Pugilistic Passion for the Artist and the Athlete

Today’s guest post is by storyteller extraordinaire Darrelyn Saloom. Follow her on Twitter, or read more of her guest posts for this blog. The photo above shows boxer Deirdre Gogarty bloodying the face of Stacey Prestage in 1993.

Women are not allowed to box is a declaration Deirdre Gogarty
heard often growing up in Ireland. Not only was boxing illegal for
women at the time, it was socially frowned upon. Her father, an oral
surgeon, inventor and gifted artist, didn’t want his youngest daughter
to fight.  Expectations were of college, art school, marriage, and
children. But once she feasted her eyes on a champion boxer, nothing
would stop her.  

At the age of twelve, Deirdre turned on the
television and heard the name Dempsey. Mesmerized by a documentary
about the legendary prizefighter, she was left hungry for the sport.
She asked her dad to fabricate a heavy bag for hitting. And he did, but
only after advising that girls aren’t supposed to hit things. 

Deirdre didn’t listen to her father or even consider his advice, though
she was discouraged the first time she threw her fists upon the
makeshift bag (stuffed with newspapers and rags). When her father left
her alone to unleash a few punches, her sister’s boyfriend, Liam,
slithered outside the garage to mock her tomboyish attempts. Here’s an
excerpt from Deirdre’s (in-progress) memoir:

“Look at the little boy!” a brash voice hisses. “You couldn’t punch your way out of a wet paper bag!”

It’s Liam, who no doubt had waited for Dad to leave. “Do you piss standing up as well?”

“I’m not a boy!”

He taps the side of my face.

“C’mon little boy,” he says. “Show me how tough you are.”

homemade bag was buried after that, but not for long. No, boxing was
not some passing fancy. The budding athlete’s passion was so intense
she’d go on to defy her parents, her country, and find coaches willing
to train a woman, not knowing if she’d ever be allowed to box. She would have to find a way because for Deirdre, to box was to breathe. It was life.

nothing seemed to extinguish her fury. Not frequent insults or teasing,
exhaustion or beatings. She trained and sparred with men, lightweights,
heavyweights, and champions. As we collaborated on each chapter, my
respect and admiration for her grew. But a recent chapter made me
thankful my own passions never included bouts in a ring.  

the fifth, I fear the doctor will stop the fight. So I push myself to
the limit of collapse, beg my body to function—but it wants to die. I
manage to squeeze enough energy to stay upright and even catch my
opponent with stinging head shots. Combinations ripple up and down my
head and torso. So I rip combinations right back. Exhausted, lungs
struggle for breath, muscles scream with pain. But we stand
head-to-head, toe-to-toe. So many punches are flying; it’s hard to know
who’s winning this round.

I’m landing clean shots in the sixth,
and my rival slows down. So I catch her with a left hook. She tries to
escape along the ropes, but I slide with her and nail another left
hook. And then she unleashes combinations. Again, we stand head-to-head
and exchange blows as sweat floats and sprays like Mum’s garden
sprinkler in Mornington, an image that helps me to escape the
rapid-fire pain of gloved fists. And then I sense the roar of the crowd
as they leap to their feet, seconds before the bell.

was a brutal fight and a painful chapter to write. And it left me
curious to know why anyone would choose such a vicious sport, a sport
(like other sports) that forced participants to run miles every day, to
spend hours in a gym, and (unlike other sports) to get punched in the
face. So I took Deirdre to lunch and asked her: “Why boxing?” And do
you know what she told me? She said, “I didn’t pick boxing. Boxing
picked me.”

And then I understood. There are different types
of passion. One is like a blaze that roars but goes out. It can be
extinguished. Its ashes are smudged numbers of ex-lovers, or items
stuffed into garages, closets, and Goodwill bins: tennis racquets,
treadmills, and bicycles (you get the picture). The passions we choose
are often abandoned.

