By James Blears
Boxers could teach us a thing or two about working and living in splendid isolation.
Those fighters who are serious about preparing for a big fight, isolate themselves in spartan training camps, eschewing the comforts and familiarity of home and family.
The two most famous and bracing boxing isolation pressure cookers far above sea level, are located in Big Bear on the roof of California, and the Otomi High Altitude Training Center, perched scowling and brooding in the jagged hills above Toluca.
Civilization sits rather easily next to the gyms of Big Bear. You can nip out for a hamburger and even a beer, when the boss isn’t looking, or catch a movie to while away the long evenings. But Otomi is a whole different kettle of fish. A veritable monastery, its only soft concession, is a corner shop, which stocks just about everything, plus a lifeline pay phone. Cellular transmission tends to be a bit sketchy in these parts. This is no holiday camp!
Nowadays through a belt of trees and into a pinewood clearing, there`s an attractive and solid purpose built two storey sports center with a fully equipped gym and an ample ring. We memorably went there to interview a gaunt emaciated looking Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, prior to his fight against Saul Canelo Alvarez.
Before that, everyone had to make do with an oversized draughty greenhouse. Wind used to whistle through it, especially as late afternoon turned into forbidding night, with squinting dusk cloaking us with the pall of inky black shadows. Unless you`re familiar with your surroundings at Otomi, you can easily stumble into a maze of hedges, near the living quarters or the large dining hall. Also…watch the steps!
Training camp affords few creature comforts and no one stands on ceremony. Piles of discarded sweaty clothes, scuffed up boxing gloves, bobble hats and wet towels. Small cubicle bedrooms with only just about enough room to lie down. Not enough room to swing a cat! And communal cooking, which paradoxically often doesn’t turn out too badly.
Decades before, in another time and in another space when the world was a younger place, Rocky Marciano summed up the unvarnished nature of this type of home office isolation by sardonically quipping.
“I`d wake up and be staring at the unshaven faces of Charly Goldman and Al Weill. It was enough to make a man hate!”
Being a sparring partner is particularly rough and tough. Day after day of going in with the champ, who`s becoming leaner and meaner. For God sake show due respect and don’t try anything flashy, or you`re liable to be on the receiving end a sound cuffing. Greenbacks for black eyes!
The fact that Wives/girlfriends are absent, tends to ratchet up an already tetchy testosterone charged atmosphere, as the days turn into weeks. The phone calls from home saying that our daughter has got a sore throat, the shower has sprung a leak, the dog has attacked next door neighbor`s cat: “While you`ve been off galavanting enjoying yourself, without a care in the world!”
As a visiting reporter, you don’t have to quarantine yourself. But you do have to have the good grace not to overstay your welcome.
On the way down the mountain, neat little white crosses can be seen embedded in the soft springy turf by the roadside. One colleague remarked: “How picturesque,” without realizing these are memorials of fatal car crashes in pitch black darkness. No one had the heart to tell him!
The next time you see a winning boxer hoisting a young son or daughter on their shoulders and tenderly kissing them, you’d do well to realize that absence makes the heart fonder. We getting a bitter taste of it right now. To empathize…is to sympathize!