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Just Getting Into The Ring Is A Win In Itself For Heather Hardy

14
May

On March 24, 2020, I dropped an episode of “Talkbox,” the podcast sponsored by Everlast, and the featured guest was Heather Hardy, the Brooklyn-born fighter who fights Jessica Camara in a few hours, in a ring set up in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

I’m listening to it now, for the first time since it taped, and it’s kind of like opening up a time capsule early. Enough time hadn’t passed so that my storage unit, my brain, had allowed seepage, a loss of clarity of recall. Listening to Hardy, who was six months past her last bout, a decision loss to a too-strong Amanda Serrano in NYC, I remembered how impressed I was by her clarity, her handle on how to proceeed living under the dark cloud of Covid.

Give me the top three things you’ve learned about living in a shitty new normal, I asked of Hardy, who holds a 20-1 record as pro boxer, after debuting in 2012.

“I think the first thing that pops to mind is how incredibly resilient and adaptive we are, as people,” the Gerritsen Beach native said, citing the transition to home schooling, and staying distanced from family, and seeing her home base of Gleason’s Gym shuttered.

“What’s happening now is going to be written in our grand kid’s textbooks, what they’re going to be learning in history classes, and we can say we lived through it,” she continued, signaling her comprehension of the immensity of this pandemic’s reach, world-wide. “The third thing I’ve learned is to be grateful,” Hardy said, as she saw some unexpected positives that came with the harsh realities of pandemic living, like how fossil fuel emissions dipped down as economic activity lessened.

Turns out I should have done a follow up, because as the days became weeks and the weeks piled up into months, it became harder, at times, to get into that Zen mode of allowing fate to play out as it would, no matter how hard you prayed, or how many dozens of times you doused your hands with hand sanitizer.

Hardy’s mental health charting as the pandemic stretched on, and her income dwindled because she didn’t book any fights which periodically made her bank account swell some, mirrored I dare say many tens of thousands of persons.

She had a hard time of it, and she did her best to cope, but some of her choices wouldn’t be what the Surgeon General would recommend for maximal self care.

I was right there–in the third week of March in 2020, I’d leave the house only to walk the dog and to get groceries, and my ice cream habit, which hadn’t existed, became an issue.

I didn’t really notice or care, because I was concentrating on staying alive, but my pants did. Two pounds per month of self incarceration, that was the average weight gain according to stat compilers, and I managed to be above average, clocking in at closer to 2.5 pounds a month. I hadn’t noticed or cared, but then I did, when I noticed that all my tee shirts must’ve shrunk in the dryer.

For Hardy, she preferred liquid distraction.

“I was at a two bottle minimum every night,” the boxer told me early fight week, as she kept her eye on her eating and the scale, so she could make the lightweight limit for her battle with Camara, which will screen on UFC Fight Pass, topping a DiBella Entertainment production.

“On the weekends I could put away 1/3 of a liter of tequila by myself- for absolutely no reason. For over a year, 5 PM meant pour a drink.”

Hardy seemed OK to me, by the way. But I was gauging off of her social media activity. On Instagram, it seemed like she had enough fitness clients to make ends meet, and sometimes I’d hear her voice when her friend, my wife Jess, would take part in a Houseparty “meetup.”

Virtual meetups didn’t fully satisfy the human need to connect on a deeper level.

And, what was “OK,” anyway?

She was alive, she didn’t lose any family to the virus, she was doing her best to make the best of this shit show in a nation stuck in a dreadful dynamic of us vs. them libruls versus Trumpers.

But off the social, if you’d dropped the guard with her, you’d have known she was struggling with all the emotions that many of us tangled with.

“By the time the holidays came around last year, to end 2020, I woke up in the morning every day and cried in bed,” said the 39 year old who lives in DUMBO, near Gleason’s Gym, with her teen daughter.

“I prayed to God to help me quit, I prayed every day that it would be my day 1 to stop drinking. But 5 PM would roll around, after a 12 hour workday, loads of laundry, a sink full of dishes, a hungry kid whining that there’s never food in the house, a counter full of homework to check over and papers to proof-read… and I’d hit the bottle again. And what comes with drinking? Poor food choices. Lack of desire to exercise. If I didn’t have work, I wouldn’t get out of bed.”

There was more “free time” then, because you were home bound more so, probably, unless you had a job that insisted you show up in an “office” or place of business, like a grocery store, or an emergency room.

“I looked bad, and in turn I felt bad,” Hardy continued. “I love my kid but I started praying she would be ready to go see her dad because I just needed a fucking break. Because of how much she had to endure, home schooling I let things slide and started picking my battles. I took care of the cooking and cleaning and didn’t get on her case about every little thing to compensate. The alcohol numbed everything.”

But then it would wear off, she’d wake up, rub her eyes, and the problems that had melted into the cubes of ice had re-appeared. And so had that pile of dishes, and the first of the month cruelly announcing itself, and the need to collect funds to hand to the landlord.

I certainly can relate to Hardy’s dark dive into depression and the like. Depression and anxiety, for sure; how many times did you think to yourself I wonder if that tickle in my throat is Covid and how much it would suck for my kids to lose their dad at age 50? How many times since February 2020 did you wonder how much longer you’d live…or if grandma would make it out of this minefield?

