting her out there in front of people. CES has been great getting her on their bigger cards on ESPN, Friday Night Fights and NBC’s Main Event, but we haven’t gotten on television yet. It’s really disappointing. We’re all just going to have to find the right people to try to push the envelope. Probably the next generation of girls because they really work hard and women are definitely gaining respect. The Olympics is helping too and bringing new girls up.”

Being a boxing manager who happens to be a woman also has its downside. “I wasn’t getting taken very seriously … they see what we’re doing and see that we’re professional … and then there’s that whole thing about being a woman around all these guys … it happens all the time.”

Still she has garnered respect where it matters, and when it comes to Shelito is most proud of being told that “I was good for boxing because I really took care of my fighter.”

01
Jun
13

‘Been a while since I’ve posted …

Girlboxing …. ‘been a while since I’ve posted …

Girlboxing at Gleason's Gym, Credit: Lennox Blackmoore

The vicisitudes of life, full time work, writing a book, the prodigal’s end of middle school stuff and endless winter have seemingly conspired to close the door on daily blogging!

Riot of Roses, Brooklyn, NY, Credit: Malissa smith

Meanwhile … summer has slipped into Brooklyn with crazy warm temperatures and light that lasts forever it seems or at least well past 8:00 PM.

At the gym today, the sweat pouring off me in buckets, my arms and legs as fluid as they can ever be on this late 50s model carcus, I was reminded of how much the body in motion, even one encased in a liquid pool, can feel invincible.  Sure I was missing sometimes on my overhand left-right hook combinations and after a couple of rounds on the double-ended bag felt as if I would collapse into a heap before cooling down on the speed bag … oh yeah, not to mention the slow crickety creak of the last 25 situps to get me to 100, but it all seemed to sail through, salty taste and all, with a huge shout out to Lennox Blackmoore for reminding me to m-o-v-e  g-i-r-l when I got too static in the ring.

 




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