A letter to my former self

Dawn Gibson, a reporter for the Sooke News Mirror, reflects on climbing into the boxing ring for the first time

Dear 18-year-old Dawn,

Stop doubting yourself.

Your parents just dropped you off in Calgary, and I know the SAIT campus is bigger and more populated than the town you came from, but don’t be scared. You are going to love that place, and once you meet people, the city isn’t going to seem as big and unfamiliar.

For reasons unknown, one of your new best pals, Andy, is going to be a die-hard Floyd Mayweather fan. I’m serious. Almost everything in his wardrobe says TMT on it (The Money Team, Mayweather’s brand), and he has pants that are patterned with dollar bills.

On Sept. 12, 2015, you and some friends will go to a bar with Andy to watch Floyd Mayweather’s “last fight” against Andre Berto. You guys are going to have a blast, get all fired up and be throwing fake punches in the air all night.

Remember those drunk, shadow boxing moves, young Dawn. They might become useful some day.

Your class sizes at SAIT will be small, and you’re going to absolutely gobble up everything you learn in school. Within the first week, you’re going to realize you want to major in photojournalism in the second year, but there are only 16 spots available and about 80 people competing for it.

“There’s no way I’ll get in, these people have learned photography before, they’re older than me, more talented than me,” you’ll think.

You’re going to lose a lot of sleep thinking like that for the next eight months.

And now here’s a curve ball in case you thought worrying would be your only problem: in November, you’re going to tear your ACL and both menisci, and it’s going to hurt… A LOT. I mean the worst pain you’ve ever felt, and your knee is going to be stuck at a 90 degree angle for over a month.

Now you’re thinking, “How am I going to get from place to place, and shoot photos at events if I can’t even stand up? Now I’m for sure not going to get in the photo major.”

But remember that time you played fastball provincials with torn ligaments in your ankle? See, you’ve practiced for this.

9:27a.m. – Dawn Gibson steps onto the scale, weighing in at 55 kilograms. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)

You’re going to get a wheelchair, and you are going to work that thing like a runway. You’re going to wheel yourself through a lot of snow trying to get places: photography events, class, the grocery store, and then eventually you’ll get crutches.

Just keep limping forward, you skinny little warrior. Everything is going to change.

In May 2016 you’re going to get an email from SAIT. Congratulations, you earned one of those 16 spots in the photojournalism major.

Why did you doubt yourself so much?

By May 2017, when you’ve lost all possible muscle tone and weigh about 110 pounds, you’ll finally get surgery. And not even two weeks later, you’re going to move yourself out to B.C. — Vancouver Island actually, to find work.

Luckily, you’ll snag a job writing for the Sooke News Mirror, and man, you are going to like it there.

After about six months, your boss is going to ask you to start boxing. Yes, you read that right, Muhammad Ali, Floyd Mayweather — BOXING — and you’ll be writing a column about it.

I know what you’re thinking. “ABSOLUTELY NOT. Over my dead body. No way will I do that. Too much work, I just had knee surgery, I’m not tough enough, I can’t do it, blah blah blah… boxing is not for me.”

But guess what sweet cheeks? You do it. Welcome to The Money Team.

9:11 a.m. – Takes a moment to herself before weighing in for her 57kg fight against American boxer Marisa Lai. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)

You’re going to learn all the basics, from throwing a punch, to moving around the ring, to defence, and more. There’s a lot more to know in boxing than you would expect.

You’ll train at least five days a week for five months straight. I know right? I’m having a hard time believing it myself.

It’s going to be one of the most challenging things you’ve ever done. Your body is going to be so sore you can barely move. You’re going to cry, you’re going to get punched in the face, you’re going to want to quit, but you’re going to stick to it.

Damn right you will.

5:40 p.m. – Dawn Gibson listens to music by herself while she patiently awaits her fight. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)

Through all this self-discipline you’re going to gain back the muscle and weight you lost, and mentally, you are going to transform. You’re going to learn how to remove your emotions from pain and push through workouts better, control your nerves and anxiety, and be able to fight back when someone pushes you around. Literally and figuratively.

Now here’s where it gets really good, you sign up for a fight. A FIGHT. I warned you those drunk air punches would be put into action some day.

I’ll give you a minute to let that sink in…. Alright that’s long enough.

When the day of the fight comes, you are going to wake up feeling numb.

When you show up to the community hall for weigh-ins, a wave of nerves is going to crash over you. “Oh my god, I have to fight someone today in front of hundreds of people. I’m not ready.”

Tell that voice in your head to shut up. You are ready.

You’re going to fight a girl named Marissa Lai from Pacifica California, who has almost the exact same body type as you.

While waiting, the suspense will practically kill you. In your head will be a constant battle, “I don’t think I can do this.”

“Okay no, I’m fine, I’ve trained for this.”

“What if I’m not prepared?”

Just breathe.

Finally 6 p.m. rolls around. Time to start warming up.

When you get in the ring, I hate to tell you, but you’re going to forget everything you’ve learned throughout training, and within 20 seconds of the first round she’s going to get you with a hard jab right to the nose, and it’s going to start bleeding.

Damn-it.”

The first round ends, and you’ll have blood gushing from your nose. “Oh no, everyone is going to think I’m hurt. They are going to call the fight. I’m going to lose.”

Then second round starts, and suddenly, this new side of you that you’ve been trying to channel for the last five months will kick in. “Well if everyone thinks I’m losing because I’m bleeding, I’m just going to have to fight that much harder.”

It will feel like only moments have gone by when you hear the bell to end the second round, and by this time you’ll be drenched in blood. A doctor will pinch your nose while your coach, Ellen, shoves Vaseline up it to try and stop the bleeding.

Who cares, let me get back out there I am not giving up.”

When the third round starts, you are going to be in the zone. And I mean THE ZONE. Punches won’t hurt, you won’t feel winded, and everything will be silent to you, except the voice in your head.

“You’ve got this. Believe in yourself. Give it everything you have.”

And before you know it, “DING!”, the fight will be over.

You will be covered in your own blood. Seriously, head-to-toe covered, girl. On your legs. On your arms. Everywhere.

They will call you to the centre of the ring, and you’re going to feel like a finalist on American Idol.

Then you’ll hear the announcer say, “It’s a split decision… IN THE BLUE CORNER, DAAAAWN GIIIIBSON.”

When your arm goes up, that same feeling you had when the letter came from SAIT will rush over you, a feeling of total self-pride. I hope you remember this moment and carry it with you for the rest of your life.

You did it. You WON! If this doesn’t finally open your eyes, I don’t know what will.

18-year-old Dawn, stop doubting yourself.

You are a lot tougher than you realize.

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