As a young adult cancer survivor, I personally believe we need to hear as many triumph stories as we can find. It helps to know others have made it through difficulty and succeeded in their goals. I recently had the privilege of interviewing female boxing champion, Terri Moss.
When Terri was a young adult, she dealt with an illness that threatened her boxing career. After grueling interferon treatments, and a thankful cure, Terri went on to live out her boxing dreams.
Here is a bit of our interview:
Erin: I love the quote on your website. "It's never too late to chase your dream... and don't stop until you have it." Tell me what that means to you.
Terri: Well, this has been my motto since I stepped into boxing. There are two aspects to this idea. First, it's never too late. I had never set foot in a boxing gym until the age of 34. You can imagine that there were no expectations for me to have any kind of success in boxing other than a fleeting hobby at best. Yet at 36 I made my professional debut, and within 12 months I was ranked #2 in the world. It wasn't pretty, but I made it happen. But that's where idea two comes in. I had every reason to stop. I was laughed at, humiliated, ignored as an athlete. But when the sting came I defiantly, even stubbornly, pushed forward. I fought for five world titles before I won, but I didn't care. I would have fought for 10. I came to be a champion and I wasn't leaving until I was one. When I finally did win, I set a world record as the oldest female world champion. Of course people laughed about that too, but my name stood besides George Foreman and Bernard Hopkins so I was pretty happy. If you really want something you must never, never stop pursuing or believing.
Erin: You were diagnosed with a pretty tough illness as a young adult. Can you talk about how you felt at diagnosis and how that impacted your boxing aspirations?
Terri: I found out about having Hep C by a blood donation report from the Red Cross. I was pretty upset and had no idea what it meant. I talked to my family doctor who at the time told me not to worry about it. He said they really didn't know much about it, and if I got sick, we would go from there. I think I was around 18 years old. It wasn't until years later in my 30s that I started to notice some changes, but I thought it was just due to getting a little older. I became sick all of the time, and it seemed like nothing in my body worked right anymore. I had been in fitness gyms all my life, so I was always in pretty good shape, but things just seemed to be deteriorating. Then when I decided to box competitively my trainer told me that I would never do it professionally because of the Hep C, and I was too old to go into the amateurs. I was pretty devastated, so I learned other aspects of working the ring other than fighting...It never left my mind though, and I kept training. I just couldn't give up no matter how far fetched the idea seemed.
Erin: I read that you had to go through interferon treatment. As a cancer survivor advocate I hear a lot about how difficult interferon treatment is; how it changes a persons body, and can wear a person down emotionally. Can you tell me a little bit about your treatment experience and how it impacted you?
Terri: Yes, I went under Interferon Ribavirin Combination Therapy. When I began treatment I was so excited at the thought of being able to box that it never dawned on me that I wouldn't or couldn't be cured. Even though my physician said that only a very small percentage can actually clear the virus, it was enough hope for me. During the treatment it felt like my body was slowly dying. My hair broke or fell out, a tiny paper cut would turn in to a painful gash three weeks later, I was exhausted all of the time, and nauseous, and nothing would heal. The worst effect of the treatment came about half way into the six-month term when my short term memory began to lapse severely. At the time, I was still a busy narcotics investigator, and details of my job became very difficult. By then I was only working on case files, but I couldn't remember minute to minute what I had just set out to do. If I got a phone call, I would forget what I had been doing before the call, then I would forget what the call was about. The days were long and very difficult. I couldn't get anything done, not even in my house. I walked down the hall and forgot where I was going or why I was going. I woke in the morning and forgot what I was supposed to do that day, that hour. I finally left my job and watched a fairly decorated career go down the toilet as the possibility of legal mistakes mounted ... It was humiliating, so I walked away and drowned myself into boxing.
I began training about half way through my treatment, and I found that most of the memory problems I was having left me when I just slept a lot more and removed the mental stress of trying to keep up with my job. At the gym I would drive 20 minutes to get there, train for 10 minutes, and go home for a nap. Then sometimes I would go running. I ran 10 yards, and walked 10 yards, until about 100 yards were finished. Then I went home and took a nap. That was my pattern, but I stayed with it. I drank three liters of water a day as the doctor had told me, no prepared foods, no chemicals or preservatives. I had only organic raw fruits and vegetables and very few lean meats. I had learned to eat clean for the first time in my life, and that was exciting! Training seemed to be the simplest thing to remember to do, and my body was ever so slowly, responding. So while I was sicker than I had ever been, I started to see improvements in my health overall that were much improved over my state prior to starting treatment. I was excited! And the more excited I got, the better I got, the faster I healed, the stronger I became. By the last week I was ready to train, and only two days after completing my meds I was training 20 rounds a day. I had so much energy and excitement once I got off the medicine that I could barely contain myself. After only six months of treatment I had cleared the virus forever.
Erin: Tell me about your first professional fight after treatment. Did you feel exhilarated or like it was too soon to get into the ring?
Terri: (laughing) I don't think it was too soon for anything Erin, rather too late, most would say. However, that first fight was long awaited, and I was in excellent health. My skill and lack of experience were my main problems, and technically I was too old to box when I started. It was just so incredible that I could be in that ring at all that it was a win for me either way.
Erin: You ended up as one of the top fighters in the strawweight division throughout most of your career. I think that says a lot about your internal push to succeed. What are some encouraging tips you can give to others who have moments of adversity while working towards their goal?
Terri: I would tell anyone to just stay positive and to surround themselves with people who really love them. Nothing moves mountains more than faith and a positive attitude. The truth is your worry can't change one thing, and a defeated attitude just makes everything you experience worse. There can be peace even in the worst situation, you just have to decide that you will handle it with peace, love, and a positive attitude. It makes everything so much better.
Erin: I think for most of us, once we've reached a place of acceptance and allow ourselves to move forward after major adversity, there is a desire to reach a hand back to help the next person struggling. I'd love to hear a little bit more about your charity boxing shows.
Terri: Sure, Corporate Fight Night is a white collar boxing show where business class individuals become like real prize fighters for one incredible night to raise money and awareness for great local and national charities. They experience all of the nuances of a real prize fighter as boxers in the show. They have to audition for their slot, then once selected they have to train for 10 weeks, answer press calls, do photo ops, press conferences, the whole nine yards. On that final night, they step into the room with their opponent for a real sanctioned amateur boxing match. It's pretty fantastic ... I'm really excited about my next show because we are working with the Wounded Warrior Project and we get to actually put our own American veterans into the show. The warriors will each be in the team with their own corporate boxer. They will get to train beside them, coach them, work their corners, and do all of the things that go along with the event. I think they're more excited about that than our financial contribution. It's incredible and very rewarding to everyone. I am so fortunate to get to experience this, it's living a dream come true.
Erin: Since you've retired from professional boxing, you have continued in the sport as a trainer. What drives you to stay involved?
Terri: I love the sport of boxing of course, but what really drives me is seeing the (good) change that boxing can bring to someone searching for confidence and acceptance. I want boxing to be that haven for others, especially women, that it was for me. I talk about it a lot in Boxing Chicks, which is a film we just debuted in December at the Shadow Box Film Festival in New York. It's a documentary produced Directed by Frederick Taylor of Tomorrow Pictures that we've been working on for about two years. The film sort of sums it up. Through boxing I've met some of the most incredible people, especially women, and it's an honor to serve them in the gym and be a part of their lives. I just don't know if I can ever walk away from the feeling I get when I see someone's life change.
Erin: Empowerment is something you talk about, and it is something we all need when we are working towards a goal. Do you have any personal mantras you'd like to share?
Terri: One of my favorites is, "You never really lose until you quit."