Monday, December 31, 2012

To Win: I Offer Youth Boxing

Omowale Adewale

During the last several months, I have been addressing fear and aggression with youth through the sport of boxing. Although, this entire year I have been teaching boxing to various people from Christians to Muslims, Tibetans, Eastern Europeans, Western Africans, Iraqis, Koreans, men and women, young and old, and queers and heterosexuals, I am especially devoted to teaching young black boys in low-income neighborhoods. It’s not just about offering priceless lessons of discipline and self-defense. Boxers learn how to endure to win under pressure and how to regulate their fear and channel their aggression. These are transferable lessons in the real world.
Young boxers behave completely different in the gym than they do anywhere else. I remember last month seeing a young brother outside of my gym with his pants saggin’ and was amazed to see this expression. I saw the look of shock when he pulled them up upon my request, although it wasn’t expressed as a request. There’s a philosophy about boxing and saggin’. Even folks outside of the ring say it, “You couldn’t defend yourself with your pants saggin’.”
No young person has ever refused me and I’ve asked total strangers. However, just this past month I’ve placed a personal moratorium on asking young men to pull up their pants. While, I think the gesture is pretty immature and somewhat disrespectful in society I’m done with asking young people to adhere to my sensitivities. It’s completely unfair to take my cropped picture of a young person based on their physical appearance and my abhorrence to it and ask that they conform to what I want to view in a public or private space.
I did not arrive at this conclusion as a certified youth mentor, trained foster care parent, or as a fellow in preventing violence against young people. It was not as an advocate of alternatives in incarceration or as former executive director of a Bronx youth center.
It all happened last month shortly after Hurricane Sandy. I found a little time to volunteer at three neighborhoods hit extremely hard in my home city: Red Hook and Far Rockaway in Brooklyn and the Meat Packing district in Manhattan. I found myself feeling like a young black boy again and it was all too familiar. Although I was there to help, I was disparaged as a thief at two of the locations. In only one incident did the sheepishness of my denigrators conjure up enough nerve to apologize. I felt embarrassingly young again and too black.
When I returned home, I thought about the three times I had been stopped by the NYPD this year. One time I was in slacks, a dress shirt, shoes and carrying a laptop bag. I can’t tell people enough, the clothes are completely irrelevant if you’re black.
I halted my pitiful sulking for a minute to imagine how criminalized black boys have been stolen from their communities and sent to prisons, made suicidal or homicidal, corrupted by gangs, labeled mentally ill, or simply murdered. An elected official in 2006 during his re-election campaign and my campaign to gain support for alternatives to incarceration asked me, “what about the young recidivists who get into trouble constantly?” I thought about the disgustingly rich, the very powerful, and the enormously resourceful and replied, “We should give our youth the same number of chances the family of George W. Bush gave him.” The former U.S. president during his younger years had all sorts of problems: poor school grades, run-ins with the law including a conviction and alcohol abuse. He was president during that time.
As a teen, I can remember incidents with cuffs placed on my wrists and police guns pointed in my face. In each incident I was let go in 15 minutes. Growing up in Brooklyn, before my 14th birthday I’ve had guns pulled on me and even been shot at. Welcome to limited options, “zero tolerance”, and no resources.
I read that youth incarceration in NYC had dropped. I decided to take a closer look at the Mayor’s Management Report for 2012, focusing on ACS, which began overseeing juvenile justice in 2010. According to the report, recidivism has increased every year for the past 5 years. Weapons and narcotics were up. The daily population maybe down between 2008 and 2012, but the average length of stay has remained the same. The data showed that a 1,000+ youth had left incarceration during this 5-year-period. That’s miraculous; because, the subsequent 5 years saw a steady increase in youth being remanded to detention.
Ok, if it’s not obvious, the youth have been diverted to less expensive and far safer programs embedded in the neighborhoods of NYC. The first time I enrolled a young person into R.E.B.E.L (Rallying, Educating & Building Effective Leadership) was in 2005. I was not quite finished with my fellowship at that time, but the child was 15 and he was being sent Upstate. ATI’s are hardly new. However, during that time, not only was there no money being allocated to support ATI’s or ATD’s (alternative to detention) the so-called liberal attorneys were not serious about ATIs or ATDs. In 2006, I presented to the Bronx’s legal aid department. There were about 20 legal personnel present from the juvenile justice division, and not one was a male of color. During that time, more than ninety-five percent of all youth detained were black or Latino, the Correctional Association of NY reported.
Family court judges and probation officers used my number, and parents pushed their attorneys to contact our brand new ATI. Yet, in the poorest county in the State and in the borough with the most saturation of youth detention in the city, I was completely shocked and somewhat embarrassed that not one of those young smiling attorneys ever called me or returned my phone call.
However, not much has changed in youth incarceration. The Correctional Association of NY reported in 2010 black youth were 91% of those incarcerated in OCFS juvenile prisons, 49% in need of mental health services, and 45% are in NYC.
The same goes for stop and frisk practices, which according to the NYCLU the NYPD has stopped and frisked 700,000 people in 2011, up from 100,000 in 2002. Ninety-percent of these stops are of blacks and Latinos. The disproportionate stops of young black and Latino males were more blatant and egregious as they represent 4.7% of the city’s population but accounted for over 40% of all stops. In contrast, young white males were 3.8% of the stops but represent 2% of the city’s population. Of the nearly 685k people stopped in 2011, 605k was innocent. Forty-three percent of these stops were young black and Latino males.
