March 28, 2013

Jackie Baker - Life of Elle Calgary

Photography by DMacStudios

“I want to fight pretty”

It’s not exactly a clear goal, nor a common one. Most people want to be world champion, or go to the Olympics, or go undefeated in their professional record. I believe those are bi-products.

For me, the tiny details of the sport are where I take the most pleasure.

Perfecting the physical.

It’s a never-ending mission. Something I can pursue for as long as my body will hold out and never reach a “well, what do I aim for now?” point.

You may be thinking: boxing isn’t pretty. It’s brutal and bloody, and the usual mental picture is two heavyweight men knocking the snot out of each other with big, looping hooks. Yet there are tiny details, subtle movements that take years to develop and have to be executed with such precision under extreme pressure. It’s like practising passages of technically difficult music, to be played with great virtuosity, at blistering speeds… all while being punched in the face.

And I can vouch for this analogy being accurate, I spent the first 16 years of my life immersed in a world of music. My father is an extremely talented musician, and I can remember being able to read music well before I could read English. Most discussions with my father were in-depth analysis of the subtleties of art and music. The greatest gift the man ever gave me was the ability to appreciate something well-done. To see the art in everything.

Tackling Life’s Obstacles

Just as in boxing, my lessons as a child were beauty and art coupled with mental and physical pain. I had an extremely destructive relationship with my mother, which resulted in many anxiety problems. Years of physical and psychological abuse had me misprogrammed in such a way that the most simple tasks in life seemed too difficult and resulted in debilitating panic attacks.

In an attempt to control these, I resorted to every escapist trick in the book: running away from home, alcohol, drugs, misdirected anger, and any other available cliche. Nothing was more than a temporary escape from the self-destructive inner voice I had developed. The worse I treated myself, the worse it got. It was a vicious cycle: a downward spiral that culminated in a near overdose.

Finding Passion

At that point, I realized I had some work to do regarding my life. I was homeless, penniless, jobless and with a baby, so I went back to my grandmother to get myself organized. She was the only close family I had and was a huge help. I spent a month and a half living out of her basement, got myself organized, and cleaned up. I had a place to live, a daycare for my daughter, and a good job. I found myself at work with a number of men who had athletic hobbies outside of work. A co-worker suggested I come with him to some Muay Thai classes, both for self-defense and also because I could use a hobby. I loved it.

Jackie Baker – Life of Elle Calgary

I started going without my co-worker. At lunches, in the evenings, whenever I was able to get a babysitter. As much as possible. Four months into training I went to my first tournament. It was a spur of the moment decision, I just wanted to see what it would be like. I didn’t have as many techniques or a clear understanding of the sport, but I had enough determination to come out with a Second Place in kickboxing and a First Place in Muay Thai.

I was officially hooked. I wanted to learn more and fight better. I branched out into wrestling and grappling, doing tournaments in those sports as well. In many cases, there weren’t any women competing at the tournaments, so I would have to compete against men. I didn’t mind. It was about the work and the lifestyle. Respecting my body, training hard, competing hard, and then taking the time to recover for the next one.

Jackie Baker – Life of Elle Calgary

I soon moved back in with my grandmother. This time it was not for my needs, but hers. She was diagnosed with intestinal cancer and her descent into dementia was increasing at an alarming rate. She was clearly not able to live alone but expressed her desire to stay in her own home as long as possible.

We got along quite well as house-mates, and my daughter spent many hours helping her do crosswords and watching TV. My grandmother was not thrilled about my new competitive lifestyle but respected and understood it. After all, as she repeatedly told the story, her father had been a boxer. She referred to the tournaments and competitions (whether Muay Thai or grappling) as “boxing”. It irritated me, which is amusing now. Perhaps she knew something I didn’t! A few months before she passed away, I made the switch into boxing. Best decision I have ever made.

Since, my life has been relatively minimalist yet full: I work, I train, I look after my kid. It is the happiest I can ever remember being. That’s not to say it is simple. It’s a constant task to keep myself dedicated to this lifestyle that saved me, but the intangible rewards are beyond anything I could have imagined.

“I am not what has happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” – Carl Jung


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