Have you had a chance to read Part 1? Ok, now that you’re all caught up, here is part 2:
I was strong, in all the wrong ways. Unable to see the difference between finesse and force, confidence and arrogance, boxing and fighting. Beneath the radar of my mother’s support, I used to streetfight. In my mind, that’s what tough guys did. But on April 21, 2007, I got into the last fight of my entire life (this is the incident Nick mentioned). During the fight, I put my arm through a glass window, cut my radial artery, and lost 8 pints of blood. I was lifeflown to the Great Falls hospital for emergency surgery. The doctors said I was 60 seconds from bleeding out. One minute from death.
Sitting in the hospital bed, I had a lot of time to think––something I didn’t do nearly enough. I realized that I couldn’t continue fighting my way through life. I realized all the lessons my mom had been trying to teach me.
Over the next couple of months, it occurred to me that if you remove the aggression from a sport like boxing, you’re left with a beautiful art form. That’s why it’s called the Sweet Science. That’s why I wanted to become a personal trainer.
One of my first clients was a woman who had just fired her previous trainer. “He’d always break me down and compare me to his other clients,” she said. The woman was my mom’s hairdresser. When she told my mom about her last trainer, my mom gave her my business card, which of course I didn’t find out until later.
“I’ll never do that to you,” I said, “When we train, you’ll never be compared to anyone except yourself.” After about a month or so, when my arm came out of the sling, I brought in my boxing gloves and mitts. She loved it!
“This was so much fun! I have to invite a friend next time.” She invited a friend who invited a friend who invited her second cousin, and pretty soon we had a group of 10, 15, 20 women––all because one hairdresser wanted something more than just a workout. My mom even joined (she was invited by her hairdresser).
This group became popular and known around town. People would say, “That’s that group of women who box.” As a retired bully, I knew this meant we were one step away from a getting a nickname. The last thing we wanted was to be called the YaYa Sisterhood Boxers or Red Hat Society Streetfighters. So one day after class, we all hung around and said, “What are we going to call ourselves?” There was Silver Gloves Boxing, Golden Gloves Boxing. What do you call a group of women who does fitness boxing? Pink Gloves Boxing.
Meanwhile, it was time for me to start thinking (which thankfully I started to do more often) about life after college.
After graduation, I started working as a civil engineer, while also staying at Carroll to coach my friends who were still around. That's when Garret and I started talking. We talked about training methods. We talked motivation. We talked athletic development. Then we switched from talking to teaching, and started leading youth training camps. (And during that time, I was training with Garret for a boxing match in Butte.)
Then Garret invited me to check out a few Pink Gloves classes in Anaconda, MT with a group of women that included his mom. I found something that immediately reminded me of the way our football team at Carroll really cared for one another. Camaraderie. When you find it, you can’t look away; you are compelled to grab. I realized that then more than ever because as a civil engineer, the most camaraderie I felt was grabbing cookies with colleagues in the office kitchen.
The next class was Sara’s “Test Day.” Imagine you’ve been coming to classes for a while and now it’s time for your Pink Gloves Challenge. As your peers watch, your mental and physical skills are tested to their limits by your trainer. Shadowboxing. Footwork. Heavy bag. Then the focus mitts. And you keep punching the trainer’s mitts until you reach complete exhaustion… And then – your friends nicely rip off your gloves so you can begin an unknown amount of burpees while they cheer for you every up-and-down of the way!
I witnessed Sara complete her challenge. At the finish she was crying. She could barely breath. She could just barely huff the words, “Best. Birthday. Ever!”
No matter how much effort we put into the youth camps, they struggled to grow. And no matter how little effort we put into PGB, it grew and grew. People would say, “What if you focused all your time on Pink Gloves? Expand the program to help people not just in Montana but all over.”
An intriguing idea, but I wanted to continue working with Nick. I didn’t want to go off on my own. My accident had given me a new perspective on life. The blood that spilled onto the street contained parts of my ego that I didn’t want to reclaim. Finally, I realized the importance of teamwork, and I didn’t want to break up the team. So, I asked Nick if he wanted to be partners.
I said “No.” Sure I was excited, but I didn’t know if he was really serious – plus with my job I didn’t know if I was ready to commit 100%. I said, “Ask me again later.”
Shortly afterwards, I was invited to give a presentation at a fitness conference in Reno, NV. An opportunity to promote PGB. Since I was going to be a presenter, I could buy a booth in the expo hall for half price: $1,000. But since I worked for myself, I didn’t have $1,000.
Luckily Nick, Mr. Full-time Job, offered to front the money, and in his own impression of Hulk Hogan, he said, “Let’s do this!”
I took his money and his advice, jumped in my beat up Ford Explorer and drove thirteen hours to Reno. At the conference, two clubs wanted to start Pink Gloves. This meant that now we had to figure out how to systematize the program so other locations could offer the same empowering experience.
In addition to his full-time job, Nick was working an extra 40 hours with PGB. We were preparing for another fitness conference in Chicago. It was late August. Nick said, “At the end of the year, I’m going to quit my job.” One week later he said, “I just gave my two week notice. Let’s go to Chicago!”
Sometimes you just have to follow your heart. But now I had a new problem: I had to tell my mom what my heart was telling me. I remember the phone got really quiet. Then I heard: “How much money do you make now?” I replied, “Over $50,000.” She asked the next logical question, “And in your new job?” I answered, “Zero Thousand.” … I continued, “I just don’t want to be so guarded I never take any chances.” Once again the phone got awful quiet. Was it Verizon again? Finally her voice broke the silence, “I understand–… I guess if your guard is always up, you’ll never be able to throw any of your own punches.”
From that moment forward, my Mom has supported me every step of the way. I think we both felt that the things that fill our wallets don’t always fill our hearts.
And then Garret and I were driving 2,000 miles to Chicago in my Subaru Outback, telling stories, thinking up ideas, and singing to Chumbawamba. We started accelerating the movement from Montana to new frontiers.
Chumbawamba was entirely Nick’s idea. But we learned that part of being a teammate is not complaining about each other’s taste in music. We learned a lot on that trip to Chicago. That was the beginning of a partnership, a friendship, and a shared vision for women’s empowerment.
And who would have guessed that this idea would expand across the US, to Scandinavia, Saudi Arabia…
And help so many people along the way.
Let’s face it: women are still outspoken in the classroom, still paid less for the same jobs, and still under-represented in leadership positions. These are the facts of today. If we want to effect any real and lasting change, we’re going to need to say “I Do” from both sides of the aisle.
The strength of a community is more than just the combined strength of the individuals. It’s also the acknowledgement and appreciation of every individual––the absolute, indisputable, and unconditional belief that strength has no gender.
And it isn’t always loud.
It’s not an image.
It’s a feeling from within.