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Boxing Champ, Manager Look at 'Lessons  From the Ring' - 2004-01-18

Life has been compared to many things: from a box of chocolates and a bowl of cherries, to a journey and "a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities." But when it comes to dealing with the ups and downs of everyday living, life is like a boxing match.

Whether it's a career downturn or a personal relationship crisis, life's tough times are virtually impossible to avoid. Still, people can choose which battles are worth fighting.

"Dig deep and find out what's really important. What are the things that we really need to worry about, and what are the things that are not worth the energy," said Jackie Kallen, who learned those lessons as a successful boxing manager. She says life is just like a boxing ring.

"All our lives are like a championship fight and we have until the final bell," she said. "So don't give up half way through the fight just because you got knocked down, just because somebody hits you with a low blow. You have to continue the fight because it's still not over. People quit too easily, I think."

In her book Hit Me With Your Best Shot, the woman known as "The First Lady of Boxing" outlines a fight plan for dealing with all of life's hard knocks. She says in life, as in the ring, a positive attitude is the first step.

"I think the most important thing for all of us in life is to have the quality of belief in yourself, in that spirit and attitude [that says] 'yes, I can' not 'no, I can't.' And 'I will beat this, regardless of what the problem is, regardless of what we're facing.' We have to look at all of our problems as 'the opponent.' That's who's facing us in the ring," said Jackie Kallen. "One way or another, we're going to come through this fight and we're going to be on the top. Sometimes you get into a situation where you just can't win. So now it's a question of how to handle the defeat graciously and get back and keep fighting the next time."

Learning to do that helped George Foreman capture the World Heavyweight boxing championship twice. Foreman first took the title in 1973, from Joe Frazier. The next year, in what was billed as "The Rumble in the Jungle," he lost the title to Muhammad Ali. He says that fight in Zaire taught him an important life lesson: Learn from your mistakes, but don't be chained to them.

"You learn to let them pass. It's easy to say, but it's a difficult chore to just let it go," he said. "Even today, I meet people and they bring up the Ali fight. They still think that the fight is going on and they need to be on my side or Ali's. They don't know that the fight was almost thirty years ago. It does not exist anymore. But you learn great lessons from those defeats. You learn it's just a day in your life, it shouldn't be taken over. It shouldn't consume you. It's just a moment and enjoy every moment."

In 1987, after a ten-year absence from the ring, George Foreman launched his comeback, fighting, and beating, much younger opponents. He lost his match against heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield in 1991, but proved that "age 40 is not a death sentence for athletes." Three years later, he was back on top, taking the title from Michael Moore. At 45, he had become the world's oldest heavyweight champion. Now a businessman, ordained minister and author, George Foreman has learned what it takes to succeed. As he explains in his newest book, George Foreman's Guide to Life: How to Get Up Off the Canvas When Life Knocks You Down, don't be afraid to try something new.

"The more frightening thing is that you should be afraid to stay the same," he said. "Some guys in City Hall are just voting for the same guy because they're afraid of a change. You should not be afraid of change, especially if you have a college education."

Jackie Kallen, author of Hit Me With Your Best Shot, agrees that a good fighter must be prepared to deal with change. She recommends learning how to 'bob and weave' as a way to avoid undesirable changes. The boxing term refers to a fighter who stays in motion, instead of standing still waiting to get punched.

"Bobbing and weaving is the ability to move out of the way when something's coming. In life, I think, we have to learn to see if something's coming," she explained. "If you see that something's going bad and it may come at you, a problem, you've got to head it off before it gets to that point. You see something is going on in your company and it does not look good, you've got to deflect it, get out of the way before it all comes down on you."

Jackie Kallen's life has been a series of wins and losses, in the ring and in life. She draws on her personal and professional experiences in her motivational speeches, in her book, and in a new movie based on her life. Against the Ropes, starring Meg Ryan, opens on February 20 in theaters across the United States.

It joins other films celebrating boxers and their world, Rocky, The Hurricane, and When We Were Kings, the Academy award-winning documentary chronicling George Foreman's landmark championship fight with Muhammad Ali.