Training with Caleb Truax and crew at Lyke's Gym
At the close of a work day, it's the hands that tell the story: The painter's hands stain; the teacher's hands gesture; the politician's hands manner; the writer's hands cramp; the grunt's hands callous; the doctor's hands incise; the stylist's hands weave.
And the boxer's hands? They just stank.
In recent weeks, I had the pleasure of training at Lyke's Gym (Coon Rapids) with local pro pugilists Caleb Truax, Jon Schmidt, Charles Meier and Jeremy McLaurin. All four were kind enough to let me join in their arduous regimen as they began prep for the October 9th Seconds Out Promotions fight card at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Minneapolis.
As I was to learn over the course of three wholly draining days, it's with sound reason that these fellas all own stellar professional records -- they train like crazy. Truax (15-0-1), you may recall, has been profiled herein on occasion in recent years. The owner of the World Boxing Foundation Super Mid (International) belt, he now charts as the 13th ranked middleweight in the States (via BoxRec). The U of M grad will look to extend his unbeaten streak against former Contender contestant Jonathan Reid (34-12-0) in the Hyatt's main event.
To date, opponents have yet to be named for Schmidt (9-1-0), Meier (4-1-1) or McLaurin (7-1-0). But no matter on the "TBD"'s. Given this glimpse into their world, it's with confidence that all of these accommodating gents will look to extend their solid, and well-deserved records.
Here's what a week of training looks (and feels) like for a professional fighter:
Training starts at about 4:30 p.m. All of these guys work their Lyke's schedule around life's responsibilities outside the ring, whether that comes in the form of a day job, a night job, school, or fatherhood. The session will last approximately two hours as they begin to prep in earnest for their ensuing bouts -- although the sweat isn't limited to these walls alone.
Most match Lyke's time with an equally-disciplined training cycle that includes either running or weight lifting sessions.
We begin by working with trainer Tom Halstad, who runs an up-tempo style series of drills focusing on cardio and strength training. It takes little time to work up a lather in these humid environs, and the afore-noted smell is almost tangible amidst the heat. Think hockey pads, but without the crisp aeration of fresh ice. It's staid in here, and it takes little time for the stank of the hand wraps to assume all of one's olfactory senses.
There's no segue from first to fifth gear as Halstad starts with Tabata drills, which present a seemingly endless series of short, intense bursts of bag work followed by very brief intervals of rest. The name objective is to never stop punching. With Halstad keeping time, we go at the heavy bags in any number of ways: jabs, combinations, and a drill where the bag's ample weight is absorbed by continually making contact with the leather while leaning into body punches.
After the bag, we move onto Burpees, which I haven't done in about 17 years. From there, it's a series of station drills where each man works a locale at a time under Halstad's close watch. We move in approximately one minute intervals, going through the following stops myriad times: leg crunches, pushups, footwork, and slamming a sledgehammer atop and alongside a monster tire. When the man on the tire concludes his assorted slams, the stations rotate.
I came into this deal feeling like I was in pretty good shape, although at this stage I'm starting to breathe hard. I almost threw up twice. The shoulders burn, as does the chest. Some
inspiration is found, however, in noticing that I'm not alone in being winded. The pugilists are sopping wet as well.
With Halstad's work concluded for the day, Truax, Meier and I finish the workout with another series of station drills, this time working the abs. Now more than 90-minutes into the session, I try and mirror their impressive work ethic and attempt to finish strong. In order, we move from sit-ups, to the ab wheel, to a rotation exercise that involves moving east-to-west while holding a long, 10-pound bar.
Wholly spent, the day's work concludes and Meier recommends assuaging my eventual body shock with a cocktail of ibuprofen, Epsom salts and ample glasses of water. Hands on hips, I nod along, fully unaware that the hardest part of training is yet to come.
Having played semi-pro football with the St. Paul Pioneers in recent months, I return to Lyke's telling myself that with hesitation comes fear. And so it was that when the opportunity to spar was presented, I got into the ring before I could think myself out of it.
Fitted quickly with a mouth guard, headgear, gloves, a no-foul protector about the waist, and Vaseline about the face, I get in the ring with Jon Schmidt. Storied trainer (and manager) Ron Lyke looks on.
