Sparring with John Perna
Wednesday, November 11 2015
What is nocturnal, zips along from tree to tree, can be found on many different continents, and conquers whatever it sets its sights on?
An owl, right?
Well, yes, an owl, but also John Perna.
“I go to work at 2am,” Perna, age 33, says. “I trade European stocks, so I have to operate on their hours.”
While Perna sees some daylight through the small window of time he’s found to train for his upcoming Haymakers for Hope match on November 19th, there isn’t much else he’s got time for. Not right now, anyways.
“Right now my life consists of work, working out, and studying for the Charter Financial Analyst Exam,” Perna explains. “I literally have no free time.”
“I think I may have taken on too much this year,” he adds, laughing.
With the fight two weeks away, Perna has another exhausting task to add to his plate: consuming piles of food.
“I’m so sick of food at this point,” he explains. “To make weight, I’ve been eating nonstop for the last three weeks. I’m totally sick of it.”
It’s a very strange thing to Perna to be actively trying to gain weight. That’s because, in order to make the cut to get picked for Haymakers, Perna successfully set out to lose quite a bit of weight.
In the end, he lost over 100 lbs.
“After putting so much effort into losing weight, it’s pretty weird to be going out of my way to do the opposite,” Perna admits.
“Everyone in my family has struggled with weight at one point or another. When I applied for Haymakers in 2014 I was eating and drinking a lot. I weighed in at 280 lbs,” Perna remembers. “I realized then that there was no way they were going to find someone to match up with me at that weight.”
His initial goal was to get down to 220 lbs. He changed his diet and stopped drinking altogether. After just one month of better diet and exercise, he had lost 25 lbs and was ready to apply to H4H again. Even at a more manageable 255 lbs, Perna was not selected.
“I figured, hey, why stop now?” Perna says. “There’s always next year.”
By the time the next round of Haymakers fights wrapped up, Perna was down to 210lbs. He remained proactive in his efforts to be selected, taking a boxing class once a week in addition to exercising and eating better. He met his future Haymakers trainer during this time and started to learn the ropes over the next 6 months.
The day came when he got the call that he’d finally been selected. It was time to kick up the training regiment in a big way. Things were about to get serious.
“I expected the training to be hard,” Perna says. “But I didn’t expect it to be that hard. I was in pretty good shape by the time the real training started, but this was just exhausting. It’s physically different than anything else I’ve done.”
“I definitely threw up after the first session,” Perna recalls with a chuckle. “I really couldn’t even go twice around with a jump rope. I was really worried that I wasn’t going to get to where I wanted to be.”
After a few weeks of struggling through the growing pains of it all, things started to click. People were telling him that he was starting to look like an old pro. At the toughest moments, he tried to focus on the people he was fighting for. When he signed up, his cousin Karen was battling Leukemia. He had a close friend whose mother was also battling cancer, as well as another friend whose brother had died from it a few years prior. At the time I spoke to Perna, he had individually raised over $16,000 for the cause and was down to near 180 lbs.
“Throughout this process, I’ve learned that even if something seems hopeless, if I stick to it, I can make it happen,” Perna says. “I’ve learned I can take a punch to the face too.”
With the fight less than two weeks away, Perna is a mix of excitement and nerves.
“I’m a little bit of everything, a kind of mish-mash of emotions,” Perna says. “I can’t imagine how it will be the day of. It’s the culmination of a lot. Everybody’s coming out. That’s where most of the nerves come from. I need to make sure I don’t do something stupid, like walk into a left hand after five seconds in the ring.”
If there’s one thing this man needs, it’s a vacation and that’s something he’s made sure he’s getting.
“Win or lose, after the fight I have two weeks to finish studying for the CFA exam. The test is at 6pm. At 10pm that same night, I’m getting on a plane to Australia!”
Last year, traveling became a priority for Perna. He plans to spend his time down under outback trekking, bungee jumping and skydiving. I comment that, from the sound of things, fear doesn’t seem to be something he has time for either. He laughs at that.
“Actually, I was afraid of heights until last year,” he tells me. “I went to Costa Rica and was put in a position to do some waterfall rappelling and ziplining. I actually didn’t want to get on the zipline and fly through the trees, but there was a seventy-five year old Canadian grandmother in front of me. She took off no problem. I figured if she could do it, I could do it. The fear somehow disappeared after that.”
It’s clearly been a transformative year for John Perna, physically, mentally and emotionally. He’s stronger, quicker, and more fearless. Wiser in many ways.
Maybe he is an owl after all.
***Chris Randa is a freelance writer, film producer, and special education teacher. He lives with his wife and son in Millis, MA. Check out his work at www.kerpunkerplunk.com and follow him on Twitter at @ChrisRanda