Over the years, life has thrown a few hard punches William (Bill) Vastis’s way. When he was 17, his mother, Sotirea Vastis, died from breast cancer after a six-year-battle. A few years ago, a good friend of his died from brain cancer. And five years ago, he himself almost died from complications associated with appendicitis — while his wife, whose third pregnancy had been diagnosed as high-risk, lay in a hospital bed, completely unaware of his condition.
As if that weren’t enough, in 2008, Mr. Vastis — a financial advisor by profession — faced the daunting blow of what analysts forecasted would be the worst global financial meltdown and recession since the Great Depression. But Mr. Vastis is a fighter for life, a lesson learned from his mother, whose courage continues to inspire him to this day.
That spirit and, he believes, fate, led him not only to take up — and become passionate about — boxing but also to create Fight for the Girls, a unique charitable boxing event to raise funds for the Breast Cancer Society of Canada that will held May 26 at Royal York Hotel in Toronto.
His interest in boxing began when the friend who passed away from brain cancer took him to an amateur boxing event in Toronto called Brawl on Bay Street, in which people who work in the financial district challenge their competitors in the ring.
After his friend passed away, he decided to train and participate in the event to honour him.
“As I learned about the science of boxing I started to understand there’s a mindset to it — a lot of boxing is in the mind,” Mr. Vastis says. “You don’t have a team backing you up as you do in hockey or football. You have to find out who you are and what you’re good at and what your talents are.”
At first, he says, his wife was not convinced that boxing was such a great idea.
“But she’s seen me go through a bear market before and it isn’t the best experience to go through when you’re in the financial industry,” he says.
“When I went through my first Brawl on Bay Street fight, which was at the beginning of what could have been the worst financial crisis in history, what it did for me was create such a high level of euphoria that I found it liberating. I’d go home with a smile on my face.”
While the financial meltdown and recession were knocking the wind out of many in the financial sector, Mr. Vastis actually ended up having the best year in his entire career — and he attributes that in part to boxing.
There’s just something about the sport that is transforming, that sharpens the mind and one’s self-awareness, he says.
“When you’re training, you have to skip for 15 minutes, which is like jogging for about half an hour. After that you shadow box for three rounds, which is about trying to find your body, your self. I found that very challenging. It’s really about being comfortable with yourself. Once you shadow box, you warm up punching the bag for a few rounds and then after that, you do the speed bag — and then, after all that, you start training.
That is just the warm-up. By the time you’ve finished the warm-up, your mind is thinking differently. It’s one thing to push your body to a new level, it’s another to push your mind to that level.”
Not only did boxing help him get to know himself and his strengths better, it also resulted in him forming very close friendships with other amateur boxers.
“They’re the kind of friendships and feelings you have in team sports when you win a championship. But we didn’t win any championship; all we won was having the guts to get in the ring — and that felt like we’d won something big.”
The more he got into boxing, the more he wanted to give back for all that it was giving him. Fight for the Girls came from a conversation he had about this need with his coach, Canadian Olympic coach Dwight Fraser.
“I went to university because of my mother. I made a lot of good friends, played varsity football, and all that good karma and people I met got me a position in the largest financial institution in this country, and I’m still there to this day. I get to thank my wife, my kids, my friends, there’s a whole list. But really, the foundation came from my mother.”
So on May 26, he’ll be back in the ring, fighting for the girls and in honour of Sotirea Vastis, who may have lost her fight for life but passed on her fighting-for-life spirit to her son.
His girls, 10 years later have continued to use their grandmother as an inspiration to grow and lead in their world moving forward.
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Originally published at www.nationalpost.com