Fire In the Belly–It’s Never Too Late

Mike W pushing hard

Mike W pushing hard

It can be easy to think of physical training as something the young do. They are flexible and strong. They have lots of cardio and recover quickly. They also have more free time than the average 40 something with a career and a family and a mortgage and all that. But it is also more than that. Young people often seem to have more fire in the belly. More goals and dreams. It might be that they are simply less tired, less jaded, less beaten down, less busy, more frivolous. Of course, this doesn’t go for everyone, and it is also natural that when one has a family, their focus is less on themselves and more on their family.

Foreman knocking down Frazier

Foreman knocking down Frazier

In the early 1970s, George Foreman was a superman. He looked like one and he fought like one. An Olympic gold medalist,he went on to become the Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the world, beating legendary fighters Joe Frazier and Ken Norton. Then came Muhammad Ali and the Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire in 1974. A huge favorite to win, Foreman was dealt a monster defeat by Ali, one of the most devastating defeats in boxing history (check out the documentary When We Were Kings). After Zaire, Foreman didn’t fight for a year and retired in 1977, becoming a preacher.

But in 1987, a strange spectacle starting appearing in boxing rings around the country. It was George Foreman–hugely overweight (nearly 280 pounds), bald as a bowling ball, and almost 40 years old. And he was winning. Gone was the speed and flash, the combos and the explosiveness. Gone also was the nervous tension that he said had plagued and exhausted him when he was younger. The power was still there, however. The power of a natural born puncher who won 68 of 76 professional wins by knockout. Foreman kept fighting and winning, and getting fitter and fitter. Eventually, in 1994, he stepped into the ring for a title fight against the heavyweight champ of the world Michael Moorer. Foreman was 45 years old.

Moorer’s trainer and cornerman, Teddy Atlas, late wrote that his heart nearly stopped when he saw Foreman jogging down the aisle to the ring. Foreman was wearing the same boxing trunks that he had worn for his famous defeat, maybe the most famous in boxing history, at the hands of Muhammad Ali in Zaire 20 years earlier. And Atlas knew right then that Foreman would not be denied, that he would win that night and reclaim the heavyweight title after an incredible span of 20 years. Foreman’s drive, his focus, his intensity, the fire burning bright and hot in his belly, was unstoppable. And he was, knocking out Moorer in the tenth to reclaim his long sundered championship belt.

Foreman stated that one of the reasons for his comeback was to prove that getting older was not a “death sentence”. That a 40-year-old or a 55-year-old person could still have dreams and drive and fire and goals. And he proved it.

CrossFit and CrossFit competition, indeed many physical challenges and goals, are many times seen as the province of the young. Nothing could be further from the truth, as evidenced by George Foreman. Too often, from people who have already done so much with their life and should know better, I hear “I can’t do that” when it comes to CrossFit or martial arts or handball or rock climbing or any intense physical pursuit. Being physically active, pursuing a goal outside of family or career or portfolio, awakens a giant slumbering in us all. It just feels so good. Go ahead, just ask George.

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