The first time Cassandra Aydin stepped foot in a boxing gym, she knew things would never be the same. She had loved playing sports throughout high school, but nothing had ever felt quite like this—the rhythmic, meditative feeling of hitting the punching bag as the rest of the world melted away.
"I felt like it was a healthy thing to put my energy toward," she says. "I was feeling so exhausted and drowned in schoolwork at the time, and it always felt like my mind was drifting. I had a hard time focusing. But when I was boxing, that was the only thing I was thinking about. It made me feel so much stronger."
As it turned out, Cassandra didn't just love boxing. She was also exceptionally good at it. "As time was going by, I felt like I was progressing faster than most people who were doing these cardio-boxing classes, which is why I started to be more interested in technique classes and fighting competitively," she notes. "When I started going for technique, my body was taking it up really quickly." So Cassandra decided to take her love of boxing to the next level by fighting competitively.
The injury that almost ended it all.
Before Cassandra's first big fight, her mindset was that she was going to win no matter what it took. Looking back, she realizes that probably wasn't the mentality she should have had—and it resulted in a painful injury.
"The girl I was training with ended up stretching me the wrong way, and when I went into the fight, I fought with someone who was heavier than me, and I realized that my chances of winning weren't great," she remembers. "It was kind of a cat-and-mouse game, and everyone was rooting for me."
Feeling empowered by the people on the sidelines, Cassandra fought as hard as she could—and ended up dislocating her shoulder in the process. "My shoulder came out the first round in the first 30 seconds. I didn’t know what it was, so I set it back into place and I kept going," she says. "I have that instinct to never stop, and then I ended up tearing it even more, and toward the last 30 seconds they called it."
Unfortunately, the story doesn't end with that injury. "After that, I was so devastated," says Cassandra. "I was chronically dislocating. I would open the car door and it would dislocate. I was depressed. I felt like I was never going to fight again. I had so much potential, and it felt like it was taken from me."
Harnessing the power of positivity.
A year later, Cassandra was back in the fight—but it took a lot of hard work and some serious optimism.
"I got surgery and my surgeon said, 'This is one of the worst injuries I’ve ever seen; I’m not sure if you’ll ever have mobility back,'" she says. "I refused to accept that outcome, so I made the decision to surround myself with people who were optimistic. My family is not. My parents don’t know a lot about this stuff. The people that were supportive were my coach, my friends, people in the gym industry who see me work in the gym every day."
She adds that her coach was especially supportive in the recovery process. "When I would go to the gym and the coach would say, ‘you’re going to come back from this; you have untapped potential; there’s plenty of people in your situation’—that helps me. It also helps to have your own mental stamina. I couldn’t let myself be easily swayed."
Cassandra finally found a group of specialists who told her she could recover without any sort of surgery, and after nine months of consistent recovery exercises, she was back in the fight. "Certain things weren’t the same; certain things just didn’t feel right. But I felt strong. I booked a second fight, and I ended up coming back stronger. The whole experience actually made me a better fighter, and I ended up fighting better than I had ever fought before. It was an amazing feeling."
Inspired by Cassandra's story? Then you'll love reading about Kristin Hetzel, who bounced back from a concussion that nearly ended her career.