Once, and I will remember it for the rest of my life, my coach Jaro told me that
in his class for beginners, I was the best. This was the first person who told me I was
the best at something. I wanted never to disappoint him and I hope I never did. I felt
that he was right and I really was the best in his group.
I don’t know him as a person, but as a coach he was great. He made me feel
important by telling me once that I was the best in his group. I was pleased to hear it
but it became a great responsibility to stay the best as well. He did not have to tell me
that I was the best any more. I knew from that time on that it was my responsibility
and commitment to Jaro and me to be the best. I never skipped the trainings, but I
have to admit I was thinking about it many times– mostly when I drank a lot of alcohol
the day before. The next day, I was dying during the training. I felt blood in my lungs,
I was dizzy because of dehydration and I wanted to throw up.
But after Jaro told me I was the best, I stopped drinking altogether and idea of
not going to the training was no longer my mind. I could not disappoint Jaro. Although
the training hurt, I knew that if I were to disappoint him, it would hurt even more. I had
to be the best. No more alcohol with friends. I was dedicated to training. If others
trained four times a week, I trained six times a week. If others ran for three
kilometers, I ran four.
Once, during the athletic training, we were running for ninety minutes both
sprint and endurance, my stomach shrunk so much I had to vomit. It happens that if
you run too much, your blood leaves other organs and is transferred to the muscles.
Then your stomach can shrink. So I ran away from the track to the trees, vomited and
got back to the track and then sprinted to keep up with the others. I finished as one of
the best although I lost a minute during the vomiting.
I ran as the best in the end. There was no reason to spare energy in the end.
Whether it was a boxing match or running, I gave out everything in the end and then
fell to the floor after passing the finish line. The best part of running is when you are
so tired that you stop thinking and you just run. Your legs run by themselves and all
you have to do is to breathe. Your lungs are in pain and you feel the blood going up
through your throat to your mouth with saliva and sputum and you spit it away to
keep your throat dry for better breathing.
You feel you can’t run anymore and then ...
... then you accelerate. If you had wings, you would be flying already. As you keep
running and you don’t feel your legs anymore, there is just the pain in the lungs and
taste of blood in your mouth and you see the guy in front of you. You are catching up
to him and you feel how oxygen leaves your palms, feet and in your head.
You hear you are breathing like a horse and blood pumps in your ears. All you focus on is –
breathe, breathe, breathe. You hurt and hope the guy in front of you hurts even more.
And when your whole body is telling you to slow down, you tell your body – “I am a
winner. I am the one who wanted this. Stop complaining and run.“
I even went to some kickboxing competitions and won a few fights, but I never
became a national champion. Once we went to the championship in Banska Bystrica.
It was long trip and we arrived the evening before the competition. After finding the
hostel, we went for a small walk towards the town, but we did not want to get drunk or
exhausted. We knew we needed our full strength and sharp reactions the next day so
we went to bed early. Jano, who was with us, was the leader in our group of youngsters.
He was giving us advice based on his experience ranging from losing
weight to hoarding explosive energy by avoiding sex before the competition. He was
a really good kick boxer.
I was thrilled the next morning, because it was only my second competition
and I was full of expectations. I knew I was the beginner and there was only a small
chance that I will win the competition, but I was looking forward to gaining experience
fighting boys outside of our kickboxing club. It is different to fight with your friend who
does not mean you any harm and fight a stranger who wants to knock you out as fast
as possible. We did not eat anything that morning to keep our weight low and get into
the lowest possible weight category.
After was weighed in, we ate and drank water like if we were starving for a week. My categories were semi and light contact because I was just the beginner. I always practiced light contact, because I was considered semi-contact not a fighter, but a touch competition. Whoever touches the
other one first, wins. Touch the other one with his fist or foot of course in full speed.
There was a draw and in semi-contact I was to fight one of two brothers who
both were really good. They were usually finished as first or second in national
championships. I was watching my first opponent stretching and moving and
although he looked very flexible and five years older and more experienced than me,
he was clearly a semi-contact fighter. I was thrilled, but not afraid. Jano told me I
have small chance to win, but at least I have to try to get some points in the fight.
My coach Jaro stopped by for a second, because he had his own fight to
prepare himself. He told me “He is excellent; it will be a difficult match for you. But
you are a fighter Andrew. You can lose, but you can’t give up. Do you understand?”
I've nodded. “You can lose, but you can’t give up. The less you will be afraid of him, the
better score you will have. You are not a sissy, good luck.” Then he left for his own
match. Jano, who was to take the role of my corner coach, gave me his advice “You
will lose so or so. Just cover your head and the rest of the body has to endure.
Most points are given for hitting a head.” When the fight began, the guy was fast and I was
not hoping to win. But because this was semi-contact, his hands were down without
protecting him, to give him more speed for his kicks. I did not like his style, because it
was not really usable on the street. It was like girlish kickboxing to me.
