I’m at the Deer Park Inn and Casino in Calgary. Attached to the casino through a row of glass doors is a gymnasium-sized room. In the centre, six-feet off the floor, is a boxing ring. We are sitting six rows back, waiting for the first Muay Thai-Kickboxing match to start.
There are nine bouts on the card—amateur and professional. It’s a full house, apparently sold out for weeks. People mill—get drinks from the many kiosks—people in business suits and track suits, the tight skirted and the loose jeaned, the ringed and tattooed. And there’s a heavy presence of security (will comply and not take pictures) as well as police.
There are many honed bodies here, gym rats—if the term still has currency—many ardent spa dwellers, fans of health clubs, fans of tanning beds. And there are the seekers, the dabblers, the hangers-on. And in the world of Muay Thai, there are, I come to understand, some internationally known names here.
The announcer climbs into the ring, begins a welcome, proclaims the event: Collision Course. This is followed by a string of names, sponsors, the organizers are grateful. An apology, one fighter is unable to be here due to paper work at the border. That makes it eight fights. More announcements, names of the judges, the timekeeper, and then the introduction of the attending physician. Should I be happy there’s a doctor here? And now the national anthem, sung by a local recording artist.
The first fight is announced: Lucas Berg in the blue corner. I’ve thought about the fight for days, but it strikes me that I should have trained for it. I’m hardly prepared for watching my son enter the room, walk the aisle to the ring, trainer in front, assistant behind, climb and clear the rope—now bounce barefoot, jitter-step, push-step, throw jabs in the air, spin-kick above his head. His body also sculpted, muscled.
I’m practicing breathing. This is hardly an environment I’m used to. My other kids, musician, science major, network architect, linguist—work out in other ways.
His opponent arrives, a home-towner, more cheers. Curiously his first name is also Lucas and I’m unreasonably comforted by the cheer LUCAS!
The first round ends even. Testing, feeling out, each fighter with tags, hits, points, and I’m thinking I may last the three rounds. A girl in a black miniskirt and outrageous heels walks the perimeter of the ring with a giant card above her head announcing the second round.
But this round bares little resemblance to the first. It’s all in now. I see the ring tilt back and forth. Flurries of feet and fists. Strength, weight, reach, seem even, but his opponent, although younger is more experienced. I learn after the fight that he has had ten matches to Lucas’ three.
My son comes to the sport late. What began as a fitness regimen turned into a love. A trainer at Way of The Dragon gym in Saskatoon saw potential and encouraged him to compete.
The thud of bell sounds to end the fight. Both fighters, spent, gulp air through grimaces. They hug, part, pop gloves together, the referee, now between them, holds each wrist and waits for the crowd to settle.
I wait outside the dressing room. He’s being taped up. I hear from one of the trainers: ice-pack on shins but otherwise fine. Lucas steps out. We hug. It’s the first time I’ve seen him in months. He is still buzzing, vibrating, adrenaline crested now receding. I see him happy. And I’m happy. He walks me through the match in short sentences. Lucas loses to a decision, his assessment: “I lost, but I did well.” That’s a win in my books. Obviously.