Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Along the Road to Recovery

First off: I'd like to thank you all for reading this blog and your well-wishes before my surgery. I do a miserable job responding to your comments and it looks like there are a lot more of y'all who started reading this right as I go from a "peak to a valley," but I truly appreciate your support and readership.

I feel like I could begin and end this post simply by writing "surgery sucks," but, well that obviously doesn't paint much of a picture. Nor does it convey how much I'm missing the ring.

Then again, a one-sentence summary probably would read more along the lines of "it's not the surgery that sucks - it's the 6-week recovery after that sucks."

Despite my pre-anesthesia jitters, surgery went well. And by well, of course, I mean that I didn't die, didn't have to stay overnight, and was only mildly miserable when I got wheeled out of the hospital that afternoon.

By the time I went to bed, I had graduated from jello and pudding to cheese and painkillers. The next morning, I had a doctor's appointment to remove the packing and clean my stitches - at which time I also was informed that my nose "was awful...absolutely horrible once we got in there" and that the damage was far more extensive than they had originally diagnosed. My doctor informed me that he had to do two additional procedures that involved grafting cartilage to the front and bridge of my nose to keep it from collapsing in the future, whether I got popped again or not. Essentially, there was so much wreckage in there that on top of fixing my deviated septum, the doctor felt it was necessary to re-build my nose from the inside out. This obviously made the procedure far more extensive and invasive than originally planned, but was done in order to give me the proper care as the doctor saw fit, and I'm glad he decided to do it while I was already opened up.

As he explained how I'd need to care for all the extra, unexpected stitching, he removed my packing. I am by no means squeamish, but this was far and away the most horrifyingly disgusting, gruesome thing I've ever experienced. I wouldn't doubt that there are still imprints on the armrest from my death grip as he pulled out all the...bleh. Just, bleh. The things that came out of my nose...

Once you get inside it, the human body is gross...

My surgical drainage lasted a few days, but the pain subsided quickly. For the next few days, I was more uncomfortable and inconvenienced rather than swollen or in pain, which was encouraging. By the end of the week I still had significant internal swelling, but I already felt like I was breathing easier than I had been before the procedure.

My 2-week check-up and cleaning went well. My stitches have already begun to dissolve on their own, my wounds are clean and healing nicely, and I've been green-lighted to resume workouts and gentle nose blowing. (NEVER take it for granted that you can blow your nose - especially in the gnarly New England winters when it runs every time you step outside.)

I've eased my way back into "full," strenuous workouts and am feeling good. I think I played my cards perfectly wearing myself out pre-surgery and making sure I was "due" for a few days rest anyway. If you squint at the half-full glass, I kind of only really missed one week of training. It was worth it though - through all the discomfort, I wanted first and foremost to do this right and be done with it, and thus far everything's healing beautifully.

And, more importantly, I can breathe again. Easily and fully breathe. Which is a remarkable feeling once you've gone so long and forgotten what it's like to fill your lungs with air and scents and all sorts of nasal goodness.

Since my surgery, I have not been to my boxing gym, nor have I even gloved up to work the heavy bag at my "normal" gym. This has been done intentionally. Not only do I miss the ring terribly, but, well, I'm just not ready to go back. I don't have headgear with a face guard for regular sparring, I'm out of boxing shape, I don't have a "plan" in place to get back to competing and, frankly, I want to enjoy a few weeks off where I'm fully healthy before I dive back in.

If you're going to go, go all out. I'm not a defensive fighter, so I want to make sure I'm comfortable and at peace with my "new face" before squaring off again. I won't be effective if all I'm thinking about is how to not have my nose get grazed by a glove. Similarly, I'm not a wannabe competitor, so I don't want to rush back and aimlessly plod through half-ass workouts. Like my recovery, when I get back to boxing I want to get back at it "right."

And right now I'm still technically recovering. Just biding my time along the long road to recovery...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Pre-Surgery Musings

Before I begin with this short little post, I want to remind you all to (if you haven't already) check out my previous entry. It was a more-than-appropriate "final" event before my upcoming competitive hiatus - a sort of peak before I plateau for a bit.

In a few hours, I'll check-in to have surgery to have a deviated septum and some mangled bones and cartilage in my nose fixed. As I've noted here before, I've been virtually unable to breathe through my nose for a few months. (And before that, I was getting sinus infections way too often, and before that my nose would bleed when someone blew in my general direction from down the block - point being, who knows how long this has been getting more and more messed up.) With a slight lull in the upcoming bout schedule, no airplane flights scheduled for over a month and the holidays behind me, I figured now was as good of a time as any to get it fixed.

Recovery time seems to vary. I'm supposed to go 2 weeks (I'm going to use business weeks) without "working out," including not lifting anything over 25 lbs. or bending over at the waist. I'm supposed to stay out of the cold, dry air as much as possible too.