But the passions that choose us are as
intrinsic as life, hence the aspiring though starving painters and
sculptors, poets and prose writers, playwrights and actors, cellists
and maestros, inventors and architects. It’s the same pugilistic
passion that fueled an athlete, a young girl in Ireland who fought her
way out of depression and into championship fights:

urges me to stay on my stool until the start of the seventh round. He
wants me to get every possible second of rest. But my attempt to box is
weak. And then my adversary springs an attack. I desperately try to
fight her off, but she presses me to the ropes. My legs are gone, so
she plants her feet and rips into me. Don’t stop punching back! But my
arms are dead. I can’t move. Keep punching back or they’ll stop the fight! Keep punching back or they’ll stop it!

paragraph ends, but not Deirdre’s story. Though it is a perfect example
of what it takes to survive for the chosen artist or athlete: to keep
punching back when you’re not allowed to compete; to keep punching back
in spite of insults and teasing; to keep punching back when you’re
fearful of losing; to keep punching back until the end of the fight.

Pictured below: Deirdre Gogarty with her American coach, Beau Williford, in 1997.

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0 thoughts on “Pugilistic Passion for the Artist and the Athlete

  1. Kerry Daigle

    I have found Deirdre to be a proven leader not only in boxing but in life. She has a well-known commitment to excellence and to teach others how to be winners in life and in sports. Knowing Deirdre personally I can positively say the world that doesn’t know her will meet an individual with a unique blend of toughness, compassion, optimism, and leadership skills that will transform many who read her book. She is model and mentor to so many and above everything else ‘a true winner’. It’s exciting for me to know that others will now have the opportunity to learn from a woman of uncompromising values. Keep Punching, Deirdre! I’m proud to know you as a business partner and friend.

  2. Lisa Almanza

    A woman in a man’s world. Dee that’s you, and what a great job you are doing and have done. To put your memories into a book is a fantastic idea. I truly cannot wait to read all about it. De La Hoya and Teddy Atlas look out!!

    Deidre, I’ve watch you coach and train young men and women for seven years. The respect that is shown to you by all of them speaks louder than words. Watching them look your way after a victory is all that needs saying. They all know who helped make it happen for them, and that little glance your way is nothing more than a great big THANK YOU, I couldn’t have done it without you.

    Deidre, keep up the great work, and GOOD LUCK on your book.
    Lisa Almanza

  3. Kathy Rogers

    Deirdre is absolutely amazing! I think that Jillian sums the whole scenario up so well with these few words, "An incredible story that not many of us can relate to, that ability to endure the pain and to keep fighting regardless of the obstacles, all in the name of passion." Deirdre’s story is remarkable and awe-inspiring. It will be a best-seller and I cannot wait to see the finished product.

  4. Mickey Daigle

    I am so very excited that Deirdre will have a book out on her story. Knowing her as a business partner and friend she has always amazed me
    with her knowledge on the sport of boxing, her determination, her eagerness to help others and the respect she receives from her peers. As a woman I am truly proud to be associated with Deirdre and I know her book will inspire other women as well as men to be all they can be and never give up on their dream. Can’t wait for the book. She is my hero!!!!

  5. Mark Newton-Hill

    As a boxer I was somewhat successful myself, winning more than I lost and picking up a few titles along the way, but unfortunately never had the opportunity to reach the heights Deirdre attained. When I was boxing out of Coed-Eva ABC, Wales, one of the guys at the gym would often ask me what it took to be a good boxer/fighter. He’d ask questions like ‘Is it 60% skill and 40% heart or vice versa?’, to which I’d reply ‘A combination of both but it would be difficult to simplify into distinct percentages’. Despite this, the question was repeatedly asked over a period of years. I suppose he wanted to know what it would take to be successful because he was a very talented and skilled boxer who could move, had fast hands and hit like a mule but he lacked heart, courage, guts, whatever you want to call it. At this time I wasn’t aware of Deirdre Gogarty or any other female boxers as it happens. However, now I do know her and I also know something of her personality and philosphy toward life and boxing. Therefore, I could point him in Deirdre’s direction and say ‘There’s your answer’.

