Hazel’s Story – By David Bodanis
A little while ago I was lucky enough to be interviewed by best selling author and fellow kickboxer David Bodanis. We talked about the illness that eventually led me to hypnotherapy (chronic fatigue or ME), the interventions I used to overcome it and the incredible impact that it all eventually had on my fighting and career. It just goes to show that not everything that feels bad at the time needs to end that way…
Take me back to your first international bout:
– Let me see… that must have been the WAKO European Championships, in Portugal, 2008. I was really nervous since I’d been training less than three years and looking back I was vastly inexperienced. But I was grateful to have won the nationals and the fight offs that year to gain my place on the squad anyway.
– It seemed to start easily enough, since I had a bye into the second round, and I was up against a girl from Portugal who I felt I could beat. But then a girl from Slovenia showed up. Her whole team had been late, and the moment she arrived everyone around me – they were a lot more experienced – went kind of quiet. I must have suspected something was up when I asked them about her and they all just seemed to avoid the question. I didn’t find out until after we fought that she had been the WAKO World and European Champion for the last two years running.
How do you fight someone you know is better than you?
– Well, it wasn’t really like that. Although looking back I’m sure I did know I was outmatched, I just didn’t give that thought any airtime on the day. I still thought I could win. If you don’t think that, there’s no point in you being there. I could tell by the second round that I was down on points but that made me more determined rather than less. Watching the footage back, I could see she was the more experienced fighter but I gave it everything I had! When you fight (or do any sport competitively) you have to allow your mind to go blank to achieve at a high level. There’s no time for conscious thought. So when my feet hit the mat I went blank, and sort of automatically did what I could. It wasn’t enough to beat her at the time but I could be proud of the performance. I remember looking at the tapes afterwards, and noticing how relaxed, and clean she was with her shots. She didn’t waste her energy, she just looked as though she knew what she (or I) was about to do at any moment. I thought: that’s where I want to be in a few years time. It was an excellent experience.
Fast forward to Copenhagen a few weeks ago:
– I was a completely different person. I was relaxed, I was joking when I waited and I really enjoyed myself. Most of all, I knew what I was going to do – it felt like routine rather than the unknown. Even though this was an elite class, international boxing competition (and I was there without a team or a coach), I felt at home.
– My bout was with an American woman I had stopped in the second round last year, but she seemed to be getting better. She’d won the Golden Girls tournament in Sweden in January. Plus she was about 71 kilos when we fought, to my 66.5; also she was about three inches taller, so six feet even. Although I knew this wasn’t going to be a particularly challenging contest, I was careful not to underestimate her.
– The usual game plan against someone who’s taller is to get on the inside and stay there, to keep the pressure on. But I was faster than her and she didn’t want to get close so she held back a bit and I let her. I stayed outside and picked her off with jabs and right hands; mostly clean right hands. Looking back, I probably wish I had done more but I did get the chance to practice some of the counter fighting that my coach Audi has been working with me recently. I can’t say I performed to the best of my ability, probably since I wasn’t pushed, but I won 14-0, which was great.
How’d the whole thing begin?
– I was sporty when I was younger – I was good at sprinting, swimming and long jump… and arm wrestling. However, by the time I was in my early 20s I’d stopped all that. I had every bad habit under the sun! I drank loads, and I smoked. I was managing a bar, so it was easy to drink a lot of wine and cocktails after hours. I didn’t weigh myself but I was probably ten kilos more than I am now. I was still strong from carrying barrels and crates of wine around in the bar, but I wasn’t fit.
– Then a friend introduced me to Paragon. I was 25 years old and I can clearly remember the moment at which I fell in love – I was doing kick extensions on the bar, I was knackered – I must have been sweating, and red in the face – but I knew then and there that this was going to become a big part of my life.
– I loved learning something new! It had been a good few years since I’d finished my degree, and this was a new lease on life. I was learning a whole new language that I hadn’t known existed before.
– I started training all the time. I remember John (Lawson) saying ‘Hazel, there is such a thing as overdoing it’. He said kickboxing was something that I could enjoy for the rest of my life, and so it could be wise to pace myself. But I didn’t do that, I trained every day and a few years down the line I really did overdo it. The result is that I ended up with chronic fatigue.
What did that mean?
– I seemed to get ill with some kind of virus and just didn’t get better. It was the year after I won the WAKO British Full Contact Title and I was supposed to defend it. But not only did I have a twisted ankle, but I was dizzy every time I stood up, I felt sick and utterly exhausted after the most insignificant of actions. I was getting breathless just climbing a flight of stairs, and it just didn’t get any better. I kept trying to train, and even going to competitions. I actually won the ISKA European Championships around that time but looking back I’d have to say I was only at about 50 percent fitness. It was sheer determination that got me through those fights.
