I was drinking a margarita when I found out my dad had cancer. He had tears in his eyes and salt in his mustache, and I held my breath until I heard him say, “But I’m fine. It’s gone. I don’t need chemo.” It was one of those moments when you feel like time stands still and everything that once felt so certain was suddenly on edge and fragile.
You see, for as far back as I remember, my dad was my hero.
As a fireman and a big outdoorsman, my childhood was filled with kayaking and fishing trips, swimming under the twilight of the North Carolina stars and pushing myself to master kneeboarding, no matter how many times I crashed. When I think of my summers, I can almost taste bacon and eggs in the morning and smell my dad’s cologne as we bounced around on the boat, trying one adventure after another.
But my dad’s health issues started my sophomore year of high school, and 12 years later, he’s still diligently working to get well again. Even so, it wasn’t until two years ago — when stage 1 colon cancer was discovered after a complication with his appendix — that I ever wondered if my dad would be okay. Until then, I hadn’t been able to picture him truly sick in my head, but with stitches that kept him from using his abdominals, there was nothing really for him to do but to sit, rest and wait for the healing process to take its course.
“You have to take care of yourself, Linds,” he told me later that afternoon, sitting on our front porch, me trying my best not to gawk at the gauze in his midsection. “I didn’t take care of myself for a long time. I smoked too much. I stopped building strength when I retired. It might not be to blame, but it didn’t help. Promise me you’ll keep yourself healthy.”
“I promise, Dad.” And that’s where it began.
Since I live in New York and I (sadly) don’t have easy access to mountains and lakes, I decided instead to sign up for a half-marathon for cancer survivors. I trained as hard as I could, and each time I wanted to stop, I imagined my dad, stuck in the chair in our living room, forced to stay still when all he wanted to do was move — and I kept going. I ended up completing the half-marathon — even wearing a shirt that read “If my dad can beat cancer, I can do this.” — but I hadn’t cross-trained like I should have. In return, I broke that promise to my dad, injuring my knee.
Without running — and refusing to have a gym membership where I’d spin my wheels on a treadmill — I didn’t know how to get back on the fitness journey. I gained weight, I became depressed, and I did all that I could to put on a happy face for my dad when I saw him or talked to him. But I ran out of answers to his favorite question: “When’s your next adventure?”
A few months later, I started working at ClassPass, and suddenly, I had so many options to choose from that I didn’t know where to start. Luckily, when you work with people who have tried everything (and I mean everything!), there was no lack of recommendations of where to work out. I desperately wanted something that could get me back into running shape or would clear my mind as effectively as my 10-milers had.
I started with yoga, and though it’s still part of my routine today, I often found my mind wandering during savasana. I went with a friend to a cardio dance class, and though it was a good sweat, I’ve never had a knack for rhythm, so I felt self-conscious in front of women who definitely had experience. I discovered how exciting it can be to nail a squat, hold a plank and finish an ab series in a high-intensity interval-training class, but I still hadn’t found the workout that got my mind off of my dad’s health.
Until I walked into TITLE Boxing.
I’ll be honest, I was a little scared. Not only am I the type of girl who loves wearing makeup, curling her hair and overall feeling pretty feminine, at that time, I’d never hit anything in my entire life. The idea that I would punch a hard bag seemed foreign to me, and I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. After a warm-up that incorporated all kinds of dynamic moves, we went straight into the boxing portion, where I learned technique, power and endurance. The owner, Michael — who seems intense during class until you joke with him after — worked with me since I’m a lefty, so I do everything opposite. The personalized instruction was helpful and encouraging, and though I wasn’t exactly good at it (yet) — the hour went by so quickly that I couldn’t believe it.
When I went to the locker room to change, I looked at myself in the mirror and I realized I hadn’t felt that empowered, that strong, that superwomanly and that free in a very long time. Not only did my anxiety over my dad fade, but I also felt like that little girl that he raised: brave, strong and determined.
Now, I fit boxing into my ClassPass schedule at least once a week and use it as a time to not think about anything but the synchronized movement of jabs, cross, uppercuts and hooks. And though my dad is still working through his illnesses — with his most recent surgery only a few weeks ago — there’s comfort in knowing that he’s proud of me. Especially when I call him as I walk to boxing class to catch up and he says, “That’s my South Paw! Remember, you’re a Tigar. You can do anything.”
And I can — and thanks to ClassPass — I do.