“I will show you how to fight” came to my mind and I attacked him. He kicked me to my stomach
and scored a point but I have hit is face a half second later. He had his point, but I
had my good feeling. With solid abdominal muscles it does not hurt to get semi-
contact kick. He hurt more than me. I knew I could take the guy down if we were in
light contact or on the street. He was just a sportsman, I was the fighter.
His stance was good for competitions but useless on the street. He was
standing on one foot and kept the other in the air for faster kicks to my head. As I was
keeping my guard, he could hit only my shoulders or gloves. I pushed his foot down
in one fast movement; he lost his balance for a while and I hit him scoring a point.
This went on for a minute and the match was over. He won 7 to 4. For a complete
novice fighting a champion, it was not bad at all. Jano told me I did well and that the
guy had unexpected problems with me.
Next I had to find someone from our club to lend me his feet pads and a
helmet, because my next match was in light contact. Jano found the pads with the
helmet for me somewhere and I could start. This fight was harder, faster and more
energy consuming. We were breathing like fishes outside of water after a minute.
There were two rounds, each lasting two minutes. I don’t remember much of the fight,
but I won. This allowed me to go to the next fight, because once you lost, you were
out of the competition. I went to see how Jaro was fighting. He was good, but he
could use only one nostril by the time I came. The other was blocked by a cotton ball
to prevent bleeding. I could not watch any longer to see how it ended, because there
were three matches going on constantly and my name was called.
I hurried to my fighting place, but I could not get any padding and a helmet. Milos was my corner
coach and he went to find them for me somehow. I was just the beginner and as a
student I had no money to buy the full gear yet. My name was called again. If I did
not get the padding and a helmet I would lose by default. I was stressed and did not
know what to do.
Finally Milos came with the protection. Seconds after our club member
finished his fight, Milos got it from him. I fastened it quickly and entered the fighting
area. The regular boxing rings were expensive, so we used only tape on the floor to
know where the ring ended. The guy in the other corner looked mean. Milos wanted
to heckle my morale and told me to break his ugly nose. I lack aggressiveness and I
wanted to win, but not by breaking his nose. I was taking the initiative and the guy
had had enough in my opinion. I started to pity him and softened my attacks.
I fought tactically, saving my breath and energy for the final thirty seconds, but the first round
ended faster than I expected.
Our main coach stopped by and told me to keep my guard high and absorb all
the hits when he started his attack. Then when he ran out of breath, I could make the
wining counter attack. He would hit just my shoulders and my gloves, but he would
not score any points until he got past my guard. I did exactly what I was told in the
second round, but the jolt from hits and kicks to my guard got to my head. Latter I
understood that you can’t win just by defense.
My main coach was shouting something to me and I turned around to see his
lips and read what he was telling me. I was more afraid of my main coach than of my
opponent. I received a good kick through my guard and my eye started to swell. My
vision darkened and I saw some stars. The referee stopped the match for a second
and checked my eye to see if I was O.K. I lied him of course saying that I was fine,
but he told me that I was done and my opponent won by means of technical
knockout. This was wrong; I knew I was better than the other guy.
I was better, but because I pitied him and I was not showing enough of initiative, the referees saw it
the opposite way. Milos asked me questions like what is my name, where I am from
to check if I was alright. I was sitting there like a deer in the headlights.
Later Jaro came and told me that he saw a little bit of both of my fights. He
grabbed my hand, pressed it and told me “You fought well Andrew”.
His handshake ... my admired coach’s handshake ... was more important to me than if I had won
two gold medals from the championship.
After a few months, Jaro had a problem with our main coach and he left the
club. Soon after, I left too. I had to study hard for my final high school exams – was
my official explanation but in reality it was that with Jaro gone. At the same time, my
motivation for kickboxing and competing was gone.
I don't remember being praised by my father. He actually only did it twice. The
first time was when I finished college and the second time was when I finished my PhD. study.
Now I know that most of time he was proud of me and enjoyed praising
his son in front of his friends when I was not around. He thought that saying it to me
directly was not appropriate. I only heard from other people that he was proud of me.
He probably thought that he had not been hard enough on me. If he was hard, I was
even harder. I was both hard on myself and on him.
All our conversations were about what I could do better or what I did wrong. Maybe he feared he would lose my respect if he praised me. But he was wrong, I did not respect him at that time and I
stopped fearing him once I learned to box. I stopped respecting him because of one
incident where he treated me like a servant. He made that mistake only once, but it
changed our relationship forever. It was nothing tragic, but it was the tipping point for
losing my respect.
Lesson learned: It is more important that you keep on fighting than if you fall
down whether you are winning or losing. Never give up. Keep your head up and keep
fighting. You aren’t a sissy, but a fighter. Don’t whimper, get up and fight. You can
lose this fight, but you can’t give up. Each time you get up, you become better and in
the end you will win.