    Having spent a couple of months going for morning runs, training and sparring with Deirdre at Beau Williford’s gym in Lafayette, Louisiana. I’m in no doubt Deirdre would eventually have succeeded in the boxing world even if she hadn’t met up with Beau. Her determination and passion for boxing should be held up as a prime example to any fighter of any age or gender of what it takes to achieve your goal and become a champion. My friend and numerous other ‘I could have been(s) …’ would do well to adopt her approach and even in the event of them not winning a title they’d still be a success.

  6. Sally G

    Passion is the underlying current that drives our hunger to continue to do the things that feed our soul. Unlike pleasure which feels so good but is temporary, shallow, passion doesn’t feel good all the time. It’s frustrating, tiring and continually challenging. We wallow in self-doubt. But suddenly the shift occurs and we have our moments of greatness. Others may not see these for what they are–our own small victories. And then, we read about Deirdre. And the inspiration is galvanized. Thanks to the serendipity that brought Darrelyn and Deirdre together. It is great to read the comments from the people that Deirdre’s life touched. I’ll bet that she had no clue. Amazing job, Darrelyn.

    Sally G

  7. Debra Marrs

    What an incredible story! Since meeting Darrelyn, I’ve been looking forward to also getting to know more about Deirdre. I’d never considered the connection–how something chooses us, how that choosing sets up a passion we can’t resist, and how following a passion may mean enduring pain and fighting regardless of the obstacles. As writers, we all face our battles, whether it’s with word choices, points of view, or choice of protagonist. Blank pages, broken printers, or noisy work environments. In hindsight, it’s always worth it, and no longer seems difficult or painful to endure.

    Thank you for the opportunity to experience an excerpt from your memoir collaboration. I love the immediacy of the present tense to tell the story. You drop us right into the scene. Great job, Darrelyn! And I’m so happy to meet you here too, Deirdre. Can’t wait to read more…

  8. Paul Buswell

    Fantastic article!! Dee I hope you know you have been a driving force and mentor for many years! You and Jason had a lot to do with my career believe it or not. I used to watch you two very close back in 1998 and it changed my style of fighting. You are one of few that followed a dream! Keep on punching!

  9. Carolyn Patin-Jones

    What can I say? I have been anticipating Darrelyn’s guest blog, since reading last month’s blog. The wait was worth it! I continue to be inspired from her stories.

    It was great to get a peek of what awaits us when the book is completed.

    Thanks Darrelyn for sharing your talent with us.

  10. Beau Williford

    Having been fortunate to have managed and trained seven world boxing champions,with Deirdre Gogarty being one of them. She is my proudest achievement in the sport of boxing. No one worked harder than she did. She had a goal and was determined to reach her goal. Spirited, tough, strong, smart, great chin and absolutely FEARLESS is my description of Deirdre. I am extremely proud of all my boxers, but Deirdre is special, and I know that her book will be just like her …….SPECIAL!!!

    Beau Williford

  11. Gerry Ward

    I remember how people use to say you would never do it, pro boxing in Ireland was low key at the time (in mens boxing never mind womens) but you showed it could be done and as someone who had the honour of training with you at St Saviours, Deirdre you’re a legend.

