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A True Test of Courage This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


Atticus Finch (in To Kill a Mockingbird) said: “Courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway, and you see it through no matter what.”

I thought about those words as I lay on the mat, attempting to breathe, trying to hold back tears. Once again I had lost, and I felt horrible.

It wasn’t like anyone was watching me get pummeled. But those kicks to my shins, those punches to my already swollen eyes, those knees to my solar plexus all made me feel horrible for not being as good as I wanted to be. That’s what brought the tears.

Disappointment, not the pain, stung my swelling eyes.

Ding.

“You good to go?” my opponent mumbled, his voice almost dripping with the pity he felt for the bruised, sweating lump of meat that just happened to be me. “You know, you can take a break if you want.”

Great! I just got my butt whipped by a nice guy! How humiliating!

“Naw, I’m good,” I lied, getting up on shaky knees, knowing I would soon be on my back again for the millionth time.

Hands up, sweating, barely breathing, throwing weak jabs that didn’t connect, I continued my feeble attempt to defend myself. The worst part was that my opponent wasn’t even trying. Shaking his head, obviously perplexed at why anyone as miserable as me would purposely step onto a mixed martial arts mat, he just threw a few weak combos that made me even more tired.

The worst thing was that he was taking pity on me; not trying but still hurting me, inside and out.

A kick to my already gone knees, and down I went, again.

Ding. Ding.

“You all right?” he asked, holding his hand out to help me up.

“Yup, I’m okay,” I lied again as I was helped up by the guy who just knocked me even lower into the pit of my despair.

“Hey, Zach, you good to go a round with me?” Randy, the instructor, called to me.

“Yeah, let’s go.”

Ding.

We touched gloves, both of us dripping sweat even before we began. I threw some jabs, barely hurting him. He threw a huge kick to my leg; it went numb with pain, and I almost fell.

“Keep your hands up,” Randy said as he popped me in the nose.

Pain throbbed in my nose and my legs as I put my hands up, trying to protect my already bruised and battered face. Panting, huffing, grunting, I kept getting battered by his onslaught of punches, kicks, knees, and elbows, trying not to fall or slip on the sweaty mats.

He rushed me, grabbing my head in a Muy Thai clinch, and I almost passed out from the pain when he threw his knees into me. With the wind knocked out of me and barely conscious, I dropped my hands and he popped me in the nose again.

I felt tears coming as I tried to breathe, to control the pain, to stay ­conscious.

“Come on … fight. Come at me,” Randy goaded, trying to get me mad enough to fight, and succeeding.

I charged at him and threw what I thought were big punches, but he blocked them and threw me to the mat. I grunted as he landed on top of me and tried to protect myself as he rained down punches and elbows.

My god, what did I get myself into? I thought I was better than this. Maybe I should just stop and lie in a corner, curled up in the fetal position.

“Protect yourself. Fight back. Pull my head down,” Randy instructed me.

I grabbed his head and pulled it down to my chest so he couldn’t hit me.

“Good, now pound the crap outta my head,” he yelled.

As soon as I began to pound his head, the bell sounded.

Ding. Ding.

“All right, that’s good for today,” Randy said as he helped me up. “You did good. I hope you’ll stick with this and come back.”

“I’ll try,” I said as I put my shoes on and got ready to leave. I felt like my nose was running, but then I tasted blood.

As I left, I knew I had to go back or I would always feel like a loser. I had to prove that I could fight. I had to prove it – not to the guys, but to myself.

Anyone can win. That’s the easy part of competing. The real test is whether you go back when you know you won’t win. That’s the true test of courage.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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Elliott T. said...
Mar. 9, 2012 at 9:31 am:
I can relate to Zachary Campbell when he wrote about not giving up in his article "A True Test of Courage". I have been in situations where i could barely handle what I was doing, and I went back for more. I was injured and made fun of; I just did not want to keep going, but I did. I agree that he chould go back to the gym, so he can make his point , because you cannot just give up in the real world. However, a person can only withstand so much before breaking. Thank you Zachary Campbell fr... (more »)
 
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