Ice cream or Netflix or edibles or maybe tequila would quiet the chatter, but only for so long.

“And to add to that- her fears that I carried. Annie worried that I might get sick, then where would she go,” Hardy related to me.

My older daughter admitted to me after I got the second vaccination shot how happy that jab made her, because, she said, she could relax a bit on worrying if the old man, who was born three weeks early, with a collapsed left lung, was going to be a Covid casualty. “And the thought of what would happen to Annie,” Hardy said, trailing off, as her mind grappled with that gnawing unease.

It was scary, for people who live with a certain kind of brain. Not the anti-science morons, the Dunning-Krugerites who announced they thought Covid was a hoax, because they were looking only through their own lens, and they refused to read up on or watch some footage of ERs that were overrun by poor souls craving oxygen, as their lungs refused to comply on that basic request.

Annie deserves better, she’d muse, as she imagined her funeral. “Or maybe I’d get sick or need to spend a few weeks in a hospital room.”

We both live in a region that felt the sting from the cruelty of Covid. There was a time when you were surprised if it was quiet for a good spell, before the ambulance sirens would remind you of the state of your world.

In some sections of the country, it was almost business as usual for many months. People in some parts of the country weren’t able to grasp how completely opposite the scene was in a crowded section of NYC, where it’s common for persons to cluster up in an apartment, to cut costs because the rents are too damn high. So we’d hear a Terence Crawford, in Nebraska, opine that he feels like Covid is a media hoax, that reporters were over hyping the threat level from the virus. “My mom and cousin Mary are a nurse and doctor respectively, so we got lots of accounts what the city was like,” Hardy said.

And it sucked, a lot of the time, because, if you want to sum it up, the pressures and stresses from playing too many roles were getting an upper hand on a person who was quite accustomed to flipping a middle finger at the fickleness of fate.

“Not to be complaining,” Hardy cuts in, because she is cognizant of all the souls who had to firewalk their way through some horrific shit, while the President at the time engaged in a carnival of cruelty and narcissism and straight up sociopathic antics. “But I do think what I went through is relatable and the power of the comeback… coming from waking up, begging myself to cut the shit..to losing nearly 30 pounds? I’m telling you, I might break down and cry on that scale (on the day before the fight). I am so fucking proud of myself, Mike Woods.”

You see it, I think, in the photos from the weigh in. Hardy looks fit, and her face suggests more glee than is customary the day before a bout.

“I had a lot of help in this fight camp, advice and guidance from the team and coaches, and cheerleaders in my best friends. But I did this all by myself. And if you saw no indication I was really struggling if you looked on Instagram, remember addiction = shame. I’m supposed to be strong,” she said. “But- I’m also a mom and a woman and I’m sure there’s so many people who can relate and maybe benefit. Feel inspired. Maybe I can help people!”

So, what caused a turning point? “Weeks rolled one into the next,” Hardy said. “Lou called about the fight right around Valentine’s Day and I jumped on it. Partly because I was intrigued about returning to the ring. But a lot of my decision to do this was to switch some of my focus back on myself. I let myself go- in every sense of the word and I knew a fight would force me into taking care of me.”

I asked DiBella, did he know that Hardy was in a hole, that pandemic feels and lack of fights were proving to be a bad mental health mix? “I had a pretty good idea, between talking to her and her manager,” he said. “I knew she needed this comeback … she needed a goal. Yeah, she was low. She wasn’t alone. But here she is coming back! To quote Rocky Balboa, ‘Fighter’s fight.’ And she managed to survive the pandemic as a single mom with a school age teenager. Not easy. She’s a SURVIVOR … and a real fighter.”

And we all get it, right, that this Jessica Camara (7-2 with no kayoes; age 33; from Montreal Quebec, Canada) is probably a lovely person, who empathizes with Hardy–but that won’t mean she’ll pull a punch tonight.

“I feel great,” said Hardy, when asked her level of confidence going in, and how she thinks the fight could go, “but ultimately we won’t know until after the fight, when I get in that ring with a bigger girl. My reflexes, reactions and decision making have been pretty solidly evolving through each sparring week- I had a great camp with some former world champs with decades of combined experience in Melissa Hernandez, Ronica Jeffrey and Melissa St Vil. I’m feeling pretty good about my chances.”

The girls at Gleason’s, Mel, and Ronica, they’ve helped pull Hardy forward when her desire ebbed.

She gives credit to “The Three Stooges,” trainers Devon Cormack, Blimp Parsley and Cat Taylor for keeping her on message during training at Gleason’s.

No, she doesn’t take the bait when I step over the sappy line, and refer to the training team as ‘wise consel.’

“Well, I wouldn’t go that far,” Hardy said.

“Love them like blood though. And they know me. What I can and can’t do, what I respond and react to… I need them guys.”

It’s been 20 months since Hardy gloved up for real.

She’s 39, she’s eyes wide open, she knows at this juncture in a fighting career, it’s one fight at a time.

So there is no talk of a grand plan, of what could come after a win.

It sounds like a cop out cliche trotted out to give a story an end point on an up note, but forgive me, it fits. Just getting to this place, getting off the canvas in the fight that is life, is a solid victory for Heather Hardy.