Did you stop to recover?
– Well, once I knew it was chronic fatigue, and I kept reading that people don’t recover from it, I just thought ‘sod that!’. I guess I went into denial. And then my Dad died, and I pushed myself into my training even harder. I started boxing with the ABA around then, and in my first five bouts (although I was lucky enough to win them all) I felt sluggish and I found myself gasping: I had no breath at all actually. I even did my black belt around that time and that was by far the hardest thing I’ve put my body through to date. The whole time it I felt as though I was trying to run through treacle. Stu kept telling me that I wasn’t in a good enough state to fight. But I wasn’t listening.
– Finally I saw a hypnotherapist, and that changed everything. She just taught me basic relaxation techniques to begin with, and that got me more in touch with my body and my unconscious mind. I began to understand that it was okay to rest.
[It was those initial sessions that sparked my ongoing interest in the mind, so I suppose I can thank my chronic fatigue for my job now as a hypnotherapist and for that whole exciting new slant on my life… It’s funny how things work out.]
I then went out to the World Championships in Spain and I felt like a different person. I remember falling asleep just before the final and having to be woken up to fight due to some timing mix up! However, rather than freak out, I just got my gear on, got in the ring and took the title. My self belief had never been stronger. Having said that, I don’t think I got entirely better until a just few months ago. What really changed things around for me were some regressive techniques that I hadn’t tried in that context before.
– Regression has a bad rep – people think of grown men acting like toddlers, or uncovering some hideous repressed memory of abuse when they hear the words “hypnosis” and “regression” in the same sentence but its really very straightforward. The mind doesn’t know the difference between past, present and future. If you imagine a future event it’ll trigger physiological reactions as if you’re doing whatever it is you’re imagining right now – that’s why you can get nervous when you think of an upcoming fight – your body is gearing up to fight even though the actual bout could be days away. So it is with memory. If I just ask you what you had for dinner yesterday, you’d need to regress back a day to tell me the answer (and you might find your mouth watering if you had eaten something particularly good… Or sour!) So with hypnotherapy you can look back into the past for limiting decisions that you may have made. For me that meant understanding why I was so obsessed with avoiding failure. I came to realise that it was fear of failure that drove me forward rather than a desire to win. I’d always been like that, I’d kill myself if I lost or came in poorly: in sprinting, at school, and then in my arts studies, in everything. People haver always said ‘Hazel, get a grip, relax’, but I always answered that No, I had to go go go.
And the regression?
– That technique was the only thing that really changed things for me. I found that from a very young age I’d linked achievement with the love of my parents (my Dad in particular), i.e. that if I didn’t win I wouldn’t be lovable. That was the connection my young brain had made. – Interestingly, it all started with a sports day when I was only five or six. I remembered doing a 40 yard dash, and seeing my Dad at the finishing line – he was a competitive man anyway, and so he would have wanted me to win (although I know now he wouldn’t have cared if I lost of course!). Anyway, I won the race, he scooped me up into his arms and my immature powers of reasoning made a new association: winning = love from one of the most important people in my world (and by that token: losing = not being loved). So when I was young that locked in. I wouldn’t even want to lose a thumb war! That makes you a not very nice person to be around.
And the hypnotherapy?
– That’s what fixed it. I reframed the memory. What I’d believed made sense for a five year old girl – but that’s it! I can still compete, hard, but it’s different – I can enjoy it a lot more now that any potential loss isn’t wrapped up in my very sense of identity. For the first time in four or five years my fitness has come back to 100 percent. I can do runs I couldn’t do for years. Before, if I did a single weights circuits I’d crash for several weeks after, but now I can do that properly too. I find myself laughing more. I was watching ‘8 out of 10 Cats’ the other night, on my own, and I was belly laughing. I’m a LOT more relaxed and I just enjoy myself more.
So after Copenhagen?
– There’s a place I discovered recently, called Duke’s Bar and Grill. It’s an American Rib restaurant. They have the proper machinery for a big rack of ribs, they have the sauces, they have great meat. – I’d gone there with Stu for Valentine’s Day, and after Copenhagen I went there again, with Stu and with my little sister. She’s one of the most precious people to me in the world. We had ribs and margaritas. I’m a complete lightweight these days, but I had it anyway, straight up, with salt. So that’s how I celebrated my victory: with Stu, and my sister; eating ribs, drinking a margarita, in my favourite place in London.