I am approaching 70 years of age very quickly and I have been dieting since I was thirteen years old.
To look at me now you would not think that I have been a professional boxer or a marathon runner.
My younger brother and I were often mistaken for twins when we were ten years old. He grew up to be tall and lanky at 6 feet. I grew partly up to be short and chunky at 5 feet 5 inches.
Now younger brother is very thin and I am not. It has been said that my brother looks as though there was a famine in the land … and I look as if I caused the famine.
I was not obese when I was thirteen years old but I was an accomplished boxer. I trained hard 7 days a week 52 weeks a year. I was fit and thin but…I was a growing boy and was always trying to “make weight” for a lower division. Not my choice but the decision of my elders who in those days did not know the damage they were doing.
I had won the schoolboys championship and the intermediate championship and could not get opponents in my weight division or age group. The opponents I did get were adults. I was a young boy of thirteen and I was fighting men whose wives and children were in the audience. I felt great about this but it was not doing me any good.
At that time you had to be 18 years old to fight professionally. So at thirteen we lied about my age and I turned professional. Within two years I became rated as the third in Australia in the flyweight division (under 98 lbs.)
When the Australian Champion retired there was to be a fight-off between the top three contenders. I was supposed to be a certainty. However, I was still a growing boy and I was going to have difficulty making the weight. I weighed 4 lbs. over the limit with a week until the weigh-in. It did not matter if I won or not if I weighed more than 98 lbs I was out of the championship.
I was then given to help me to lose weight the most dangerous instructions that could be given to a fifteen old boy.
I was to “dry out”. In effect, I was to cease drinking fluids for the whole week. No water, no tea, no softdrink. I was to chew gum which would produce saliva which I was to spit out continuously. (Yuck!).
And I had a turkish bath each night. Fluids were my enemy and when I got really thirsty I was allowed to suck the juice from an orange with a hole punctured in it…and boy was I thirsty!
While this was going on I trained hard and ate little.
The weigh-in was 2 hours before the fight and I stripped naked to be weighed. I could not risk leaving my underpants on! Although the official was sympathetic no matter how he jiggled the beam he could get less than 98.5 lbs! I was given an hour to lose 8 ounces.
In normal time that would have been easy! But I had nothing to give. My bladder was empty; my bowels were empty; my body was mostly muscle and bone.
I was given an old army coat and told to run round the block ten times in an attempt to raise a sweat and then immediately put under a hot shower to keep it going..as if.
Then one of the older trainers (even people I did not know seemed to help me) spent the time remaining trying to massage some of the fat of me. The only place I seemed to have any fat was on my backside.
It seems funny now but I can still remember the embarrassment of lying in the nuddie with all sorts of people watching Johnnie Shields slap my backside for twenty minutes.
Did I make the weight? I sure did! 97 lbs. 14 ounces.
I’d give anything to say that it was all worthwhile and I won the fight and went on to become Australian Flyweight Champion. I did not!
Up until then I had never been knocked down in all my fights. A reputation I had been proud of. In Australia in those days the referee never stopped a fight just because a boxer was hurt. The only way to stop a fight before the time limit was for the corner to throw in the towel. My trainer threw in the towel towards the end of the eighth round. I had not been knocked out but I had been knocked down eight times, five of them in the eighth round, and I kept on getting up.
And here comes the tragedy. Although I felt like a mongrel dog who had let everybody down, my trainer was supportive. I was a good boxer there would be other opportunities he told me. I’d done my best and worked hard for a long time. “Take a week’s holiday”, he said,” don’t come near the gym for a week. Have a milkshake or two. Relax and enjoy yourself”. And I did!
When I arrived at the gym a week later everyone mentioned how well I looked and I felt good too. I jumped on the scales and to my horror I weighed 115 lbs. a gain of 17 lbs. Everybody I tell this too says it cannot be true. But it is true. Despite my loss I was still rated in the bantam weight division but I would have to lose 10 lbs to make the weight. Even to make the feather weight division I would have to lose 2lbs.
I soldiered on for a time but my heart wasn’t in it and other interests took the place of boxing.
But I am certain that the early insane attempt at weightloss set me up for a life time of diet tragedies.