On Christmas Eve, I weighed 188 pounds: an average, healthy 6-foot-1 college kid. On Saturday, 37 pounds later, I weighed 151 pounds: a skinny, lean 6-foot-1 fighter.

As far as time goes, it’s weighed on me.

Thirty-seven pounds ago, I started thinking about competing in Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s boxing tournament. My dad told me no way; I didn’t even bother asking Mom. I celebrated New Year’s Eve with a couple of close friends and, though I didn’t realize it at the time, what were to be my last beers.

About 34 pounds ago, I decided to do boxing anyway, seeking a challenge along with glory and respect. Mom’s still pretty sore about it. I ate what was to be my last grain product, the bun of a McChicken, 34 pounds ago, and aside from a little cheating on my birthday – 24 pounds ago – I began following the Paleo diet, only fruits, nuts, meats and greens. I missed bread, but I lived.

For the last 28 pounds, I trained nearly every day, getting up at 6:30 a.m. to run, lift and hit the bag. At night, I and the other seven Pong boxers went to a small gym on Sutherland Avenue called Pinnacle Mixed Martial Arts. I couldn’t throw or take a punch when I started, but I learned; the taking of punches teaches their throwing.

Twenty-four pounds ago I got my first shiner, a little heart-shaped bruise beneath my right eye. The song "Thrift Shop" was playing when I earned it; I still wince at that saxophone hook.

I bought my own gloves 20 pounds ago and learned how to tie hand-wraps. With coffee and some vitamins, I could get through the day on 1200 calories, although I did develop a perverse habit of watching Food Network while doing abs.

During the winter holidays — 37 pounds ago — running two miles left me winded, and the mere idea of jumping rope for 5 minutes sounded miserable. Over the last 20 pounds, I ran 3.1 miles every other day and jumped rope for at least 15 minutes daily.

I started having trouble sleeping about 15 pounds ago. All I could think about was February 28, and fighting. I’d think about fighting until drifting off to hazy fighting dreams. And nightmares, too.

Twelve pounds ago, during training, I heard somebody’s nose snap behind me. Another Pong was trying valiantly to stem the blood flowing from his nose, but I heard it break. By the next day, with swelling and purple shadows under his eyes, he was a grotesque Avatar. He was done.

It happens; life moves on. The rest of us kept losing weight. We kept fighting.

Ten pounds ago, I could not recognize the man in the mirror. He had sunken cheeks and no neck, just a wiry expanse of skin linking a jaw to some shoulders. Unable to fill my pants, I developed a rubber band belt to wear underneath my other belt, hoping to keep my suit from falling down in an interview. I noticed that sitting began to hurt; I’d lost my posterior’s natural padding.

Seven pounds ago I discovered the sauna in the HPER, a small room of awkward conversations and unbearable heat. I fought through them both.

Thirty-six hours before weigh-in, I stopped drinking water and eating. I went to the sauna and ignored the dryness in my mouth. A lunch meeting the day before weigh-in was my low point; as the waiter cleared away my table-mate's unfinished taco salad, I almost grabbed some of the leftovers with my bare hands.

Along with the shells of my fraternity brothers, some of them fresh from sweating off their last few pounds, I went to Golden Gloves Arena at 2 p.m on Saturday to weigh in. We stepped to the scales, all of us at least 20 pounds lighter than just seven weeks earlier. We all met our goals, gorging ourselves on chili and Gatorade immediately afterward. Though not everyone lost weight — and some lost more than I — those who did tasted victory. We’d won the first fight, against ourselves.

I think that’s why we lose the weight. It's partly to get into a low weight class and fight opponents naturally smaller than ourselves, but the losing also gives us the diligence and hunger to win. Whether we wear that belt on Saturday night, we learn how to fight, to conquer our own bodies.

It only took me 37 pounds and 61 days, but I learned how to fight myself.

— R.J. Vogt is a sophomore in College Scholars. He can be reached at rvogt@utk.edu.