Finding Myself in the Ring

READING PERIOD is the time of the year when students at Harvard think about who they really are. During the semester, we work so hard that we just can't sit back, take that deep breath and reflect. But now, I have hours upon hours to sit around my Leverett suite, watch my breath condense in the cold air, ponder the infinite questions of my being. And for the first time in my life, I think I have discovered my true self.

I am a boxer.

I DECIDED TO BOX early in the semester, after talking to my roommate who had a brother who boxed and who graduated loving Harvard but loving boxing most of all. My roommate was going to box, and he wanted me to box, too. "But why, John, why should I box?" I asked. "Because, man, you'll get huge." he answered. John calls me "man."

To get huge--John struck a chord. For 19 years, I have harbored deep feelings that exercise, eating right, muscles, physical fitness and personal hygiene in general are--how shall I say it--overrated. In ninth grade, Coach Shepard told me I'd regret not playing JV football for the rest of my life. And you know what? He was wrong. What a moron.

But anyway, I played violin, got little exercise, read a lot and ate hot dogs. And what do I have to show for it? Admission to the Big H and, as Homer Simpson once waxed poetic, "bony little girl arms." I decided it was time for a change. It was time to box.


Most of my friends did not believe that I was going to box. One friend went so far as to remind me that I am a peaceful person who hates pain. No biggie. I signed up, term-billed the Harvard Boxing Club fee and got ready for practice.

AND SO ON A WARMISH--and then coldish and later rainyish--autumn afternoon, I put on my one pair of comfortable shorts and a T-shirt and marched over to the MAC. I flashed ID, went up to the boxing office on the third floor and met Tommy Rawson: boxing coach, octagenarian and giver of wisdom. I introduced myself.

"Okay, Danny," he said in a gravelly voice. "I'll show you how to put on your bandages." And he did. Then he gave me a mouthpiece and walked me down to the second floor, to the place above the pool where people do aerobics.

That day, this man, who though over four times my age could definitely knock me out, showed me how to jab. "Jab! Jab!" he said. And I jabbed, jabbed. When I was good at the jab--when I punched "like your hand was coming out of a pipe!"--Tommy screamed, "Now give 'em a right! Yah! Yah!" And so I did. And so I grew.

NOW DON'T GET ME WRONG. I haven't grown noticeably bigger in size. I have punched the air for hours and have been very sore afterwards, but I haven't grown physically. Mainly because of one little problem (forget for a moment that I'm flabby and uncoordinated and lazy and have such thin bones that under Galileo's principle of size and shape, which I learned in Stephen Jay Gould's core class, I simply can't get that huge): I can only box once a week. With tutorials, public service, The Crimson, social action and the like going on a resume, who has afternoons free? So after a semester of boxing, I am not huge. But I have grown in mind, in spirit.

There is something magical about watching people learn how to box. From the punching, the fancy footwork, the exercises and the rope-jumping, I learned discipline, intensity and grace. From watching other boxers, men and women, punch, do fancy footwork, exercise and jump rope better than I can, I learned humility. From watching the accomplished boxers don headgears, put on jock straps over their shorts and spar, I set goals. And from seeing Tommy do crazy exercises (he can rock back and forth on his stomach! His stomach!) and watching him run all over the MAC for three hours screaming, "Now give 'em a hook! Yah! Yah! You're loose like ashes! Yah!"--I found inspiration.

Despite the overall positivity of my pugilistic experience, I still have one lingering insecurity. I can't decide on a good boxing nickname. My roommate immediately declared that he was "Irish" John Donahue. "Jewish" Daniel Jacob Sharfstein did not quite cut it. Neither did "Jean Claude Van" Dan Sharfstein, "Gentleman" Dan Sharfstein, "Dancing" Danny Sharfstein. After reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X, I thought of Daniel "Yacub" Sharfstein, but that wouldn't do. My grandfather suggested Danny "Soft Touch" Sharfstein. Thanks a lot, Grandpa. I'm working on it.

Nicknames aside, boxing has made me a new man with a new confidence in myself. After 19 years on this earth, I can finally look someone square in the eye, shake his or her hand and know that I can give him or her a jab! And a right!

"Danimal" Sharfstein '94 swears that he can kick Mike Tyson's ass.

I've learned that inside my flabby, lazy, uncoordinated body lurks the soul of a boxer.