There are times in your life where things just kind of…stop and you think to yourself…how the hell did I get here? That’s exactly what I’m experiencing right now.
I look up and around at my surroundings. I’m in a boxing ring, and the crowd is about half full, though it’s filling up as we go. My coach is behind me, gently kneading my shoulders. My opponent is making her way to the centre of the ring as the blue shirted referee calls us to the meet in the middle of the ring.
How did I ever get here?
I’m about to participate in my first professional boxing match…and its still hard for me to believe that I’m doing this. Maybe to make sense of this, I should go back to the beginning. Maybe someone else can make sense of my life. Me…I’m not sure that I can anymore.
My name is Virani Macvicar. Strange name right? Well, there’s a strange story behind it. My parents were Sanjay and Gurpreet Kohli. As you might have been able to guess, those are Indian names. But I was born in Toronto, Canada, making me one of many Canadians of Indian descent. Unfortunately, I never knew my parents. They died before I got the chance to know them. Car crash. I was 3.
Because my parents were my only family living in Canada I was almost sent to live in India with my extended family. However, due to some circumstances that aren’t quite clear to me more than twenty years later, I ended up getting taken in by my dad’s work colleague, Gordon Macvicar.
As you may have noticed I have his last name, and not my parent’s last name. That is because I was legally adopted by Gordon when I was ten, so to me, he was always just…dad. So I didn’t see what the big deal was when my name was changed. I consider myself to be much more of a MacVicar than a Kohli. So when I say dad…I mean Gordon, not my biological parents.
Dad was… I don’t know if he ever came to grips with the fact that he had a three year old girl suddenly dropped into his lap. He did the best he could, of that I have no doubt. But dad was always busy with work and was never the most emotionally supportive person. As a downtown Toronto lawyer he worked insane hours and when he came home, he didn’t necessarily want to deal with his adopted daughter. So I kind of learned to raise myself. I learned how to cook, how to clean, how to use the home computer, because if I didn’t I didn’t have anyone else to learn from.
Don’t let the above mislead you, I love my dad. If I ever wanted anything, I could have it. New dresses, new computers, new cell phone, I just had to mention that I wanted it, and it would usually just appear in the house a few days later. We had fantastic vacations to tropical resorts and he even took me back to India to see my extended family (which was incredibly awkward as neither he nor I spoke Hindi). It’s just that he wasn’t the type of person that wanted to hear about your usual girl drama. He taught me to be independent…probably unintentionally, but he taught me. It also explains how it became the person that I am, I’m very driven and focused, if there is something I want, I learned that I needed to go do it myself.
Growing up in Toronto as an Indian-Canadian had its moments. Toronto is a lovely city, if a bit on the boring side (the famous quote that I’ll always remember about Toronto is ‘Toronto: New York, without all the stuff’). It’s a relatively quiet city that is very safe (especially when you live in the affluent areas like I did.) That isn’t to say that its some sort of post racial paradise. Even though Toronto is a very multicultural city, I still got the ‘curry breath’ comments from some people. This was especially confusing for young me as we only had curry very rarely (Dad tried to make it but…well, British people are more known for ruining other culture’s food than producing great food of their own…and dad was very British).
But those were isolated incidents. The thing about Canadians is that their central defining characteristic is that they will accept just about anyone as Canadian. The strength about Canada as a nation is that it doesn’t have a strong identity like Americans or Germans do. That meant it was easy for me to define myself as an Canadian, because I was born in Canada, grew up in Canada and announced myself as Canadian. Sure I was of Indian decent, but I never felt like I was an outsider, I never felt like I wasn’t wanted within this great country. It might have been different if I grew up in a smaller down with less diversity, but Toronto has a pretty sizable Indian community and it just keeps on growing.
My school life went well. I was an excellent student (my biological father was a lawyer and my mother was a doctor, so their intelligence clearly was passed down to me). I always had friends and I usually had enemies as well, but it was all fairly typical girl stuff, nothing out of the ordinary. I got in one fight, in the seventh grade with a girl named Amy. It…didn’t end well for me. I vividly remember her pushing me down and slamming my head into the ground. Whatever we were fighting over, I definitely lost. After that, dad put me in karate class to teach me self-defence. But I was thoroughly bored by karate and quit it as soon as dad would let me.
