Everyone’s got dreams. Everyone imagines a different life, a future self, doing something else, somewhere else, happy, healthy, filled with promise and potential and a different kind of ambition and success. Dwell on that daydream long enough and everything you have now, everything around you – your cutthroat career, your killer commute, your cubicle prison – feels somehow separate, far away, as if behind a fogged-up window. It’s a blessing: next to the bright shining fantasy of where you’d really rather be, who you really feel you could be, this ordinary life, with its ordinary problems, pales into a dull grey nothing. A stagnant life is easy to put up with, easy to forget about, when your mind is somewhere else.

When I started this MH 2015 Staff Challenge three months ago, I was in the worst shape of my life. That initial fitness test at the Sports Science Institute was a joke, and a nightmare, and a warning. And it scared the hell out of me. I’m 32, the kind of age where you really need to care about staying healthy, staying strong, and I walked out of that gym with a siren in my head, screeching non-stop. The worst wake-up call in the world, that test was a final notice, a death threat: you’ve got work to do, if you want to make it to the next decade healthy and strong enough to do anything, mean anything to anyone; if you want to make it there at all.

There’s no sugar-coating your own mortality, no hiding it behind a dream, no way of making it dull and grey and in the background. Break that fogged-up fantasy, and who you really are, right now, comes crashing in, like a bomb in the middle of your brain. But how else do you set fire to a stagnant life? Hear the screeching siren, wake up from the dream you’ve been living in, your picture-perfect pseudo self, and what do you have left? A starting point, a second chance. Smash through that fogged-up window and you’ll find the means to make yourself new all around you, like so many pieces of a shattered daydream. Right in front of you, like at your local boxing gym. 

There is no way for me to sit here and write this and say thank you to everyone at The Armoury and fill these few words with everything I want them to say. To thank Steve, to thank Clever, and Sanchia, for everything they have given me and done for me and shown me, is to write just two small words and hope that they will last long enough to somehow explode into everything I mean. To thank The Armoury is to thank God – that this place exists at all, that these trainers took me on and that they gave me the heart to keep coming back. To thank The Armoury is to say, I’ll see you again tomorrow. And the next day. And every day after that.

“The boxing gym is a machine that pulls you out of indifference, and out of in-existence, a machine running full-bore. One thinks of the soliloquy in the famous scene from On the Waterfront, where Marlon Brando plays an ex-boxer who says to his brother: ‘Don’t you understand? I could have had some class. I could have been a contender. I could have been somebody.’ To be somebody, that’s what it’s all about. To escape from anonymity, from dreariness, if only for the space of a few rounds. A boxer in the ring is someone who screams, with all his heart, with all his body: ‘I want to be someone. I exist.'” –Loic Waquant

What have I achieved, by now, three months after starting this Staff Challenge? I’m fitter, yes, stronger, and healthier, even happier. More alive, more awake: to my limits, and the possibilities of a new life. What do I feel for The Armoury, now, after these hours and days of change and fulfilment and pain? Gratitude, yes, but reverence too: for these white walls, these heavy bags, these weights. And love. For these trainers, for Clever, and Sanchia, and Steve, and the care they’ve taken in showing me how to escape from anonymity, how to live with extraordinary heart. More than anything, love, for everything that is bright and new and good about my life, for everything they’ve shown me I can be.

There is no way for me to sit here and write this and expect any of these words to go anywhere or do anything for anyone else, but I hope they last long enough to explode into someone’s life. I hope that they last forever.

When I started this Staff Challenge, I was in the worst shape of my life. Mentally, physically, I was tired, sick, a mess. Three months ago I walked through the doors of The Armoury and gave myself over to the trainers here, and they changed my life, pulled me out of indifference, out of in-existence, into someone who can say, with all my heart, I exist. Everyone here – Clever, Sanchia, Steve, Chris, Richard, Aladin, Kessy, Sting, Jongi – I see them more than I see my family, and I love them all. It’s a blessing: if you’ve ever felt tired and sick, and you’ve ever been sick and tired of being tired and sick, walk through those doors and give yourself to these guys, to this place.

The Armoury will save you. From dreariness, from an ordinary life. It will save you from yourself.

It has certainly saved me.