Martin Stark feels at ease in the boxing ring. After living through two induced comas and multiple major surgeries, the thought of dodging right hooks doesn’t seem all that distressing.
For Stark, spending time in the squared circle is a reminder of his resilience, and an inclusive community that supports him every day.
“I describe it as, ‘boxing discovered me,’” Stark said. “I find it very liberating.”
On this week’s edition of Outsports’ “The Sports Kiki,” I spoke with Stark about his inspiring journey, and vision for his groundbreaking event, the World Gay Boxing Championships. Stark, who lives in Australia, wants to create a space where LGBTQ boxers and their allies can thrive.
The sport has certainly helped him.
Stark’s first of many trips to the ICU came in 2006, when gallstones were blocking his kidneys. He underwent surgery to remove them, but went on to develop a myriad of other life-threatening conditions: pancreatitis, collapsed lungs, septic shock. Living with undiagnosed Addison’s disease, an uncommon disorder that occurs when your body doesn’t produce enough cortisol, Stark was eventually placed in an induced coma.
Then came the tracheostomy. It was a living hell.
“It was always my worst fear, so you can imagine living through your worst fear,” Stark said. ‘Am I going to die having a tracheotomy?’”
Stark survived, only to be placed in another induced coma, and experience several more surgeries. At one point in his rehab, Stark was working to walk again — so he could be in better shape for another major operation.
Working out so you can go under the knife isn’t as pleasurable as getting ready for speedo season. That’s for sure.
But Stark kept on fighting. He says his support system helped push him through.
“I’ve always had this desire to get back and enjoy life,” Stark said. “I was in the hospital for two months. In 2006, I spent four months in the hospital. I wanted to get back to being fit and healthy.”
Boxing found Stark in 2017, following another scary health episode. At this point, Stark was dealing with recurring nightmares. He kept thinking about dying.
In an attempt to distract his mind, Stark took up a wide-ranging martial arts class. The second lesson was about boxing, and he fell in love.
“It’s a great physical sport. It works for your ligaments, your bone structures, your muscles,” Stark said. “There’s lots of great physical activity. For me, it’s also a great sport for my mental health, channeling my energy and boosting confidence.”
Addison’s disease doesn’t always make it easy. Since Stark doesn’t produce enough cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, he needs an IV dose to train. Sometimes, Stark also needs to be told to stop. That’s where his boxing family comes in.
“I’m pushed when I need to be, but I’m also pushed back by coaches who care,” he said.
Whenever Stark is in the ring, he feels a mutual respect for his opponent. That’s why he doesn’t fear injury.
“At the start, we touch gloves. We might open the ropes of the ring to enable our competitor to come in,” he said. “I feel comfortable, because I trust the trainers, I trust the boxers, I trust the referees and judges.”
That’s the kind of experience Stark wants to provide 200-some-odd athletes at the World Gay Boxing Championships. For him, boxing has always been an inclusive and gratifying activity. He’s hoping the five-day tournament can help shed prejudice that still exists in the boxing community.
“I love this sport. I love this community,” Stark said. Why don’t I create an organization called the World Gay Boxing Championships and hold a tournament for the LGBTQIA+ community and our allies, and really disrupt homophobia, transphobia, and bring the boxing community together for the love of the sport.”
You can follow Martin Stark on Instagram here.