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How does boxing help you manage stress, achieve work-life balance, and/or contribute to your overall health and well-being?

I was the kid who was always picked last in gym class, and I avoided all sports for a shamefully long time. I was well into my 30s when I discovered yoga, then running and weight training, and these provided me with an outlet for the intense stress of medical school. But when I took my first boxing lesson, a whole new world opened up, and I was hooked.

Boxing is not only considered one of the toughest sports around, it’s incredibly mental. The punches, the footwork, the defensive maneuvers—you have to be completely present at all times. You need to be aerobically well-conditioned, strong, agile, and quick to react. You need to be a little bit of everything, which means there’s always something to work on and it’s gratifying to see yourself improve. I’m not a natural athlete by any means, but the quality that drives me forward in boxing workouts, as well as in medicine, is tenacity. I might have a difficult time trying to master a new punch combination, for example, but just like coming back to the department after a particularly rough shift, what matters is setting a positive attitude and continuing to work hard. Boxing keeps me in shape physically, but it’s also about discipline, confidence, resilience, and managing your adrenaline—which are all very important for emergency medicine.

My coaches always joke that you must earn the right to get punched—meaning, you have to train to a certain level of proficiency before you’re permitted to spar against an opponent in the ring. I know how crazy this sounds, but one of my proudest accomplishments is the first time I got punched in the face. I had the courage to step into the ring and take a shot, and guess what? It hurt. My nose bled. A huge rush of adrenaline blotted out months of training and all I could do was react, trying to keep my gloves up and my face protected until the bell rang. But I survived, and the next time I sparred, I was calmer, more controlled. I even landed a few punches of my own.

When I face new challenges at work or in life, I remind myself how far I’ve already pushed myself outside of my comfort zone, and it’s a solid boost to my confidence. Boxing has helped me let go of that kid who was always picked last in gym, and that’s worth more than I can explain.

Sharon Atencio, DO, is a Surgical Critical Care pre-residency fellow in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of New Mexico. Dr. Atencio received her degree from Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine in May 2017. She has been active with SAEM since 2015 as an editor and writer for the SAEM Pulse as well as chair of the SAEM Pulse Editorial Task Force.

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