Shannon Kasperson is a new(ish) member of the boxing community whose journey truly began when she recognized her ability to choose. With that, she began uncovering her fight within and never looked back. When she isn't getting rounds in at Uppercut Boxing Gym in Minneapolis, she is helping students and veterans navigate the financial barriers of reaching their educational goals.
This is her story.
I can’t remember a moment in my thirty-two years that I haven’t been overweight.
I’m sure the times are there, but I must have been a child because I have no memories of being at a healthy weight. I wish I could say it was just an extra 15 or 20 pounds I was carrying around, but even on my best days, the times where I was reaping the benefits of months of dieting and hard work at the gym, I was still considered “overweight." Most of the time, if I’m honest, I’ve been obese. Over time, carrying this weight had become my way of life. I learned to live the role of “the fat one” in the group: at work, at school, with friends, even in my own family. You learn where to buy larger sized clothes that aren’t hideous, you wear ugly ass orthopedic shoes that can handle your weight without killing your feet, and you learn to tell yourself that this is just going to be your thing. Everyone has a thing, right? It is something you struggle with that very few people really understand, that you just deal with. Like any thorn in your side that refuses to leave you in peace, you learn to live with it. Because, what other choice is there?
Living with it, for me, meant a lot of things. It meant thinking no one would ever find me attractive. It meant realizing I’d never be running those fun 5K events where you get doused with buckets of paint or wear a stupid tutu across the finish line. It meant giving up on so many things that so many other people enjoy every day without having to think twice about it.
It also meant always watching what I ate. Even when I wasn’t actively losing weight and just trying to stay afloat. It meant I couldn’t put a single thing in my body without having to spend enormous amounts of time either thinking about it, or worse, feeling bad about it. Going to the bar with friends for happy hour drinks after work? Eating a piece of cake for your co-worker’s birthday? Or partaking in the donuts that that one girl in your office brings in all the time? Yeah, not things fat girls can do. Well, okay, you can…but you’ll never get anywhere with your weight loss with habits like that, so we say “oh no thanks, I already ate” and then wait for everyone to tell us how stupid we are because I mean, come on, it’s just one donut, one drink, one piece of cake, one fill-in-the-blank-piece-of-food-someone-can’t-handle-that-you’re-not-eating.
But here’s the thing: “living with it” isn’t really a thing. Trying to forget about it and live the best life you can despite the circumstances, is damn near impossible. Because it’s bullshit. It leaves you pissed off, resentful, and feeling helpless over your life. It leaves you missing out on So.Many.Things. So one day I made the choice that I was done missing out on things. I wanted my life to be beautiful and it was time to figure out how to get that. I wasn’t going to stop eating healthy or pursuing weight loss, but I was going to learn how to do this in a way that was honoring to myself and my life. I needed a way forward that would create less extremes and more balance for long term sustainability.
I was looking around on Pinterest for some inspiring quotes to help me get started, and I came across one with the quote “Losing weight is hard, maintaining weight is hard, staying fat is hard. CHOOSE YOUR HARD.” The words were set over a picture of a girl holding up her arm wearing a boxing glove. She looked strong and powerful, and that is when I realized I wanted to learn how to box... It would take me three years until I finally got the courage to walk into my first class.
I knew I needed something for women only, and something that would work with me where I was at: not physically fit whatsoever. One night I decided to google “women’s boxing in the Twin Cities” to see if I could find something that wasn’t completely terrifying. Even though I’d looked for a place many times before, that night I magically found something called “Pink Gloves Boxing.” Pink Gloves Boxing is a small program for women to learn boxing in a safe, women-focused environment. I found a chapter here in the Twin Cities (MN) and attended two classes before the instructor had a baby and took time off. Four months later, I learned they were permanently ending the chapter. To say I was bummed would be an understatement. It had taken me three years to get the courage to walk into that class, and now it was over before it really started?!