I went to law school after I graduated from University, mostly because I felt like that was a nice way to carry on my biological father’s legacy…and it helped that my father was a fairly prominent lawyer as well. Connections matter.
I graduated law school in the top half of my class and applied to a bunch of jobs. If you ever want to see confusion, please go to an interview with a name like Virani MacVicar. It’s usually hilarious, no one knows what to expect. Still, I got a job at a good firm and was well on my way to carving out a nice career for myself. Unfortunately, I couldn’t foresee one thing that proved to be crucial.
I hated being a lawyer.
I loved learning about the law in law school, but I hated actually being a lawyer. I hated that I could never go on vacation without having my cell phone by my side to answer critical e-mails. I hated living my life by 6 minute increments to I could bill my time efficiently. I hated always having to play second fiddle because I was a junior lawyer. I hated dealing with clients that had huge expectations but zero grasp on reality. There is a reason that so many lawyers burn out and exit the profession, its not for everyone. And it wasn’t for me. I stuck with it though, simply because I didn’t know what else to do if I wasn’t a lawyer.
There were a couple of things that happened during my mid twenties that are worth retelling. The first was that at age 25, my second as a lawyer, the trust that my parents had finally was donated to me…and it was a LOT of money. It turns out that my parents both had good life insurance policies, and add in the good investments that were made on my behalf and I was suddenly…well, rich. Not rich enough to retire and live off the interest, but well, when you unexpectedly get a few million dollars, your perspective on your job changes. Suddenly, that 60 hour a week job that pays well but you hate doesn’t have the same appeal. But I stayed with my career because it was the only thing I knew.
The second thing that happened was when I was 26, I signed up for a White Collar boxing event. Well, I was peer pressured into doing a White Collar boxing event to be more specific. In short, the organizers had an odd number of women that wanted to participate and they needed one more to make it an even number and I was that person. I don’t regret it though, in fact, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
For three months, I had something outside of my job to focus on. For three months, I had something besides legal contracts and annoying clients to deal with. For three months I had an outlet for my frustrations and I made use of it.
I’m not exactly a star athlete, I never was and I don’t want to pretend that I am. But there was something about putting on those gloves and hitting the heavy bag that spoke to me in a way that I hadn’t felt since law school. For the first time in a long while I was doing something that I enjoyed.
I think everyone noticed my enthusiasm. Out of all the people that had signed up to do this White Collar Boxing event, I think I put in the most hours. When I wasn’t at the gym, I was jogging and skipping rope. When I wasn’t doing that I was watching boxing tutorials and fights on youtube, trying to decode the techniques of boxing that remained so alien to me. White Collar Boxing is a crash course on how to box and get in shape, and while I had enthusiasm to spare, I would be lying if I told you that I was some sort of prodigy. Mostly I flailed around. But it was fun.
The night of the White Collar Boxing event I was so incredibly nervous for many different reasons. I was especially nervous because I was the first fight on the card, so I didn’t even get to see how everything would work before being thrown in there. I remember getting changed in the locker room, wrapping my hands and getting my gloves on and the whole thing felt so surreal. I had been sparring for about six weeks and was starting to realize that while I knew some things about boxing, I didn’t know so much. It’s the same thing with the law, even the average civilian understands general court terms, and even concepts like breach of contract. But when you actually have to define what a breach of contract is, only a lawyer can tell you that, and only after years of study. So I was feeling stupidly out of my element as I was marched to the ring.
On that walk to the ring, my mind was going eight thousand miles an hour. Thoughts ranged from how I looked to ‘Oh my god, I’m going to die in the ring’ to ‘Oh my god, I’m going to look like an idiot in front of hundreds of people.’ Absurd scenarios played out in my mind, scenarios like me taking one punch and getting Ko’d. It was like a war against myself. Part of me wanted to chicken out, claim some sort of illness as an excuse and forget I did any of this. But the larger part of me was actually excited. Honestly, I always liked getting attention, and there was no better way to get attention then being a part of this event.
