In every classic underdog story, an athlete goes against all odds with only victory on their mind to train and compete with those that are believed to be their superior and actually succeeds, leaving those around them in utter disbelief. Their motivation to continuously push forward after being knocked down time after time is infectious, and it leaves you with the feeling that you can also overcome what it is that you’re fighting against and come out swinging on the other side.
Mark Wahlberg’s portrayal of Mickey Ward in ‘The Fighter” is the equivalent underdog story for this generation as Sylvester Stallone’s take as Rocky Balboa was for the baby boomers and beyond. “The Fighter” showcases Ward, a boxer from Lowell, Massachusetts that hasn’t had the most successful career. He is being trained by his older brother, who has had some success as a boxer but now has a tainted reputation with drugs, and is managed by his family that isn’t always leading him in the right direction. After one too many embarrassing losses and an injured hand from defending his brother, he retreats in despair. Until one day he finally gets up and grabs his gym bag to start training little by little, taking on small fights to regain his confidence before finally being ready to go for the title with his family by his side on his own terms. To everyone’s surprise, Micky Ward wins the title.
I have always been driven to fight hard for anything I attempted whether it was in sports, academics, or my career, and I understood the discipline it took to reach my goals. So why would I give up now fighting the most meaningful battle of my life – to get my body healthy again? I felt defeated by numerous setbacks, frustrated with unanswered questions and many later ruled out diagnoses from healthcare providers, and misunderstood by those around me with the look of hope slipping from their eyes.
I happened to come across “The Fighter” on television one day after reaching my lowest point. Just as Wahlberg’s character picked up the gym bag to start training, I felt inspired to do the same. I decided all I could do was to help myself by pushing forward each day doing more and more. I mentally prepared for the setbacks I would experience along the way and didn’t put a number on the duration of my recovery, only listening to my body for guidance.
I started working my lower body with low impact cardio using a stationary bike, increasing only a minute a day, then to walking on a flat surface. I was struggling to walk my first lap around the very same track I once trotted off with in discouragement if I didn’t come away with my expected blue ribbon running track during my adolescence, but I persisted in my recovery not focusing on how far I had to go. I walked a little further each day until I was able to walk well over a mile. I further challenged myself by walking on uneven ground on beaches and trails. My upper body hindered me from swimming, so I practiced water running in place. After a few months, I was going on hour long hikes, climbing rocks, and at peace with my progress.
I followed the same plan for my upper body. I have always used a mat Pilates workout for strengthening my core and increasing flexibility. When I became unable to do those exercises with a neck and shoulder injury, I used a pillow to support my neck and did as much as I could each day with the goal of completing it in its entirety with less modifications.
There have been setbacks, but I make sure to move everyday and use ice as needed if I overdo it. The biggest challenge of all has been getting into the right mindset to believe in myself to overcome this. I can’t jump ahead to know what my future holds, all I can do is control what action I take now to inch my way further to where I want to be. My recovery has been a marathon of peaks and valleys, but I’m learning to enjoy the process with the vision to claim my own “title” on my mind.
Be the champion of your own underdog story. Never stop fighting and hold onto hope for a positive outcome as your motivation. No one knows the ending to your story, not even you. What do you have to lose by trying?