Sparring with Mark Avery
Wednesday, January 20 2016
In 2013, as Mark Avery wiped his own blood from the middle of the ring where he’d just been sparring, he struggled to wipe worry away from his mind as well. Would his participation in his upcoming Haymakers for Hope match be over before it ever began?
His nose had just been broken. As the profuse pouring of blood from it gave way to swelling, it became increasingly clear that he’d likely be unable to fight. He feared that he wouldn’t make it to the final bell.
He was right.
To fully understand the nature of his unfinished Haymakers journey, it helps to look back to an earlier time in Mark Avery’s life, a time when his nose had a bit less character than it has today.
Working hard to help those battling cancer was something familiar to Mark long before he ever started learning to throw punches for the cause. He worked at Dana Farber Cancer Institute doing fundraising and development for seven years and was always looking for additional ways to help. He also ran the Boston Marathon separately from his position at Dana Farber, and was matched up with a pediatric cancer patient partner named Trent, who is now thirteen.
“He’s an awesome little kid,” Mark says. “He’s nine or ten now and has been cancer free for a number of years. It has been super inspirational to see what he’s gone through. Such a strong little guy.”
Mark’s now-wife also worked at Dana Farber as a liaison for fundraising and events and was the person who brought Haymakers for Hope to his attention. As someone who’s demonstrated a willingness to put his body through the ringer to help others, it should come as no surprise that he jumped at the chance to get involved.
“Kelsey walked into an area where a bunch of coworkers and I were,” Mark remembers, “and was like ‘Hey, are any of you guys interested in boxing for charity?’ Everyone kind of turned their heads away, but once she explained what Haymakers was, I was like ‘Yes, I am totally on board with this. This is great.”
Mark didn’t have any experience with boxing, but was athletic and had played some lacrosse throughout his life. More than anything, he was looking for new and challenging ways to raise money for the cause.
And so the journey towards a bloody and broken nose began. He started out at 152 pounds, but stood out for his speed. He even was given a nickname, Mark the Spark.
“My game plan is to stick and move,” he says. “Don’t get hit. Be quicker than the other guy.”
Things were going well for Mark, as far as his training was concerned. He was about halfway through his training regiment and was just about to start selling tickets to the fight as part of the effort to raise the required amount that all Haymakers fighters take on. He was sparring with another trainer at the gym, when he found himself on the receiving end of a punch gone awry.
“I remember thinking, ‘what just happened to my face’,” Mark recalls with a laugh. “I didn’t know it was officially broken until the swelling went down. I actually kept on training for a couple of weeks. Once I realized what had happened, I had a difficult decision to make.”
Mark wasn’t a career boxer and, like most of us, he wasn’t entirely keen on further injuring himself in the name of the sport. Still, he had worked so hard and the idea of having it all be for naught seemed unacceptable. He went back and forth in his mind, but when he was assured by Haymakers that they’d do their best to match him up with someone for the following year, Mark agreed to postpone his involvement.
A year later, in May of 2014, Mark stands backstage ready for his fight. He picked up right where he had left off the prior year and even had George Foreman III as his trainer this time around.
The fight before him ends in a knock-out and all of a sudden it’s time to go. The prior four months had led up to the next six minutes.
Mark felt physically and mentally prepared. He also felt great about how much money he had raised, far exceeding his fundraising goal. He remembers a calm coming over him, knowing he could never be any more ready than he was at that moment. He recalls listening to the Alabama Shakes, fun, upbeat music, far from the death metal most other boxers were taking in to pump themselves up.
“At that point, I just wanted to enjoy the ride,” he says, smiling.
And so Mark “The Spark” Avery stepped into the ring. He lived up to the name, moving non-stop, circling. He moved so much that he ran into the ref multiple times.
“You don’t really hear the crowd much until a big punch is thrown,” Mark says. “If it catches either one of you, your mind focuses on the crowd’s reaction. It almost takes you out of it, like ‘Was that actually a big punch? Did I really get hit that hard?’ Your adrenaline is pumping, so you don’t really feel pain.
Eventually the final bell rings. His opponent has lost. The fight is finished.
But Mark isn’t.
“You can only fight one time,” Mark explains. “Afterwards, you feel like you’re part of this elite club of people who have fought and raised a lot of money. I was so proud of it. I wanted to stay involved, wanted to know how else I could support the organization.”
Mark kept touching base with Haymakers, bringing friends who were interested in signing up, coming to the shows, volunteering. His passion for this cause was clear.
A year after his fight, Mark goes on his honeymoon. He and his wife enjoy a safari in Africa (at one point a lion wanders into camp, and Marks leaps up from bed, readying himself to take on another opponent with a pocket knife. No rounds are fought.). The second they land back stateside, Mark turns on his phone to find a message from Myerson, who’s taken clear notice of Mark’s ongoing dedication to Haymakers.
He and co-founder Julie Kelly present an opportunity to Mark.
Today, Mark is the director of Haymakers for Hope. He’s running operations, working on its expansion, doing everything he can to take it to the next level. He’s hoping to expand the charity events into Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
“My goal is to use my past experience to make a huge impact on a charity that I’m incredibly passionate about. Helping Haymakers grow, helping fighters who are going through the experience for the first time. I love the thought of that,” Mark says.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Mark Avery busted his nose for Haymakers.
These days, he’s busting his ass for them.
***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.comand follow him on Twitter at @ChrisRanda