The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement reported that between January 1 and June 30 of 2012, 69% of the 120 black people killed had been between 13 and 31. In both the MXGM and NYCLU reports they cite that police use phrases such as “suspicious behavior or appearance” or “furtive movements” as their motives for criminalizing youth.
The criminalization of young people is something I’ve seen for years in a complete mercantile capitalist society with the impetus being pure greed, but often race-related. Lieutenants visit poor community districts espousing their monthly criminal reports at community board meetings claiming to be “good guys” in our neighborhood of “bad guys”. This is their first pit-stop in their process of reporting crime. Then they transform young men into targeted young suspects, create quotas to harass them, produce numbers of “arrests”, “incarcerations” and “convictions” and then develop more reports in their requests for State and federal funding.
Not only do poor and working class neighborhoods fund this policing strategy through their taxes, these same tactics of criminalizing young people by identifying “bad guys” by their clothing, behavior, and other appearances is used within our communities. Our communities are conditioned to criminalize each other. Film director Marlon Riggs, in his 1986 documentary “Ethnic Notions” had illustrated during times of Jim Crow and post-slavery society had created unfathomable stereotypes that would define black people. In one segment, switch blades were said to be the choice of young blacks during that time. Riggs used various old clips to describe the great depth policymakers and white media were taking to paint young black males as too dangerous for their civil liberties. This was all part of an argument to return blacks back to slavery. Backwards caps used to be what switch blades were. Saggin’ pants are the new switch blades.
Where do black youth turn? I offer them boxing. From Jack Johnson to Sugar Ray Robinson to Muhammad Ali to today’s Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin young impoverished boxers beat down by society rise to victory. Thomas Hearns, who held five world titles in five divisions reflecting on the impact of the legendary trainer Emmanuel Stewart, said “He wasn’t just a trainer to me, he taught me about life. Right away I [saw] my life change. He changed a lot of people’s lives.”
Boxing is my solace, a refuge in a harsh and often judgmental world. A young person once said to me implicating the adults who chastise his peers for saggin’ pants, “They don’t know how I’m doing in school.” We make judgments based on our preference and fail to see the impact on the lives of young people.
Through boxing, I offer them will power, resiliency, calmness, self-confidence, strength, discipline, self-defense, regulation of aggression, a healthier body and attitude and overall wellness. I teach boxers how to reduce their emotions and focus on the goal ahead. Stereotypes are prevalent all around black youth, but if they gain love of themselves they will hurdle their obstacles and smash stereotypes. Whether they lose in the ring is inconsequential. The goal is not to become a professional athlete, the goal is learn to overcome and astound one’s self.
I offer their parents the keys to connect better with them. In boxing, like all martial arts, the student is quiet and patiently awaiting self-mastery. Students instantly recognize the difficulty of combat when immersed in the struggle and slowly become more receptive to learning the world around them.
In the gym, boxers always ask me, “What do you eat if you do not eat meat?” and “How do you ‘make’ weight?” I haven’t spoken one word about the political process or how a bill becomes a law although unbeknownst to most, that’s my more experienced background. However, as a 19-year vegetarian I am ecstatic to teach them about the abundance of legumes, nuts, grains and green leafy vegetables that allow me to weigh 165lbs and bench press 300lbs. I discuss my hypertension issues in the past tense and educate them on increasing their bananas and reducing foods high in sodium. I teach them to get a jumpstart on fruit and vegetable juicing.  
We discuss fear and anxiety and then we go confront it in the ring with headgear, padded gloves, mouthpiece and a protective cup with regulation. The aggression is released in the ring. A calmness flows over you which is preceded by fatigue. Youth from all walks of life love the feeling of being in the ring with sparring partners. They hug their peers and partners, maybe bow, pat their heads or kiss each other’s foreheads to show respect and gratefulness for the engagement and encouragement.
I know what it is to rise off the canvas and prevail. Almost four weeks ago, I won a grueling amateur boxing match at the Fight Factory gym in Coney Island. My record improved and I won a beautiful belt. It’s always an incredible feeling to win in the ring, but I am especially happy about this win. I get to teach my progression. Young boxers always want to know the details.
My opponent was strong, fast and had a nine-year age advantage. To make matters worse, he knocked me down in the first round with a crushing left hook that brought the crowd to roars. The knockdown was enough time to have a conversation within myself about my determination, composure, and confront my own fears.
In boxing, you’re training your mind so much more than you’re conditioning your body. It’s hard to find serenity in the midst of battle, but that’s where you need it most. When I teach boxing I watch for errors in their form and make adjustments consistently. There are always improvements to be made.
It’s been several years since being a campaign manager, running a functioning organization or being a paid political strategist. When I would discuss civics to young people, sometimes it was like pulling teeth. With boxing, it’s effortless. They all want to learn how to win. Such a task allows me to incorporate anything I think is necessary, nutrition and dieting, how to throw a jab, how to defend, how to breathe when you run, how to exercise, how to respect the power you wield, how to control your emotions, how to respect your opponent, how to remain disciplined, how to love, how to rebel, how to deal with defeat or rejection, how to be young and black, how to be yourself and express yourself, how to dress the way you feel most comfortable, how to face your fears, how to understand civics and how to win in a society that has you pegged to lose.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

