Everyone has a plan, Mike Tyson once said, until they get punched in the face. Although he easily could have said, “until I bite their ear off,” Tyson’s quip is more profound than he realized. Boxer or not, everyone has a plan until they ‘get punched in the face’. Sometime after my first sparring session, perhaps as I was tending to my bloody lip and swollen jaw with a practiced nonchalance, it occurred to me that you can take a punch in the ring and keep fighting, but the punch of cancer is far too often a knockout.
On May 16th, I will fight three 2-minute rounds and (knock on wood) leave the ring with nothing worse than some bruises. But during those six minutes, about 20 Americans will be dazed or completely shattered after being diagnosed with cancer. The Haymakers for Hope team are all too familiar with the punches of cancer. Co-founder Julie Anne Kelly felt the punch when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2002. Co-founder Andrew Myerson felt the punch too, losing a friend to cancer before graduating high school. I felt the punch too, when a college friend of mine died suddenly from complications following surgery to remove a benign-but-deadly tumor from his brain.
So after watching my co-worker, Luke Owings, win his match at Haymakers Boston II, I thought of my old friend Ben. And I thought of Ben again when, 6 months later, Luke suggested signing up for Haymakers III. Later that night, still not convinced I wanted the long-term commitment, I opened up my copy of the Best American Sports Writing 1992 searching for inspiration. The story staring back at me was O Unlucky Man by William Nack. I read the somber tale of how in 1964 Sonny Liston went from heavyweight champion of the world to being best known as the fighter laying on the ground in the infamous “Phantom Punch” photograph after being knocked out in the first round by a loud-mouthed 22-year old challenger. Branded a 7-1 underdog before the fight, that man was then known as Cassius Clay.
I put down the book and signed up for a fight of my own hoping to be more Ali than Liston but also eager to be a part of something larger than just the fight itself. I think when Julie and Andrew founded Haymakers for Hope, they certainly understood the power of the punch of cancer. They also understood the power of boxing – the power to jolt awake your inner fighter and inspire you to make sacrifices. But they could not have predicted just how powerful that combination of fighting cancer and fighting in the ring could be. Because Haymakers forces you to not only remember the old Tyson adage, but also to realize that anyone can get punched in the face.
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