Posted on March 31, 2017 by Society Nine
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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.
Posted on December 05, 2016 by Society Nine
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Susan is a mother of two, badass engineer and when she isn't taking life head on she is battling Parkinson's Disease. Diagnosed when her daughters were young, Susan set out to show them that no challenge was too great and to set an example of strength and fight. Along her journey, she was directed to the Rock Steady Program where she found a community of support and her love of boxing.
I have always used the words of others who said I could/should not reach for a goal because of my gender as motivation to reach that goal. I have taken the path I wanted to take, not the path others told me I should take. Sometimes that path was the conventional one and other times it was not.
Growing up in the suburbs of St. Louis in the 60s and 70s, I never understood why I could not attempt anything I wanted to simply because I was a girl. When I was a little girl my grandfather nicknamed me Susan B Anthony because I wanted to be the first female cadet at the air force academy. Unfortunately I was born about 6 years too late. Someone else beat me to it.
The idea that anything except an individual’s abilities dictates which paths are open and which are closed to that individual has always rubbed me the wrong way. I believe every individual is unique and deserves to pursue his/her dreams as long as they stay within societal ethics and morality. I am an individualist and this belief still drives me to this day.
In college I earned degrees in electrical engineering and computer science and turned those into a career as a control systems engineer. I started my career at a small consulting firm in Tallahassee. My boss was a terrific mentor and I learned a lot from him. However, when I went to site, I was the only female working in the production area and the head of maintenance felt I needed a babysitter and proceeded to assign an engineer to stay with me. The reasoning, I was a woman.
Outside of work I did not fit in very well either, there were very few people I could relate to because of my field. The breaking point came when I was at a barbeque and I was talking to an older couple. They asked me what I did. When I responded that I was an electrical engineer, both the man and woman looked at me as though I had grown another head. Then in a thick southern accent the man said “You must be smart.” And the woman said, “You are a role model for young girls everywhere.”
I did not want to be known just for being smart and I sure as heck did not want to be a role model. The last thing I needed was to be put on a pedestal. I simply wanted to be the best engineer I could be and I wanted to connect with other people like me. I wanted to have friends that were young and single. I also wanted a job that offered me more opportunities. It was time to move on.
Eventually I found a job working at a rubber compounding plant in South Carolina for a major tire manufacturer. One of the possibilities that had attracted me was the potential opportunity to work overseas for a period of time. A year and a half later I was asked to go to France as a trainee for six months to be help with the design of a new production line to be added here in the United States.
While I was in France testing the controls at the vendors facility, I saw safety flaws in the design that would pose a serious danger to anyone working on the line. I spent HOURS attempting to explain my stance to co-workers. At first none of them understood what my objections were but I was able to get them to agree that maybe, just maybe, I had a point. But they were not going to change the design. In the end, I refused to accept the design and my boss in France overrode my objections allowing the design to be accepted. I lost the battle in France, but won the war in the United States when the plant maintenance department agreed with me and insisted that the vendor's design be changed.
In France, I may have struggled to have my views understood but I met the man whom I would marry. He was the only American working for the vendor on the same project. Two years after we returned to the States we married and he moved from New Jersey To South Carolina to be with me. And after our first daughter was born we moved to Pittsburgh and I stayed home and became the traditional Mom. We had another daughter and I continued my Mom role, working intermittently as a contractor. For the most part we were the conventional suburban family.
In 2004 my world changed dramatically when a persistent tremor in my right hand was diagnosed as probable early onset Parkinson’s Disease (aka PD). Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive neurological disorder that causes tremors and other motion control issues for the patient. My oldest daughter was just starting fourth grade and my youngest daughter was just starting first grade. I quickly decided that I would do anything in my power to keep myself active and keep the disease at bay. I did not want my daughters’ memories of me to be those of a person defined by a disease. I wanted them to remember me as me. I also wanted my daughters to see that difficulties can be overcome and you cannot let anything stop you.
I have watched my daughters grow up from little girls to big girls to teenage girls to amazing young women. I cannot begin to say how proud I am of them. During this time my diagnosis has been confirmed as early onset Parkinson’s. I am a lucky one as it is still a very mild form. Parkinson’s disease predisposes a person to depression and that has been a challenge for me. To help overcome, my neurologist suggested I visit a counselor and also try a program called Rock Steady. That was a turning point for me.
Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding goes the bell and then the instructor yells into the mike,
“ARE YOU READY?”
“ARE YOU READY?”
“ARE YOU READY TO ROCK STEADY?”
Everyone in the class moves to a heavy bag and round 1 begins.
Rock Steady is a boxing class for people diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). The Rock Steady program is specifically designed to improve the quality of life for people with PD by mitigating the symptoms using boxing. Boxing helps PD patients in two ways. Firstly, the whole body coordination required for boxing helps combat the loss of movement control prevalent in PD patients. Secondly, intense exercise has been found to help the brain use dopamine more efficiently and PD patients do not produce enough dopamine, so using the dopamine more efficiently results in an improvement in symptoms.
I began The Rock Steady program at Fit4Boxing in Pittsburgh and I can speak to how it does much more than just help with the physical symptoms I am fighting to overcome. Every Thursday before the class starts there is a discussion and anyone who has read about or heard about anything that might help others is free to bring it up for discussion. Several members of the group have a medical background and are able to explain why certain protocols are used. The staff has worked hard to cultivate a family like atmosphere in which every person is valued. All the participants in the program support each other.
I have found that boxing has helped alleviate my physical symptoms while the support and camaraderie of my fellow patients and the staff at Fit4Boxing has improved my mental state. It’s pretty incredible that the sport that has been blamed for multiple cases of PD, including Muhammad Ali’s, has also been found to be one of the best activities for helping people cope with the disease. I doubt that I will ever actually participate in a true boxing match. But by practicing as though I will, I hope to prevent or slow further progression of the disease. My end goal is TO KICK PARKINSON’S ASS.
Posted on April 14, 2015 by Society Nine
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This is the eighteenth profile in our Society Nine Storytellers series where badass female fighters across all sports, media and culture in our community share their definitions of femininity, strength and empowerment and discuss what they fight for.
Posted on April 06, 2015 by Society Nine
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This is the sixteenth profile in our Society Nine Storytellers series where badass female fighters across all sports, media and culture in our community share their definitions of femininity, strength and empowerment and discuss what they fight for.
Posted on January 26, 2015 by Society Nine
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This is the sixth profile in our Society Nine Storytellers series where badass women in our community share their definitions of femininity, strength and empowerment and discuss what they fight for. Have a story to tell? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org – tell us who you are, a little bit about your journey and what you fight for –… Continue reading →