I Had to Lose to Win

I remember my first loss coming when I was 10. I was the fastest kid in elementary. Come 5th grade, a kid beats me in my final year of annual track and field snatching an undefeated title that had my name on it. I ran like a locomotive and he “glided” as I remember one P.S. 91 administrator comparing. It was close, but I hadn’t loss a race to anyone except my family. During those early years my mother would race us up and down the block in Crown Heights for fun and for contention. I learned competition through her. I never accepted losing as an option, but I later learned to respect the nature that if you lose, at least win at learning. I never hate my opponent. I embrace him/her.  If I have a specialty it's learning from mistakes or the victories of my opponent.  Later that year, I noticed myself attempting to take longer strides like my competitor without losing my natural speed.

Track and field isn’t like boxing. For all practical purposes, it’s more head to head. It’s not just testing your speed against your opponent’s; it’s a test of your brilliance, strategy, strength, and persistence. On May 7th of my quarterfinals match of the Golden Gloves I lost but it was a sacrifice towards gaining wisdom.

The first round made me feel invincible. I was putting punches together in bunches, simultaneously going to the head and body. The beauty was that I could tell he could box well, but I was in control for that round. Right hook to the body, right uppercut, straight left, punches I never let go are now flying from my arsenal. He didn’t buckle that round, even though he had a look of personal disgust on his face as he was still managing to lay a few good jabs and hooks of his own.

At the end of the round I was fatigued. It’s as if his corner used a ray gun on me and zapped all of my energy. Impossible! I’ve jogged for 10 miles at a time. I worked tirelessly in the gym hitting the bag thousands of times. I went back to my corner and told my trainer, “I’m tired.” I allowed my mind to be disillusioned about my fatigue. I had heard fatigue is all “mental”. In the corner, my coach praised my work in the first round, but I was gassed.

