The Punches - H4H Alumni Spotlight
Monday, February 27 2017
It’s all about moving into the punches.
When it’s no longer a choice, moving towards that impending blow. When it’s simply part of your muscle memory. When freeze and flight aren’t on the table anymore, were never really there to begin with. It’s almost the philosophy the fighter lives by. You move towards the punches.
For Chris Lewarne, that’s the mark of a real fighter.
Chris Lewarne is not a real fighter.
At least, not according to him.
“I do not have a killer instinct,” he says, in spite of an undefeated amateur record. He goes on to describe how, after his own fight for Haymakers in November of 2014, his opponent told him that he was a little freaked out during the fight. He was caught off guard every time that Lewarne would hit him hard, not because of Chris’s newly acquired southpaw approach (he tore his right rotator cuff in training and had to learn to fight left-handed in only 4 months), but because he’d immediately apologize after every hard blow he landed. “I didn’t even realize I was doing it,” Lewarne adds, laughing.
While Chris Lewarne would be the first to tell you he’s not among the real fighters that he works with every day in the boxing gyms-- the young hungry guys, eager to cut their teeth on a burgeoning pro career-- he’d much rather tell you about a person that is. It’s the man for whom Lewarne became a boxer, the reason he worked up the nerve to put on the gloves in the first place. A father-figure only a few months his senior. A childhood friend like no other.
Adrian was a man who truly moved into the punches of life. Lewarne recalls a motorcycle trip he took with his childhood friend. They stopped on the side of the road and Adrian took off his helmet to run his fingers through his hair, only to find that his fingers took tufts of hair along with them. Being diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 2014 was a hard pill to swallow for Adrian, but he refused to let that hold him back. Throughout his treatment, he continued to play on a soccer team and remained amongst the best out there. His example served as a model to everyone around him. There is no adversity in life too daunting not to face straight on, with all you’ve got. No punch too threatening to shy away from.
And so Lewarne signed up for Haymakers for Hope, training under the amazing Danny Manuel at Mendez gym. Adrian couldn’t have been more supportive. In fact, it was Adrian’s faith in Lewarne that got him through the fight.
“He was the one that was able to calm me down before the fight. He said that he wasn’t worried about me for a second because he knew I was a survivor and that I’d figure it out. That I had the right tools in my belt. That he knew I’d find a way to success. I realized that if this guy isn’t worried about me getting killed, then why should I worry? He's the most capable man I've ever known.”
“He really put things in perspective for me. Without actually saying it, Adrian had a way of looking at you that said:, ‘I’m fighting death. You’re fighting some guy in a ring with rules. You’re gonna be okay’,” Lewarne recalls. “Looking at it that way really put me at ease.”
Hearing Lewarne talk about his friend really demonstrates what an influence this man was on all who were lucky enough to call him a friend. He describes how a person defers to different friends for different things. You have the friend you defered to for relationship advice. The friend you defer to to talk about music or sports. The friend you defer to about home improvements. What made Adrian so amazing was that he was the friend people deferred to for all of those things, for everything.
“He was naturally good at everything. He was a superman among regular people. You almost felt like it was kind of him just to hang out with you,” Lewarne fondly recalls. “In a lot of ways he taught me how to be a man. He taught me how to use power tools and how to drive stick. He’s the type of guy that would help build furniture for ex-girlfriends.”
To have a role model that was such a fully formed example of manliness was certainly influential to Lewarne, but more influential still was his example as a rounded out human being.
“Everything he did was a search for meaning and purpose. He was so fiercely who he was. It made me rethink everything. He’d go help people with AIDS in East Africa. He rode his motorcycle from Canada to Panama. He always said that no preset script of rules should hold you back from anything.”
While Adrian might not have been particularly religious, he certainly had a spiritual side. Before Adrian’s passing in 2015, he gave himself a tattoo inspired by Zen Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh’s book “Peace Is Every Step”, a text about methods of meditation, conscious breathing, and enlightenment.
The tattoo was simple: NMNL.
“No Mud, No Lotus”
Without adversity, there is no beauty in the world. A perfect mantra for the adventurer-optimist undergoing chemotherapy.
In true Adrian fashion, he gave the tattoo to himself using the stick and poke method. One single needle prick, dipped in ink, at a time. Over and again. After seeing the meaningful and apropos message that Adrian had created on himself, Lewarne decided he wanted one as well. After Adrian attempted to convince Lewarne to give the tattoo to himself, Lewarne underwent the painstaking experience of having the tattoo applied by his friend, one needle poke on his forearm at a time. It would be a tattoo Adrian’s whole family would eventually all wear as well. Chris muses, “To say the guy left his mark is an understatement.”
Lewarne spoke at Adrian’s funeral, a difficult and emotional moment for everyone in attendance, and yet the general consensus from all who knew him was clear. This was a man who lived more in thirty years than most do in thirty lifetimes. Adrian never put a lot of stock in the notion of an afterlife, and who could blame him, when you squeezed the very most out of every minute in life like he did.
Since Lewarne’s Haymakers For Hope fight, he has reinvented his life in the spirit of Adrian's example. The search for meaning and compassion in his everyday life led him to leave a lucrative position as a corporate lawyer and join the Haymaker’s team as their General Counsel and NYC Fight Manager. He takes great pride in his efforts to work with others in their mission to raise money to beat cancer for good and to provide men and women with the opportunity to honor those they love by fighting for them, one punch at a time.
Never giving up.
Always moving toward the punches.