  12. Winston Mount-Batten

    I have had the opportunity to see Deirdre on television many times. Her boxing matches were unbelievably exciting and at the same time extremely skillful. Her guest shot on REGIS & KATHY LEE was some of the most entertaining daytime television I have ever witnessed. Having researched her background, I am not surprised to see that she is telling her story to the world. I am waiting on pins and needles to find out how this young lady from a posh Irish family, with an art degree, was able to climb all the walls that had been built to prevent her (or any woman) from success. She has proven that the old adage "where there is a will there is a way" are some of the wisest word ever spoken! She is a CHAMPION and I feel 100% sure that her book will be the UNDISPUTED CHAMPION of memoirs!!!
    Winston Mount-Batten

  13. cynthia newberry martin

    As Jane wrote, I’ve also been looking forward to reading some of this memoir. Wow. Particularly because the idea of boxing is so different from anything I’ve ever thought about doing, I enjoyed being inside Deirdre’s head in the last two excerpts. I don’t know if she has a title or not yet, but your first sentence here really drew me in: Women Are Not Allowed to Box. Thanks for this peek, Darrelyn.

  14. Tommy DeBlieux

    Deirdre is the most courageous person I’ve ever known. She says that "boxing chose her", but she had to be brave enough to answer that calling. We all know of things that tug at our hearts. Yet, we tend to tuck them away for fear of "what if?".

    Looks like she has found the perfect writer to help her share her amazing story. I can hear that familiar song already, "I Did It My Way."

  15. Barbara Weibel

    As usual, Darrelyn, you hit the nail on the head. They say if you don’t believe God has a sense of humor, tell him (her?) your plans. In 2007, when I finally fled corporate life to pursue my true passions of travel, writing, and photography, I strapped on a backpack and traveled solo around the world for 6 months. I created a blog prior to that trip, so that my friends and family could follow my journey. Upon returning, my plan was to write a best-selling memoir that would chronicle my life, ending with my round-the world trip. That never happened. Instead, my blog became so successful that it is now ranked among the top 100 travel blogs in the world. Rather than struggling to write a memoir that was going nowhere, I chose to focus on the opportunity presented to me. My blog became the platform from which I launched my successful career as a freelance travel writer. Our passions DO choose us, but we have to be willing to follow the path that the Universe unfurls for us.

  16. Whitney Simar

    A friend sent me a link to this article, and its exactly what I needed. I’ve been questioning my fledgling path as a writer, deeming it a bad career choice. This reminds me that I never started writing as a career choice–I write because it’s my passion. I can’t wait to read the book. Any idea when it will be released?

  17. Whitney Simar

    A friend sent me a link to this article, and its exactly what I needed. I’ve been questioning my fledgling path as a writer, deeming it a bad career choice. This reminds me that I never started writing as a career choice–I write because it’s my passion. I can’t wait to read the book. Any idea when it will be released?

  18. Jane Bretl

    As a fan of Darrelyn’s stories, I have been waiting to see excerpts of her collaboration with Deirdre. It was worth the wait. This post is powerful and inspirational, and not just because of the fight scenes. I am moved by the way she weaves the parallels of passion in sports, writing and life. The laptop no longer looks like a fearsome opponent.

  19. Robyn Taliaferro

    I feel honored to say that D let me spar with her one day. I was truly humbled that she let an old woman get a punch in or two. She still moves like the champion she is. Boxing did choose her. Love ya, D. rt

  20. Amber J. Gardner

    Alright, this has gone beyond creepy.

    I needed this post today. Today started out pretty bleak, a day where I thought my dream was over, that I had lost. But I realized that in order to win you have to keep at it, even when you feel like that. That’s how it works! That’s how Deidre achieved her dream and many achieved theirs. I really needed this reminder.

    This is such a wonderful story, though I am very glad that my passion doesn’t involve head trauma XD.

  21. Jillian

    An incredible story that not many of us can relate to, that ability to endure the pain and to keep fighting regardless of the obstacles, all in the name of passion.

    Somehow it makes writing seem so painless!

  22. Gabriel Acosta

    Through out my time in such a great and demanding sport, I have never known anyone to have strived to be the best at what they do as Deidre has. She’s a credit to the sport, to her country, and to every boxer with a will to succeed in a sport with no mercy. I am honored to know her, to have stood across the ring from her, and to call her my friend. Her name or picture belongs next to the definition of "passion" in every dictionary.