I was facing another decision moment: I either wanted to box or I didn’t. I was either about it or I wasn’t. I had to decide one way or another. So I found one more gym in Minneapolis and decided that if it didn’t work out, then I’d be done with boxing. Uppercut Boxing Gym in Northeast Minneapolis is a legit boxing gym, located in a warehouse down an alley in an industrial part of the city. While this gym is woman-owned, it is co-ed and they are there for one thing: to teach you how to box. No weight loss gimmicks, no “we work with you where you’re at;” they train people for the sport of boxing.
I walked into what I considered the most intimidating place I’ve ever been to in my life, and that first class kicked.my.ass. As did the second, third, fourth and really every single class I’ve taken since. You’re talking to the girl who when she “ran” her final mile in gym class during senior year of high school, actively celebrated that she’d never have to do anything like that ever again. These classes, however, had me doing squats, jumping rope, wall sits, crunches… and I could barely do any of it. Who knew so little of boxing is actually boxing?! And for a plus sized person?
In the beginning I was given little to no instruction on how to do any modifications for my 240lb frame. It felt like this gym was meant for one type of person: the fit person. The person who, while might be new to the sport but could attend for a few classes and get the hang of it and keep up. I am not that person. I can’t hold a plank for 10 seconds let alone 60 seconds. I can’t jump rope for 20 seconds without having to stop and pull up my gym pants from sliding down over my gut. Also, remember when I said it was co-ed? That means I spend each class huffing and puffing my ass off around a bunch of muscle-y, tatted up dudes and super fit, lean women. So it didn’t take me long to feel like I 100% did not belong there.
I felt like I had two options at that point: become the person this gym seems to have been made for (fit athletes) OR bow out now and go back to being “the fat girl” who just had to live with it. This realization led to a breakthrough for me: I could go back to my old way of thinking, giving up and resolving myself to the half-life I was living, or I could fight back. I decided to create a third option: I wanted this world, the fitness and boxing world, to be broad enough to include people like me. For that to happen, I had to fight my fear and ask for what I needed. An acronym for a move on the chalkboard that I’d never heard of? I’d walk right up to the scary trainer and ask them what it meant and to show me how to do it. An exercise my body physically could not handle? I’d ask my teacher for a modification after class and do it the next time around. Whatever I was still struggling with in class, I’d work on privately outside of class at my regular gym or at home. I learned during this time that if you wanted something here, you just had to f*cking take it. It was up to you to make it happen, because no one was going to do it for you. Would they be there to help you when needed it? Absolutely. But, it was up to me to figure out what I needed and wanted, and then chase after it.
I should note that this is all still super super hard. I go to class and look around and feel like an imposter many days. I still feel shame over the fact that people don’t look like me in my classes, and that there are many moves and exercises I cannot perform due to my weight. I’m still scared to walk into this crazy intimidating boxing gym and show up knowing I won’t be able to keep up. But sometimes, the fear won’t go away, so you just have to do it afraid. Sometimes you have to tell that voice in your head to shut the hell up and keep moving.
I started boxing to gain strength. Physical strength yes, but more than anything, mental strength to fight back against a world I’d lived in for so long. Because really? This is not a story about boxing. This is a story about fighting the inner demons inside your head that tell you that there is something wrong with you or that you are not good enough. It’s about persisting even when you don’t fit in, and choosing to make it so you fit in on your own terms, and then owning what that looks like. Having the confidence to identify what you want, and then take it. Sometimes when things are hard, you just have to fight back harder.
Society Nine is for the fight within EVERY woman. I may not be a professional boxer, I may have only started this sport in the last six months but I am fighting for myself, I am a fighter. My fight is against the false things I’ve believed about myself for so long and the resentment, fear, and self-doubt that comes with it.
It’s fitting that Uppercut Gym has us training in front of a wall of mirrors. Every class I stare at myself sweating and working as hard as I can to battle those thoughts and adopt new ones. I fight the idea that I am not good enough, and then punch that shit right in its face. Because I will be victorious. Because either it wins, or I win. And guess what? It’s my turn to win.