I stood up waiting for the bell pretending to be ready for the same energetic pace I set in the first round. It wasn’t 20 seconds into the round before I heard his corner, “he’s tired.” I presented myself with the worse boxing strategy in the second round concluding that I needed to finish him so I could rest.

My punches were closing the proximity between me and my slightly shorter-arm opponent altering my perception of clarity and overall boxing strategy. Behind the comfort of his defenses and in between my barrages of punches that I mistakenly assumed were wearing him down he was resting. With thoughts of capturing another victory I had my shields down and chin up. I was thinking 60% offense. 0% defense and 40% fatigue. I remember seeing Floyd Mayweather, Jr. in situations that would place anyone in panic and he would just fall into the calmest of states. I could not spell calm.

In the midst of my transition from a Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker-esk boxing strategy relying on footwork and timing with feints and jabs I took an unusual and some might say peculiar turn down the uncharted course more fitting for a Julio Cesar Chavez with the up-close and personal hooks to the top and bottom. But there was no head movement like Chavez. No bobs. No weaves.

The shot that made me reel backward came in a perfect line and it was right when I had him pinned against the ropes. There was no pain. All I felt were my thoughts. “What happened?” Ninety-five percent of the damage was in not seeing it. I slid on my behind. Amazingly, I knew exactly what type of punch it was: straight right. My consciousness rebooted within milliseconds right before I hit the canvas. I felt fine. I got up. We traded punches. He was still slightly cautious, but smart. Two more standing 8-counts later the referee stopped the match. There was no protest. I was tired.

Although I didn’t feel much pain that night, blurriness bothered my vision at one point. I complained that I needed to sit down. It passed that night. My fatigue muffled the loss. I’ll wake up next morning and find out, “I actually lost?”

For several mornings I kept finding out I had lost again --My personal hellish Groundhog Day. I went from hardly turning on the television to using the motion and comedy of television to blind my loss. It made no sense to confide in anyone. I got calls. Already did hugs. Already heard from dad and mom. Spoke to boxers and I spoke to my coach. I only needed an internal conversation to help me cope.

That weekend the movie Ali came on three times. I watched it each time. I slowly began to put into perspective my amateur loss. I had no right to feel miserable. No one robbed me of my title and the best years of my life to fight. No one threatened me with imprisonment and stole food from my family’s table while attacking my character. I had a lot to be grateful for. I learned a lot from understanding Muhammad Ali’s life as a boxer.

Riiiight. If only a feel-good movie of triumph had softened the blow of losing. It was as if my mind had mocked me for thinking that the progress of redemption and revelation would be that simple. Try again. I tried sleeping and it turned into a daylight nightmare. I remember staring at the wall. Then I dreamt wide awake. I would find myself in the match again and then I’d take a step back and guard myself, snapping awake, “Damn!” I could have beaten him easily!

Strangely, I was proud of the young guy. He had held on and persevered with me. I’m sure he remembers me congratulating him inside the venue and then outside. I genuinely wanted him to win the tournament. He made it to the finals and lost in a controversial match.

I thought of why I loss: I had been complaining it was my hands hanging low. Sergio Martinez does the same thing except he guards when in close. My chin was up. Then it was also my close proximity to him. My weight was 165.5 in a 178lbs slug-fest. My fatigue! I didn’t rely on my jab.

A former undefeated professional boxer earlier this year said subsequently after losing, “Now I am a fighter.” That’s when I began to free myself mentally. But, the smoldering red lava in the pit of my belly would be cooled roughly three weeks after my loss; when one day I ran to catch a train right before the doors closed behind me. Inside, I began huffing and puffing like I was dying and I had barely run 30 yards. Disgusted with myself, I told my body to “relax!” On cue, it calmed. That’s when the idea of mental fatigue began to internalize in my mind. I smiled to myself knowing it was the breakthrough that I needed. I wanted to reach someone who had fallen and give them the same feeling of revelation. You have to experience the growth in order to learn it. No one can make you learn it by hearing or seeing. You must experience an epiphany.

