What I love the most about boxing is that I always felt that it was better than a traditional gym workout – the thought of keeping up during sparring sessions always kept me motivated and made me train harder. I fell in love with working out and pushing myself over the limit; it made me feel alive. I started boxing as a way to do something different and fit in – when I got into it, I couldn’t think of a life without a gym.

My name is Belal Farooqui, I am in my mid-30s, and I’m currently pursuing my Masters in Data Analytics at NCI (National College of Ireland). Before this, I worked as a software developer for roughly seven years. My job entailed building video games and managing data analytics projects. I have been fascinated with video games since I was a kid; playing late-night Nintendo and Sega consoles have been my best memories.

My tech career has been a long journey – I graduated from Business administration in 2005 from a university in Canada, and started working at a bank as a financial service advisor. During this time, I took a keen interest in 3D animation and modelling, and I started watching multiple tutorials and videos online. After months of contemplating, I took a huge step and moved back to my home country of Pakistan. I learned how to code, animate, and model full time – within three months, I released my first game. I was proud of what I achieved; it was difficult at the start, but I enjoyed every moment of it.

Soon after that, I started working as a freelance software developer – it was a lucrative job, and I could see myself enjoying this as a career. So, I decided to pursue my Software Engineering degree. After searching for universities online, I found one in Malaysia. During my degree there, I took a course in machine learning and got obsessed with it. With this, I decided to do my final year project on Robotics and worked on a cool design: an obstacle-avoiding robot for semi-blind people. Users could connect to their mobile device, which allowed them to communicate with the robot, and vice versa.

Once I graduated with a Software Engineering degree, I got back to freelancing full-time and took all types of software/machine learning jobs I could find. I wanted to build my portfolio and increase my knowledge. Two years later, I decided to get my Masters’ in Data Analytics – after thorough searching for universities, I decided to go with NCI as my educational institute.

Outside of my job, I love boxing. When I was in high school, I was a pretty skinny, introverted guy and never really thought about sports. While studying in Canada in 2005, I remember strolling in an alley and saw an underground gym – I could see people skipping rope through the small opening; it was intriguing, so I decided to check it out. After finding the main door, I walked down the stairs into the gym, and I noticed a senior looking Scottish guy named Peter; he walked up to me and asked me if I was a beginner looking to join, and I just nodded. He took me into the main room while explaining the membership price and schedule – I could see the huge hall was jam-packed with people working out on multiple types of equipment; some were shadowboxing while others were doing various activities. It was overwhelming, and all I could think of was how uncomfortable and disconnected I felt from the place – the next thing I know, I am standing in front of a bag and Peter showing me how to punch it (jab), and he soon just walked away. I went there for two weeks straight and just jabbed at the bag for hours, keeping my head down.

One day, Peter noticed me in the gym and came up to me from the crowd and looked surprised that I was still there – he told me to follow him into the ring, got me to wear wraps, gloves and headgear, and we starting padding. He taught me various techniques, like hooks, uppercuts, and stances over the next few months. Soon, I started to notice the changes happening to my body; I got more energetic, and I felt amazing and confident. I went to that gym for six years, sparred regularly, jogged, and boxed to my heart’s content. It was a life-changing experience and engraved some amazing memories.

The name of the boxing gym I joined was Saint John Golden Gloves. I fell in love with boxing so much that I decided to look into other contact sports, so I joined an MMA gym called Okuden, which was instructed by a very talented mentor named Mr. Britt. I learned a lot of new mixed martial art techniques and enjoyed kicking and learning Jiujitsu.

I sparred a lot during my years in the gym. Every time I got into the ring, it made me feel alive and like a completely different person. I remember the first time I was asked if I wanted to spar, and I got so nervous, I trembled my way into the ring. I got the best beating of my life, which made me realise how it wasn’t as bad as I initially thought; it didn’t hurt much and I started feeling a lot more courageous after that. Since then, I looked forward to getting into the ring, sparring, hitting, and getting hit. My footwork improved tremendously and I stopped flinching every time I got hit in the face.

Unfortunately, it’s been over five years since then that I have boxed or gone to a gym. Work and family got me so preoccupied that I lost track of time – I still miss the boxing routine, working out, jogging in the morning, dieting, and sparring.

My experiences with boxing have definitely been a benefit to my technological career. Boxing is an amazing sport that got me out of my shell – without it, I was this shy individual and thought I could never fit anywhere. Before it, I would avoid confrontations and social gatherings, so it put me at a great disadvantage. However, I became a lot more confident in my decision-making skills, and it got me more social and active in my life just by dedicating a few years of my life to it. The discipline and dedication I learned from boxing helps me excel in my professional work.

My advice to anyone interested in boxing is to just go for it – you will love it. People shy away because they think it has to be a contact sport, but that’s far from the truth. You can enjoy boxing without sparring or getting into matches. I believe it is more enjoyable than a traditional gym. It will get you in shape a lot quicker and is a great way to release stress.

There is always more than tech. I think everyone in the tech industry should find a balance between sports and creative passions. It could be any sport as long as it keeps your body active and healthy. Technologists tend to get preoccupied with work, and it can be easy to spend 100s of hours working in front of the screen. What we need to remember is that health is a greater commodity than anything else in life.

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