by Sarah Jane Anaya
I was born in a small town of less than a 1000 people in northern Wisconsin, raised by hard working parents on a vegetable farm. We raised mostly cabbage and pickles, so I am literally a farmer’s daughter . As young as I can remember, I had big city dreams of moving to New York, riding the subway to my high powered job in Manhattan or something amazing. I would tell my mom, “I am going to live in a castle when I grow up” and she would proceed to explain how I wouldn’t be able to afford the property taxes on a castle. She was right . When most of my 82 classmates chose to stay close to home or reside in quiet country settings, I knew I would not be content with the simple life. I had a different picture in my mind and like a square peg in a round hole, this small town was not a fit for me .
When I met Carlos I had little interest in dating him but, after some time I agreed to a date at a local bar and restaurant. It only took one date for us to be infatuated with each another. At the time I was on a break from college as my funds for tuition had run dry. I had plans to finish, but as life rolled on I found to be short on cash and time to finish my communications degree, despite having a mere year and a half left .
As I listened to Carlos’ plan to become world champion, a plan most would have considered highly unrealistic, I saw his vision and the possibilities, and I believed it was possible. We would tell people we were working to become a world championship boxing team and the response was “that’s nice but, what are you really going to do with your life?.” I didn’t blame them because they didn’t know what I knew. They didn’t know that Carlos had the spirit, work ethic, and heart of a champion. He wasn’t just talking he was putting in the work. His determination and positivity inspired me in a way I had never experienced. I truly believed he wouldn’t stop until he had a world title, until we had a world title. Nothing anyone could say could plant doubt in my mind. Growing up, my dad instilled two philosophies in my head that always stuck with me: one, start my own business, and, two: you can get anywhere you want to go in life if you can work hard enough to get it. Carlos’ dream of becoming champion became my dream and from the little I knew about life and the world at 20 years old, I knew Carlos could make it. Everything in my life leading up to this moment has been a small piece of the puzzle completing the picture that is now my life. My tendency to be a dreamer and ability to believe in the seemingly unreachable dream; the work ethic and long hours as I grew up watching my father work building his small family farm into a thriving business, and finally, the fact I was a floundering college drop out and found new love, purpose, and family with this man. These things filled the missing pieces in my heart in a way that was unplanned but was exactly what I needed . All of this and more is what allowed me to survive in the lowest of lows of his career . The tools I needed to carry my family through when we were in poverty doing whatever it took to get to the next level . Driving forklift at a pallet factory, tending bar , waitressing , employment recruiter, credit card sales, college recruiter. I even did a paid drug study . It was all worth it the day Carlos won that IBF World Title and we earned a contract from Showtime Sports worth one million dollars, minimum . And for a short time I felt I could breath easy. Is this what it means to “make it”?
Today I find myself in Paris, France. There is something about saying the name that feels satisfying and something special about being here . The weigh ins are done and usually, for me that is half the battle. My job of slapping tacos out of Carlos’ hands is finished. This trip is different though, because I am working Carlos’ corner for the first time and I have mentally preparing for this all week and the moment is here.
I watch silently as Carlos gets his hands wrapped in the dressing room . The commission comes to sign off on the wrap job, followed by a check from Virgil Hunter. The clock ticks closer as he begins hitting mitts and warming up before exiting the back stage . A 10 minute warning is given and my heart is beating hard inside my chest and I can feel sweat forming on the back of my neck. I try not to show my fear as I want to be as professional as possible. I have traded in my dress and heals for sneakers and jeans . I grab 4 bottles of water off the counter as we exit the dressing room and take one last look around for anything we need. I spot the Vaseline on the counter and take it just in case. I haven’t been coached or instructed on what will be my responsibilities will be so I guess I am winging it.
Carlos’ name is announced and the crowd cheers but roars for the native Frenchman. I find my spot on a small red stool in at the foot of the ring steps . Carlos looks down at me, makes eye contact and flashes me a grin, so I know he is happy I am there .
The bell rings and sweat is dripping from my hairline down my face and neck, a combination of the heat from the bright TV lights and the stress. I control my hands from shaking as I juggle the water, phone, and Vaseline. “Why did I agree to this!?!”
I keep calm as the round ends not knowing what I will need to do and stay out of the way as the trainers jump into action. I pass them the water I am holding but didn’t get the spit bucket in place and Carlos spits mouthful of water onto a female reporter, who squeals in disgust. I will be ready next round.
By the third round I am in it to win it, and Carlos is too. He is performing well, doing all the things we talked about leading up to this moment, working on fighting like the old Carlos, the champion, the King! By round eight I am screaming into the ring for him to work ,work, work. I know he knows what I mean and I know he hears my voice. Carlos is getting the job done and I can see the Bronze medalist is tiring, and I know Carlos has more left in the tank. Carlos told me before the fight if I see something, say something. But I offer only one nugget of advice as he returns to the corner: “Stop letting him hit you!” blurts out of my mouth. Funny if you think about it. I meant to work defense but it came out just humorous, really. I mean, what did I think he was trying to do in there?
Carlos returns for the tenth and final round , I know he needs to knock down or stop him or we won’t be getting the decision. We have been in this spot before. Carlos has to do more than the average fighter to get the decision. That is just the way it is for us.
The final bell rings and the fight is over and I feel proud of the job Carlos did. He looked like the King in there, and in that moment my heart is full and my eyes brim with tears. I feel like I never have loved him more .