With this knowledge, I often throw myself into a panic in order to test my tranquility in the eye of the storm. I have a bigger interest in using yoga and meditation in my boxing training. I am wanting longer rounds and more consecutive sparring sessions like I'm training under Ann Wolfe. I want to know how good am I now? Have I addressed all of the faults of my first amateur lost? Will I tuck in my chin? Will I stick to the game plan under pressure? Do I fight at the same weight or at a lower weight that I can manage because of my fast metabolism? My blood pressure has been maintained without medication. Can I keep it up? You must grow after losing. That is the only way you win. The hard part is over. Acceptance. Learned. It's time to train.

On May 2nd, I return to the ring.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Omowale Decision over Ebner -2nd Win in Golden Gloves 2012

Rounds 1-3 plus entrance

Beating Heart Disease Part II: 2-0

Good. I won my second boxing match. I’m 2-0 in the Golden Gloves and heading to the quarterfinals. Thanks to a good coach and a straight jab. I’m not that impressed by the win, but it was an easy one. Even as I write this I am consumed with mucus, a stuffy nose and coughing up lots of phlegm. I had bronchitis for about a week and on the night of the fight I just wasn’t prepared to breathe through my nose. There was maybe one thing that overshadowed that ailment --my erratic blood pressure.

The night before –and maybe I was a little bonkers, because I was so hungry and I can literally eat every 2hrs, I made a large enough dinner for a feast for several but only for two. Evidently, I over did it on the seasoning, or rather the salt in the seasoning. The sodium caused my blood pressure to skyrocket only a day before the match and I knew it even as I digested.

When I got home, I decided to eat more. Maybe I was too optimistic about the prescription drugs I had at my disposal. I tend to delay hitting the panic button, because I’m addicted to clutch performances. Even as I state the bleak reality of my scenarios I know there’s always a solution within reach that will return the situation to normal. So, with only a few hours before weigh-in and my pre-fight physical I finally grabbed my blood pressure monitor. And of course, my systolic was a whopping 173. Last month, USA Boxing said I was deemed unfit to fight in a show when it was 160. There was no way they would concede at 170.

No problem. Before I leave home I swallow three 10mgs of Lisinopril. I snatch my blood pressure monitor out while on the bus towards the match and it’s still high. I probably should panic.

As soon as I arrived to the fight location, “where’s the water?” I chug cold water like I just left the desert. I reached the gym and there were hardly any boxers. I drop my things in a locker and head to the bathroom to check my blood pressure. It’s still high. Matter of fact, it’s above 175. I thought to myself, “What’s happening? What is in this water? Ok, I need to calm down.” But, my pulse is only 65.

Eureka! The doctors are late.

If I could describe the anxiety I felt you would have thought I was training to fight the Incredible Hulk and he arrived looking angrier than usual. While fighters were racing to lineup, practically begging to take their physical when the doctor showed up I was appreciating the lengthiness of the line, but thinking the most odd things, like, “what if they say, ‘hey you, you come over here and take your physical’”. Like, why would they do that? I take two 25mgs of hydrochlorothiazide and one more dose of Lisinopril. I’m a nervous wreck at this point.

The hydrochlorothiazide had me returning back and forth to the bathroom releaving the sodium from my body. And when I was in there I would check my blood pressure over and over again. It felt like I was doing something illegal, but it was more lethal than illegal—not at all illegal. I saw 135 on the systolic. I sat back down and saw there were a handful of fighters left to test, at three different weight classes.

I still have to check one last time to be sure it’s low enough to fight. My trainer said, “just let them check you…you’ll raise your blood pressure by seeing it.” I concentrated on breathing after Googling for tips to temporarily lower my blood pressure.  