I foresee two "problems." First, no one is saying "absolutely do nothing physical." They're saying "you'll risk a nosebleed" or "well, if you're going to run, I'd recommend you do it inside." I'm all about doing this the right way and healing without any complications, but at the same time, well, I'm a workout-aholic. I think everything will be more clear based on how I'm feeling early next week - then I'll decide whether I want to start small on the exercise bike or with 5 lb. dumbbells or something to keep my heart rate and blood pressure low (and most importantly, my aching nose happy.) But no matter what, I need to make sure I absolutely don't do too much too soon and have any setbacks.

The other problem is that this is resulting in an indefinite absence from the competitive side of boxing. I'm by no means hanging up my gloves - it's only 2 weeks before I'll be starting to work back up to full speed again. The problem is that it will likely be, well, who knows how long before I feel comfortable enough to put the headgear on and step back into the ring. Even though I'm going to order one of those models of headgear that have the bar across your nose/mouth that the pros use when sparring in training camp, I don't ever want to have to battle a mental block fearing that my nose could again gradually be getting messed up over time. Besides, you can't do anything extra to truly protect your face in a sanctioned bout.

The bottom line: I am not finished boxing - not even this month. But I do not want to (and God willing will not have to) have surgery again.

I had considered drafting some prose here that outlined all the things I'll miss about the ring. But then I realized that not only is that a bit melodramatic and even cliche...but unnecessary. I'm not going anywhere. I'll be back, and perhaps much sooner rather than later.

The road to recovery starts tomorrow. And in the context of all the other challenges I've had to overcome during my amateur boxing career, this road doesn't seem so bad.

Keep swingin'. Talk to y'all in a few days.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

NESN Fight Night Finale

With a only a week to prepare between my sanctioned bout in Billerica and the exhibition being recorded as the season finale for the reality show on NESN, I had to strike an impromptu balance between resting, maintaining and training. I had peaked the previous Saturday (as planned) but was definitely a little tired and sore the days after - but per usual, there was no rest for the weary and the televised bout at week's end was arguably bigger than the sanctioned one that had just passed.

Come Monday when I started thinking about the ring again, my biggest concern was an achy jaw. In my 8+ years of boxing, my jaw honestly has never hurt, but a few stiff uppercuts had changed that and made it pretty creaky. Some light sparring later in the week did nothing to aggravate it, but even the lightest contact confirmed that it was sensitive.

The week passed with me surrounding a rigorous workout and some sparring around two lighter, non-contact sessions. With the fight at a catch weight, I was able to sleep, eat and hydrate as much as I wanted, which definitely helped with recovery.

With the bout on a Friday - which, as I've whined about a lot on here, is my least favorite day to fight given the whole 8-6 work thing - I spent the hours leading up to the fight, well, doing the 8-6 work thing. I walked over to the gym after work "per usual," treating the fight night like just another night working out in my 2nd office.

With the knowledge that amateur events never start on time and televised events run even later, I made myself comfortable in the locker room. 15 minutes past the original start time turned to 30 and eventually an hour passed without a new ETA. As a NESN camera started asking me generic questions about whether or not I was ready, a fight sheet was finally posted...and my trainer informed me I was up 2nd. And the 1st fight was beginning immediately.

Like the Billerica fight, I didn't have any time to waste revving my engines - I needed to get loose in a hurry and my hands weren't even wrapped. In retrospect, the fire-drill warm-up might have had its perks, such as keeping me relaxed and limiting my time to meander around and wear myself out by "over-warming up." At the time though, it was a bit stressful multi-tasking (wrapping my hands while I stretched my hammies, fumbling with my headgear as I worked the kinks out of my back) and making it to my corner before the opening bell.

But alas, as always, things fell into place and I was able to get a (sorry excuse for a) sweat worked up before the bell rang, and had a piece of advice to boot. As with most of my bouts, I hadn't ever fought my opponent before, but a training partner had faced him before. And the scouting report? "He's a lefty...throws a lot of left hands...just stay away from his left hand and you'll be fine."

So, well, there was that insight...

The cameras didn't really add to any different feel or nervousness, both internally as well as the larger gym atmosphere. I was on my home turf and feeling good as I touched gloves with my opponent. True to the scouting report, he started off throwing lots of individual punches, with the majority of them being straight lefts. He was a strong kid but was at noticeable disadvantages in the speed and work-rate departments. Aside from an early straight left that clipped my jaw and reminded me that it had been hurting all week, my opponent really didn't do much in the first round besides eat my jabs and straight rights as I felt him out and gained confidence (and momentum) with each passing second. As the bell rang, I saw no reason why I couldn't keep feeding him the same, steady diet of lead rights between his hands for the remaining 2/3 of the bout and coast.

The 2nd round began with my opponent bull rushing me, yet (oddly) continuing to throw punches at a slow rate, with most of them now directed to my body. The vast majority of his body shots didn't land, and I was able to use some good angles to land some crisp counter hooks over his lowered hands. In close and low - but not throwing punches - neutralized my right hand, but resulted in my opponent spending the majority of the round bent over at the waist or in an awkward squat, crowding himself below my waist and slowing his punch output to a crawl.

