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How I Threw My First Punch

When I was 40, I raised my fists and did not run away from a fight for the first time since sixth grade.

It happened in a gym straight out of a Rocky movie. I was spending that year working in a rented office on the second floor of a three-story walk-up in Rome, Georgia. I filled my time staring out the office window, tapping gloomily at my keyboard on a failing project. One day, I heard banging.

Fire-escape stairs led to a newly cleared third floor. “A gym,” an intense, wiry man said. And sure enough: heavy bags, speed bags, weights. Along one brick wall: a ring, canvas duct-taped directly to the wood floor. Plaster hung in patches; the bags hung directly from exposed roof joists.The wiry man was Lee Fortune, onetime holder of the World Boxing Council’s Continental Americas middleweight title. Did I want to learn to box? Lee, a cop, planned to work the gym around his schedule. It would be $25 a month for limitless time and coaching, several afternoons a week. “Not kickboxing,” he said. “Real boxing. Sparring. You’ll wear headgear.” I said sure.

“A man you’ve never met before said for $25 he will hit you in the head,” a friend summarized. What else did I have going on?

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