Fighting through injuries and age, Tommy Deer returned to the ring to box Friday night in a fight that ended in controversy, where the local comic book artist landed some serious right hooks. (Daniel J. Rowe, The Eastern Door)
All boxers stepping into the ring know there will be a toll on the body and mind when the bout’s over. Boxers train for years fine-tuning their bodies to pique form because those joints, limbs, muscles, bones and nerves will take a literal pounding after rounds of furious combat.
For 42-year-old comic book artist and father-of-three Tommy Deer, the journey back to the ring after almost 18 years without a bout was no cruise down the OCR.
Friday night, when Deer stepped into the ring at le Club Boxe de l’est to fight Ricardo Mirvil in the 180-pound category for three two-minute rounds, Deer brought a suitcase of injuries with him.
First, Deer has a deviated septum from a broken nose years ago that affects his breathing.
“I could only breathe out of one nostril,” said Deer.
Then, there are the shoulders.
“I have tendinitis in my shoulders, which has been difficult to manage the last two years because it comes back pretty hard sometimes,” he said.
His right shoulder was in particular was in rough shape Friday, which Deer said inhibited him from throwing with his right.
Those two hindrances, however, are just the start.
“I have some kind of problem with my hand right now where when I make a grip, it kind of hurts,” he said. “I don’t know what that is, but by far, the most serious ailment I have is some kind of weird neurological disorder I have in my legs.”
His right leg, Deer explained, has gotten progressively worse for the past seven years, causing weeks or months where he loses sensation in his legs, limbs and throughout his body.
“When it’s really bad, I feel pins and needles in all my extremities, even the left side of my tongue,” said Deer, who’s undergoing tests and seeing a neurologist regularly to find out the cause of the pain.
Doctors have done a spinal tap, MRIs and other tests, but remained mystified as to what the ailment is exactly.
“Over the past two years, it got pretty bad,” said Deer. “This year, from the end of March to the end of July it hit me bad where I had trouble getting up stairs. I had troubles getting up. I had troubles holding my son, picking him up.
“I’d lose my balance, and a couple times I fell down. It got pretty bad… When it’s bad it feels like this leg is in soup or something. It just doesn’t work.”
The ordeal this summer even caused the muscles in his leg to atrophy.
“I was running three miles pretty easily before that, but a few days into this leg problem, I couldn’t run from here to the end of the room here,” said Deer. “It was that bad and that fast.”
Bit-by-bit, however, Deer re-strengthened his leg running, walking and doing leg lifts with his right. Eventually, he returned to peak fitness.…well, except for the tendinitis, hand pain and trouble breathing. Oh, and he had tennis elbow at the end of the summer.
“Luckily that went away by the time I started training for the fight,” said Deer.
The leg issue flared up the week of the fight, but Deer powered through, and fought more or less comfortably Friday.
If Deer felt any of these ailments last week, he did a masterful job of hiding it.
Deer, in the blue corner, was the clear aggressor for the first two rounds, as he went at Mirvil, landing a number of impressive right power shots. Right shoulder be damned!
Though he tired in the third, it seemed like the decision was Deer’s. As in many boxing matches of the past, present, and, no doubt, future, the decision went the other way.
According to USA boxing official Lisa Phillips, watching the fight ringside, her co-worker at the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center should have won the fight.
“He won 2-1 rounds,” said Phillips. “Tommy fought well. He kept pressing forward and pushing the action. I’m very proud of him. To me, he won.”
Mirvil boxes out of Friday’s host club, making the decision even more controversial.
“Not only that,” said Deer. “That particular gym is where the Canadian national team is headquartered; they do their training out of that gym, so the federation has a very close relationship with that club. Not many people from that club were on that card, but my opponent was.”
At the time, Deer thought he may have just misjudged his performance, but after watching the video, he feels justified that he won.
“I was like, ‘I don’t know about that,’” said Deer.
Watching the video, it is hard to argue with Deer and Phillips.
How did he feel Monday morning?
“I’m sore, but I feel fine,” he said.
As with all quality boxing stories, Deer’s return to the ring comes with a love story.
Watching the fight Friday night was his wife Kaylia Marquis, who was in the crowd in 1996 when Deer fought his first fight.
“He did really well,” said Marquis. “I am so proud of him. I know how much work went into his training, so it’s nice to see it all come together.”
“It was something extraordinary to make our way home together last night in the cold weather much like we did 22 years ago when she came to watch my first fight,” wrote Deer on Facebook the next day.
Deer started training around two years ago after his work as a comic book artist, and home life raising three young children slowed from the near-frantic pace it had been at.
“I was always kind of physical trying to stay in shape and all that, but it was difficult having two jobs, three jobs, family and all that,” said Deer. “I squeezed it in where I could.”
Fall of 2017, Deer joined Donnybrook Boxing Gym and started training more seriously after his comic work slowed down.
Prior to training, Deer worked steadily for around a decade colouring comics in addition to raising one then two then three children, the youngest of which is three.
Getting into the ring for one more fight was always on his mind.
“I’d say when I turned about 40-41, it was in my mind saying, ‘this is the last chance I’ll have to do this,’” said Deer.
Being past his prime was no excuse, and Deer had some advice for those considering doing something they love one last time.
“By the time you get to your 40s, it becomes a little finite what you can do, and the years that you have to be able to do that start to go away too,” he said.
“If you’re bowling, maybe not, but if you’re playing soccer or boxing, these are things that are really weighing on your body and in order to perform, you kind of need all those things.”
Would he step in the ring again?
“The day before, I had Kaylia video me saying, ‘I’m never doing this again,’” said Deer with a laugh.
“If my shoulder healed properly and I had a lot more time to train, I might consider doing it again, but the real goal that I wanted to do it at least one more time, I’m relieved and satisfied that I did it this last time. That was a goal that I’ve had for many years.”