But while his punch output slowed as he ducked/bent/squatted into me from all angles, he upped his pushing and cheap-shot activities. Perhaps frustrated at his ineffectiveness (both in the 1st round as well as his bumbling 2nd round adjustments) or just tired of getting hit so cleanly so often, my opponent apparently seemed to have no choice but to start fighting dirty.

And not dirty in a "thumb your eye, sneak an elbow in, hit you low, wear you out and rough you up" sort of way. No, this was dirty in the "I'm a punk with Daddy issues that's going to wrestle/push/hip-toss my way out of clinches, throw punches after the ref steps in for a break, and flagrantly hit you low...because I'm helpless to do anything else to you" sort of way.

The kind of dirty that got the crowd fired up, groaning and cheering even louder for me.

The kind of dirty that didn't make me angry, but confident - or rather, cocky.

I had never been so sure of anything in my life than that the kid had nothing on me. And after 2 rounds, he knew it too. He knew it and was helpless to do anything but get even more frustrated, spiraling into a (frankly) pathetic, desperate fit in the ring.

So as I came out of my corner for Round 3...I smiled. I winked. I added a little "eff-you" to my jabs, pounced inside behind my lead rights and flurried, and made sure to give the kid an earful whenever we were in close to tell him who's boss.

I'm all about sportsmanship - but I'm also about putting someone in their place in my ring.

Through it all, my opponent continued to wait to land one, single big punch at a time (and he's still waiting) and kept routinely keeling his upper-body below my waist, awkwardly clinching low and then shoving his way out.

In the waning seconds of the bout, I had him on the ropes and was calmly working over his body - chin-tucked, shoulder rolled, methodically landing the body-body-body-bodies you throw 100000's of every week - when he quit struggling and lifted his arms above his hands, encouraging me to keep hitting his body.

Ah, the ultimate concession: "you're hitting me so much that all I can do is take it and convince you they don't hurt."

Which was fine by me.

So after a few pitter-patter body shots, I did the only decent thing: I came upstairs and hit him right between his raised arms.

I don't care whether you're boxing, brawling or showboating - if you stick your chin out, I'm going to hit it.

And while I didn't knock him down (ah, if only it was circa Toney/Jones Jr.) the ref stepped in - whether because he saw he was hurt or simply wanted to tell him again to knock off his shenanigans.

Upon hearing cries of "10 seconds left" from my corner, I was more than happy to pounce on the kid again, landing a number of punches in a flurry and - just before the final bell - knocking his headgear clean off his (fat) head with an uppercut.

The bell rang and the ref stepped in...just in time for my opponent to hit me after the bell one, final time - his nose bloodies and headgear on the canvas. I couldn't help but just laugh at the ridiculousness of it all, shake my head and walk to my corner, completely satisfied by just how far I had risen above his awkward, bush-league tactics. It was a boxing 101 seminar. And on TV, no less.

My opponent didn't even stick around for the obligatory hand-raise in the middle of the ring - he just bee-lined it back to the locker room (or whatever sad, sorry hole he crawled out of).

After the fight, my gymmates gave me fist pounds and nods of approval, while some of my friends squawked and were more fired up than me, re-emphasizing just how cheap and sorry my opponent was. Fortunately, I was able to just laugh and tell them to shrug it off too - I couldn't have done anything more to beat the kid pillar to post.

Or rather, box him pillar to post. And that's what it was, and that's what's most satisfying; not the lights or the crowd or the machismo, but having your hard work pay-off and being in "that fight," being that guy who had everyone talking about what a clinic a boxer over a brawler can be.

'Tis a beautiful thing, the sweet science.

And if you don't believe me (or the crowd, or my friends, or my opponent's blood that I had to wash off my arms and trunks) you can see it on the "Boston Boxing" season finale on NESN.

Or better yet, check out the Allston-Brighton Tab's coverage of the event (namely picture 6):

For those of you who didn't click through, the newspaper's caption reads: "John Moreland of Boston Boxing connects with a right uppercut to the face of his outclassed opponent Joe Parina of Quincy PAL during the filming of a new reality TV show on NESN at the Boston Boxing gym in Allston on Friday."

Ah, to be a famous amateur boxer... albeit have your name misspelled.

Lessons learned:
- You should always strive to dominate your opponent enough that even the newspaper says you outclassed him. That way there's no questions or doubts in your mind - or the crowd's, your opponent's, the public's, or most importantly, the judges' minds either.
- Patience, smarts and savvy trump dirty boxing 99 times out of 100.
- If you're fighting a southpaw, lead rights down the shoot are your best friend.
- Wear a cup.
- Respect your opponent, but most importantly, respect the sport. Boxing has a funny way of weeding out (or at the very least, making examples of) those who enter the ring for the wrong reasons.

And that friends, was my 2009 boxing highlight. And I can't wait to record it and keep re-living it.