My opponent was Maeki Lin, she was an accountant from nearby Markham, Ontario. She certainly looked reasonably fit and ready to fight – she probably looked more confident than I did. She maybe had an inch on me in terms of height, but otherwise we were fairly comparable. She was wearing blue headgear, blue top, blue trunks and blue 16oz gloves. I was wearing red trunks with white trim, a white top and red headgear, topped with a Canadian flag. Oh, and to look more like a fighter than a random Indian girl, I decided to put my hair into cornrows and dreads…and amazingly it looked really good. I was sad that I had to ditch the hairstyle afterwards (our corporate clients would have pitched a fit to see one of their lawyers dressed like that).
The ref reminded us of the rules, 3×2 minute rounds, blah blah blah, etc, etc, etc. I touched gloves with my opponent and we both smiled at each other. I retreated to my corner, and already I could feel my legs going kind of weak, so I bounced on my toes a couple of times, just to confirm that I wasn’t going to collapse into a heap before the bell rang.
At the bell, all my reservations went away and I met Maeki in the middle of the ring, and she snapped a jab into my face. I hadn’t really gotten my mind in to fight mode, but getting hit square in the face shocked my body into accepting that, yes, I was fighting and I needed to start fighting well. They say that you only maintain about 50% of what you learned from sparring in your fight – the adrenaline just sort of overwhelms your brain, and things that you learned like keeping your hands up and throwing straight punches just kind of fall by the wayside. I can confirm that this is indeed true.
The round went by so quickly, it was so chaotic, I hit and got hit, and by the time I felt like I was actually getting used to the rhythm of the fight, I heard the clappers indicating that there was ten seconds to go in the round. I knew that I had to do something to win the round, and I kind of fired off a right hand without really setting it up or being aware at what my opponent was doing. My right hand sailed way wide, but I lost my balance for a second and Maeki absolutely hammered me with a counter right hook/uppercut that caught me pretty flush on the chin.
Despite the fact that I was wearing headgear, her punch really stunned me, my vision kind of went fuzzy for a moment and my legs became rubber. It was the biggest punch I had ever been hit by and I think if she had hit me with another, I could have been in trouble, but my survival instincts were good as I grabbed a hold of her and clinched for the remainder of the round.
The ref was worried enough about me that he checked on me between rounds – I guess I stumbled a bit as I went to my corner, but by the time I was on my stool, I felt like I had already recovered and was back to an even keel. I think actually taking that punch was good for me, I realized that I couldn’t fight stupid or I was going to get hurt (and probably get stopped, which would be embarrassing). I smiled and told the ref I was fit to fight, which seemed to convince him that was true.
The second round was a bit less of a blur as both me and Maeki settled into a rhythm, one I started to get the upper hand in. I started using my feet to get angles and using my jab to control the fight. Maeki threw a lot of looping punches, which she landed in the first round, but I started throwing straighter punches and landing first. I think I’m making sound like it was more of a technical fight than it was, it was still a bit of a brawl, but it least it started out from something reasonably correct.
Near the end of the round, I popped Maeki clean with my right hand and snapped her head back. Payback for the last round, but it signified the fact in my mind that I had won the round. Only the ref was scoring the fight, so it was not like I had judges to impress! I was pretty sure I had won it though.
The third round was a lot of fun, as both Maeki and I really went for it. We got into a couple of wild exchanges, one of which ended with me taking a big right hook right on the side of my head. The next two exchanges we had ended with me on the better end of it, including one where I landed a really nice, instinctive overhand right as I moved out of the way of Maeki’s punch. For the first time I really heard the crowd as they went ‘oooo’ the kind of sound that a crowd makes when a big punch lands
I couldn’t really figure out if I had actually hurt my opponent, but my Chinese opponent definitely went less aggressive, so I started stalking her, and looked for an opening. My patience paid off as she fired off a wild right hand and I slipped it and landed one of my own…and then she stumbled to the canvas! She got up right away, smiling ruefully as the ref counted. The crowd roared like you would not believe as I raised my arms in celebration. At that moment, I felt like a god.
By the time Maeki was checked over and the fight recommenced, the clappers were sounding and we both swung for the fences. Maeki actually nailed me with an awkward left hand as the bell rang – ironically ringing my bell. I embraced my opponent, complimenting her on a good fight and telling her that she hit hard. Maeki smiled and told me she was happy not to have my gloves in her face anymore, which I laughed at.