Finally, the last person to go is me. I sign-in, hand him my card with my description and the results of any previous fights. He begins: “Are you taking any medications?” Why is he asking me the tough questions? Does he know something? I mumble “No.” I retract it and tell him, “I’m taking Lisinopril.” “How long?” I see now we have ourselves a conversation. I utter “2-3 weeks.” “Is it working for you?” What the hell is with this inquisition, doc? Just look at me, I’m as healthy as an ox. All the other two dozen boxers were done fast. “It’s been working pretty well.” He takes my BP. There’s a pause, gives a familiar look. I’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure since I was a teen, so I know the look. The doctor takes it again. 30mmHg knocked off. I pass. Instantly, Incredible Hulk just became Strawberry Shortcake. A cakewalk from here on out, no fighter is as tough as sodium.

Omowale catches opponent with straight jab
I breeze through my opponent. But it wasn’t done the way I had trained to beat him. When he ran in the ring, even amidst boos, I traveled after him. I heard my coach say, “step to your right”, “get him”, etc. I heard everything. I even honed in on his voice. But, I am far too drugged up on two meds that are prescribed to take ONE a day to do what he tells me. I can’t breathe properly, and my arms and legs don’t feel like they have muscles in them. It’s a miracle that I can still muster punches that amazingly find their target. So, I continued to do what’s scoring points and I elude most of what my opponent manages to throw at me when he’s not running. It allows me to conserve the little energy I have. The one thing I did right that I hadn’t really done before, was, “relax”. I settled down early in the first round. After I won, I felt a deep sigh of relief, but somehow robbed of what I wanted to do to him. 

Omowale sneaks in a jab to the opponent's mid-section
If ever there was a strong signal to upgrade my nutritional intake it was Friday’s fight night. How can I find my personal remedy to beat hypertension when all the foods that I need to live healthy are mostly processed, GMOs (genetically modified organisms) or have no nutritional value? The food that is actually food is more expensive. Why doesn’t anything I consume that is said to fight hypertension, doesn’t or barely lowers it. If it does, it never stays down. My appetite is so large that when I do get a craving for outside food, it’s all loaded with sodium. Am I doomed to needing to know what every single thing is in my food because I don’t trust the ethics of the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) and USDA (US Department of Agriculture)? And if I do know what the ingredients are, do I know what’s in the ingredients? It’s just a terrible way to live. It’s weird that health and food is so tightly intertwined with money, and not living. Why would humans allow this?

I imagine how many athletes must treat their bodies, especially those competing at high levels like the Olympics or professionals, like it’s the only thing they have to offer. What are they doing to their bodies to compete competitively and pass physicals?

But, what about the average person in America who does trust the FDA and USDA like it’s there to actually regulate food and protect their nutritional intake? And the people who believe McDonald’s is rich and in a lot of places, so it must be good enough to consume. It’s so cheap and normalized to buy a fastfood burger. What about these people, especially KIDS? At least, I have some clue about my problem with heart disease. And I have some idea about my solutions. But, the average person makes the worse food companies rich and themselves dangerously unhealthy unbeknownst to them.
I often think to myself, “I wish I had my own farm right where I live.” The non-GMO garlic, berries, leafy greens and bananas and other foods that are supposed to be good for stablizing blood pressure would be grown for me and people who really need it, but lack the access. And then maybe we wouldn't need a lot of drugs to take care of us. 

I'm a member of the Food Justice committee in Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM). I’m not the organizer who’s not affected, but thinks “hey, I can make a difference by helping these people.” I’m motivated to find healthy food solutions in farming and gardening to cure my own problems just as much as I am motivated to help the people who look a lot like me and live near me.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Boxing is Fun!

After my euphoric first win in the Golden Gloves and amateur boxing career I feel a sense of calm and stronger purpose. I’m going to the Garden and I’m very confident about this prediction. At 33-year-old I probably shouldn’t be able to compete with the younger roster. However, my secret weapons can’t be emulated as my feeling of youthfulness comes from staying away from meat since I was 15, working out for almost 20 years and understanding sports is more mental (90%) than physical. Even if my opponents could share the excellent training and timely advice I receive through my trainer it would be near impossible to deter me from my goal. My goal is to win. Not to have fun.

