By Olivia Mendez, Cappy’s Coach Candidate
Coach Mike has become known at the gym for helping clients transform their daily activities and physical limitations into a kind of routine; one designed to retrieve physical, emotional and mental presence. The goal is to become a better boxer.
Mike grew up the youngest of five kids in rural Michigan. “Wrestling. A lot of wrestling. And I was the youngest so I learned leverage pretty early”, he laughs. “We grew up in the country so it’s not like there were a shit ton of friends around asking if you want to go to the mall. There was a lot of physical work, working on cars, chopping wood, figuring out how to fix things” and, Mike says, “You had to make it entertainment.”
We talk and Mike analyzes some aspects of my day: sitting at a computer, chores, extensive commuting, and so on. Our conversation triggers some immediate adjustments to my self-talk and inner to-do list. I suddenly feel the need to sit up straight. It hurts. To myself, I decide to name this, “The process of rewriting the story of how I treat my body when I’m doing things I don’t want to do”. Something shorter perhaps. Cap and Mike call it “chore practice” or “stair practice”, so named for learning to be conscious of the way we climb stairs, and the transcendent implications therein.
This is very Cappy’s, I think, as Mike is talking. This makes perfect sense. The idea that personal or “life” coaching is offered here regularly is in keeping with what one senses about the gym when they walk in the doors for the first time, into the wall of music and spinning ropes. There is something transcendental about this place. Or at least, atypical for a place that still offers everything you’d find in a traditional boxing gym. Or maybe it’s just me. However, I’ve boxed regularly at seven or eight gyms over the last fifteen years and at no time do I remember there being a class offering entitled, “Primal Boxing”.
Devo, Cappy’s facilities manager, Central District native, and recipient of his own stair practice a la Coach Mike, starts up the vacuum over the big black mats and glides with perfect posture. I wonder at his ability to carry on a phone conversation with earbuds over the keening of the vacuum.
I asked Mike, “What do you think sets this place apart from other gyms?”
He replies, “The community aspect of Cappy’s is unique, in my experience. Our community base is so incredible. It’s fascinating for me to watch a brand new client come and verbalize, “…holy shit, I’m really nervous”. They will tell me they’re uncomfortable or are having some sort of reaction and I try to put myself in their position. This person is coming into a boxing gym, so they have a set of expectations and I watch those get destroyed pretty quickly. They’ve just expressed that they’re really nervous, then ten minutes in they’re grabbing a jump rope like, “hey!” to somebody they’ve just met. They’ve already made a buddy.”
I ask Mike how long he has been boxing and find out he began at Cappy’s 22nd & Union location, ten years ago after a major life shift. I silently relate, having started boxing after a break-up at age twenty-three and restarted after becoming a mom a few years ago.
Within a year or two, Mike was tapped for coach training. It’s clear from the countless number of his classes I’ve dropped in on, he loves what he does. This goes for all the coaches. It spills out and becomes my support when I don’t want to go, but I know I’ll feel better after.
Mike says, “I wish I’d had boxing when I was young. It would have helped so much with focus and balance. Competition was big early in life for me. Luckily my mom encouraged a physical outlet. She used to time me and my brothers sprinting around the block. She’d be like, “Good time! Now, do you think you can beat it?!”
I reflect on the reason I’ve come here today to interview Mike and build my own “stair practice”. I’m in the process of hopefully becoming a Cappy’s coach as well. The idea hasn’t quite gelled yet for me. It likes to crash my CPU in waves. Coaching, let alone boxing again, was never supposed to be possible.
I present Mike with a difficult set of client physical limitations and ask how he would help get “them” moving again. He may or may not know it is myself, circa 2012, After an emergency c-section to deliver my son, there was enough structural and muscular damage for my physician to ordain that boxing, for me, was past-tense. I distill this for Mike into some basic injuries, precautions, range of motion issues, and ask him how would he create their focus and training.
“Aside from assessing the injury particulars, I’d ask who they are, what do they do for a living and what they do for their off time. Do they have stairs, what kinds of things do they lift, what movements do they do repeatedly, are they on their feet all day? I’d have them perform the duties so I can see, view their posture and flow. I apply a kind of grid to that setting to see where they are off balance and what adjustments can be made.”
He focuses on me, gives me tips on ways to use my commute time, and going up and down stairs, to get in better shape. His observations are keen and the adjustments, though simple, yield immediate results. Three weeks later, I’m Head up. Shoulders back. Abs engaged. I can feel the length of my spine against my driver’s seat as I drive. I have not given a single person the bird today on my way to work. I feel like a winner. What began as treating the repeated motions and tasks of the day, injury and range of motion concerns with physical respect and awareness, has opened up an unexpected emotional trove that needed air. Motion. Release.
I certainly do not attribute all the positive physio-emotional change to one meeting with Mike – I’m at this most days on my own, at boxing fitness class or with Coach Ann during my coach certification – but this “practice” has reminded me it is those things we do hourly, minute to minute, that make up who we are that day. I can appreciate the stairs. The steps. The way we accomplish small things. It is eventually, how the big things happen.