We were brought together at the centre of the ring, where I was announced as the winner by ref’s decision. I hugged Maeki again and waved to the crowd, which featured several of my friends yelling their appreciation. I waved to them before making my way out of the ring. The best feeling of the night went to the feeling of freedom that I got once I removed my headgear and got my gloves off. I checked in with the doctor that was backstage where I answered some questions, and he checked out my vision and my hands (my hands probably hurt the most out of anything), and then let me go on my way, where I watched the rest of the matches with my friends. The White Collar Boxing event raised almost $25,000 for charity, and I was glad to feel like I was a part of it.
The next day my face was slightly swollen and my hands were sore as heck, but otherwise I felt pretty good after being punched in the face repeatedly. I recovered over the weekend and then was back to work on Monday. In truth, I had really enjoyed the experience of competing and exerting myself physically. I had really gotten in shape over the last months and I had promised to myself that I would keep up with boxing, because it was a good outlet for me. Unfortunately, that quickly fell by the wayside as work and life overwhelmed me.
In the summer of my 27th year of living, my dad had a stroke out of the blue. The next six months were a blur of doctor’s appointments, trying to navigate the hospital system in Ontario and out and out panic. My work suffered like crazy as I was often out of the office trying to deal with specialists or beg for nurses to come by to my dad’s house to check in on him. Never in my life had I felt so helpless. I was a lawyer at a good firm in one of the world’s most important cities. I was used to getting my way. Unfortunately life has a way of humbling you. And I ended up extremely humbled.
Dad made it to one last Christmas, and he passed away in the middle of January. He was 62.
Losing my adopted father really broke me. I took a month long vacation from work, I needed it just to get a hold of myself and deal with my dad’s estate. My dad left everything to me. His houses, his bank accounts, his investments, everything. If I hadn’t already inherited a similar amount years earlier I think it would have shocked me, but I simply went from ‘rich’ to ‘more rich.’ That sounds crass, I know, but it was the way I thought about things.
I had money, but no family, no boyfriend (working 60 hours a week tends to put a crimp in one’s dating life), no pets. Just a nice condo in downtown Toronto and no one to share it with and no significant achievements at all.
Six months after my dad passed away, I was let go by my firm. Downsizing, they said. The truth was that they didn’t want to make me a partner in their firm. Those years of putting in 60 hours a week were supposed to lead to an offer of partnership, when you could stop being a high paid grunt and really start doing interesting things with your career (and you got a nice bump in compensation too.) It wasn’t a death knell for my career, I could have gone and opened my own firm, or joined another firm, but the fire inside me that had powered my law career was gone. And I didn’t think I’d ever get it back.
For the next few months I sleepwalked through my life. I did some contracting stuff here or there and I applied for some teaching jobs, but instead of taking the time in my life to travel or do things I wanted to do, I just felt lost. Depressed, really.
People looked at me like I had so much in life. I had money, lots of it. I had my youth, and my looks (not incredible, but shouldn’t be discounted either). But I had nothing to do. No goals in life. Nowhere to go. I lacked direction.
By happenstance, I turned on the TV and scrolled around, finding a boxing match on. It was a brutal slugfest between two British boxers – clearly it was an undercard fight as it was only four rounds, but it was all action. I was enthralled. The commentators mentioned offhand that the sport of female boxing had been growing since they had found a way to mitigate the effects of concussions and head injuries. The growing consensus that it had actually become safe to box had reinvigorated the sport. I had remembered hearing about that a couple of years ago, but I wasn’t a fan of sports, and I missed the sort of impact that it must have had.
The fight ended in the fourth, with the young redheaded girl landing a blistering right hand that caught her opponent flush. Clearly dazed, and confused, the downed girl never even tried to beat the count and was promptly counted out.
The wheels started turning in my brain. I remembered that the last time I was truly happy was when I was training for my charity boxing match. I hadn’t even considered making it a career, because I liked my brain and my ability to form words thank you very much. But if the sport had become safe…maybe it was the sort of outlet that I needed.
Maybe I could become a pro boxer.