When I was maybe 17 or 18 I jogged to Bedstuy Boxing Center (now New Bedstuy Boxing Center) and began my membership and goal to win the NYC Golden Gloves. For a myriad of reasons that focus of winning the Gloves was lost. Somethings became more important. Now that I’ve contributed years of my time to helping people I’ve figured out a way I can still do that and do something very personal to me. And while my life is like a scrambled unclear puzzle in pieces, I figured why not just go for it while it’s still hectic and crazy and perform the only way I’m familiar with performing—under pressure. Life isn’t going to slow down for me. However, life is so phenomenal that at any given moment we can choose to just upgrade our own mental capacity to thwart negativity and refocus on positivity. For instance, I can just flip this one switch and I’m easily the Champ: Walk into Madison Square Garden again for the first time and claim what no man can receive nobly with a trillion-dollars.

My eldest daughter Rayne (10) called me one night some weeks ago and asked me questions only about boxing. One of them, “will your fights be on television?” She later emailed me “I love you have fun and win.” The concept of having fun in this tough sport escaped me and everyone who spoke to me except her and my coach/trainer. Well, my trainer has an intimate experience and knowledge about the sport and competition, but my dear daughter believes that her father should have fun—in boxing? When my coach said this, it became the one thing I dismissed. It didn’t sound logical. My goal is to win the gloves. Period. I had already day-dreamed of KOing every fighter I faced. Where’s the fun in that?

I thought about it for some days, weeks. And before I knew it I realized that the tactic to winning is having fun. Being relaxed and enjoying your sport is priceless and crucial toward your plan of winning. Even being here is somewhat fun. Well, it’s fun to win. So, I understand part of it. I can’t say I’ll attempt to empathize with losing here. I want to only have fun winning! Winning is fun!

Omowale's first Win in the Golden Gloves!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Omowale Sparring 2/6/12

Beating Heart Disease

I am overjoyed about competing in the Golden Gloves at 178 (Novice). The first thing I’m committed to doing after my imminent win is to teach what I know and develop a boxing program for youth under Grassroots Artists MovEment (G.A.ME). The goal wouldn’t be to train young people to become professional boxers. Boxing would be utilized as a tool for engaging youth. I hope to mesh boxing and community activism. I’m anxious about focusing on educating young black men on the importance of living healthy and instilling in them that internal wellness is most important, not just excellent physical condition.
Just a week and a half ago, I was barred from participating in my first amatuer boxing match due to high blood pressure. The doctor checked my blood pressure four times, at one point the systolic was around 180. The doctor was taken aback. It was also shocking and disappointing to my supporters, some who had already spent an hour in transit to see me. The truth is, the news of my hypertension didn’t come as much of a shock to me. I had been diagnosed with hypertension since I was around 18-years-old and I've never been obese or not playing a competitive sport. I should have been more vigilant about checking my blood pressure the night before and then again earlier that morning, especially since I narrowly passed the Golden Gloves health screening last month. Others around me were mystified that an athletic herbivore who appears to be in incredible shape has symptoms of heart disease. 
Although heart disease is the deadliest killer in the U.S. among adults, black males are more likely to be diagnosed with hypertension. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that in their 2010 national interview 32.5% of the adult black population had hypertension compared to fewer than 25% for whites. The same study found that a 1/3 more black men die from heart disease than black women.
As I write this on the eve of what will hopefully be my first boxing match, I ponder that although I have been increasing my leafy greens and citrus fruits to control my blood pressure there are a number of factors that affect my blood pressure: hereditary, poor eating habits earlier in my teens and my sodium intake. I stopped drinking and I don’t smoke anything—well anymore. This may all take time for my body to register positive results. In the meantime, I am stuck taking Hydrochlorothiazide and Lisinopril. These are two drugs aimed at lowering hypertension, but also increase urination and rouse coughing. Other more harmful long-term side-effects are always possible. 
The main advice I would give young people in my future boxing program and anywhere in the world would be to learn and acquire food discipline at an early age, develop a palate for a wide variety of vegetables and fruits, limit fast food, get regular check-ups for heart disease and other illnesses, know your family’s history of heart disease, and leave the salt to the sea. Boxing and more importantly, OUR lives depend on maintaining a healthy regiment.

Wish me luck in the 2012 New York Golden Gloves.
*correction on spelling of Lisinopril and other grammatical errors.