Now, the purpose here (even when these guys spar with one another) isn't to beat the crap out of anyone. Rather, it's to refine technique, footwork, punches, etc.
But that's not to say that fear, fatigue, or intensity doesn't exist. I've known Schmidt for a few years, and along with being a nursing student he's a truly nice guy. But he's also a professional athlete in exceptional shape. So, when I hit him, he's going to hit me back. Not full bore mind you, but surely hard enough to know that lowering my left will result in a stung nose.
I hung in there as best I could for the three minutes, landing one sound left hook while Schmidt spared me the pounding he undoubtedly could have delivered. Post round, the lively McLaurin offers direction for protecting the body and counterpunching after slipping a jab.
Attempting to put McLaurin's advise to use, I get back in the ring for I two more rounds, this
time with Truax. Like Schmidt, he allows me to work on technique and offers instruction along the way.
But after 90-seconds, I'm gassed. And it's a horrible sensation being unable to hold up your arms while another man is punching you, even with 40 percent force. While the first half of these two rounds found me moving freely and tossing some decent jabs, the latter 90-seconds evidenced only pure exhaustion. And there's no break, no water in this time span that goes on seemingly without stoppage. Leaning into the opponent and gasping for breath takes precedent over any salvo, and I pray silently for the red light outside the ring to light and sound.
Before finishing off the day with three rounds of instructional glove work with trainer Jim Maurine and a series of neck exercises with Truax, I catch my breathe beside the ring and watch the boxers spar with one another. Further observing the application of the lessons that they'd been patient enough to offer me, I sit and consider what I must have looked like in the 20'x 20' space.
I won't deny that's there a huge rush that comes with standing in the ring, something ancient that can't be found in any sport offering a ball, a stick, a teammate. It's just you, your body, hopefully some form of talent, hopefully some form of plan, and time.
And the fear of getting hurt is very real.
Ron Lyke couldn't appear more a man in his natural habitat, leaning against the ropes of this eponymous space. The local fight luminary is well into his 60's, but owns the form of a toned guy twenty years his junior. He'll offer me continued direction on how to protect myself on the final day of my training, but I start to sense something in him that thinks I'm a little crazy. But maybe that's not a bad thing for those that take on this trade or training.
There's thick, sticky heat coming through the ajar doors and my body is now feeling the deep
sore of the week's punishment. Strange -- my face hurts. I'd never felt that before. When I was repeatedly clipped in the mug two days previous, I suppose the adrenaline turned the pain into more of a sting. But after a few days for the body to retaliate upon itself, I noticed the unusual sensation of a pained face. Brushing my teeth, sneezing, putting on glasses -- any of these typically benign maneuvers now resulted in a slight tinge.
Caleb Truax possesses the kind of strength that's purely natural. Some people can try their damndest to work toward it, but really it's something one is born with. We go two rounds, but I have little to offer after the first minute of each, waiting desperately for both the yellow and red lights adjoining the ring to signify the round's near finish and eventual close. These don't feel like three minute rounds. They seem to go on forever. Truax will drop weight as his fight nears, but at this juncture he's got me by a good 20 pounds. When he leans in, it's hard enough to sustain balance let alone punch back. He offers continued instruction ("Punch me. Keep punching. Don't push me away; clutch.") before eventually fulfilling his Wednesday promise to let me feel what a good body shot feels like.
Trying to keep him at bay, I slightly injure myself flicking a jab . . . that hits nothing. My elbow shoots out in pain. But the round continues. Just as these guys push themselves hard, they rally for me to finish my time once I walk off the pang. Truax, in his gregarious way, will try to get me in for a third round, but all I've got left is the desire to watch, learn, and refine.
Lyke works with me for three rounds of glove work, getting me to bend my knees, straighten
my back and pop jabs with fingers pointed toward the chest before snapping clockwise. We work on foot position, the angle of body, and rotating across the hips to throw a solid right while pivoting off the same-sided foot. The lesson is excellent; intense and focused. It's little surprise that Lyke has had ample success with his charges.
As the final bell rings, Truax smiles and says we still have 20 minutes of ab work before the day is done. I remove the gloves and take in the stank of the hand wraps. I'm no boxer, and never will be. But there's a pride in surviving the test to smell like one.
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