The bell rings and three minutes of action – a cacophony of sound and motion – begins. Fighters move in the ring looking for advantage, punching, counterpunching; others jump rope or pound the heavy bag. The speed bag echoes like a machine gun. Shuffling, shadow boxing, and then the bell rings and it all stops. Young and old walk to the water station, converse, joke, advise for one minute, and then with the ring of the bell, it all starts again. All of them striving to be just a little faster, a little stronger and better than they were the day before.

There’s Kate, who trains with impressive intensity; Russell, the middleweight champion who always has a greeting for everyone; the indomitable Liz, whose no-nonsense attitude in the ring belies a generous teacher; Josniel, a just-turned pro whose future opponents better be wide-awake; Freddy, who hardly ever breaks a sweat; Julie, stern and kind; Casey, who has bounced back from a grievous leg injury that would have crippled most; Wade, whose skills grow formidable, not so much his singing voice; Jeff – strength and conditioning master; Skip – at 80, the fix-it guy, who has seen more fights than all the rest put together; and head coach Bob Russo offering soft-spoken insight and encouragement. The only thing he asks is that his fighters give it their very best – if not, that voice is transformed, the command given – BOX! There are many more …

I am here at 57 – not skilled, not training to fight in the ring. Nevertheless, I am here three times a week to fight for my life. To hit a little harder, move a little faster, to slow my vicious opponent – Parkinson’s disease. Nothing gets one’s attention better than the thought of a slow descent into physical impairment. So, I arrive, and at the bell, I begin. Each step, each punch, each grueling workout is a rejection of that possible outcome. Although my imagined knockout remains elusive, I am giving my opponent a worthy fight.

I am an artist and university professor, a beginner at the Portland Boxing Club. What it takes to fit in here is commitment. These people, who I deeply respect, have true grit, strength of purpose, and with the champions, a wily intellect to outwit determined opponents in what can be, admittedly, a dangerous sport. It seems to me though that boxing isn’t really about beating the other guy, though that’s a good outcome, it is more about beating your own fears and doubts.

As the great Hank Williams sang, “I’ll never get out of this world alive.” I don’t know how long I’ll live, but I do know that with each workout, I can draw, teach, box and love a little longer. That thought keeps me showing up. Aren’t all our efforts in some sense about going out in style, making the statement: I was here, I worked hard at it, I tried to make a difference. Respect that. Thanks, Portland Boxing Club.

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