Training With Vikings I

by Daniel Heimpel, on assignment in Iceland.

“Spricccun!” Ari yelled at us. It means something like go, or run, or attack! So up I went; up the steep 50-foot grass covered embankment for the fifth time. My lungs were burning and I came down fast, just behind a hyper-muscled black man, a boxer in his thirties from Spain. What’s he doing here training to box in Iceland? Oh yeah what am I up to?

I pitched my editor out here an idea – train for fight against Viking. She said okay. Life is good.

“Have you been training?” asked Radar, a man in his mid-twenties who had been boxing since the sport was re-legalized in 2001, since being banned in 1953. We were standing by a dumpster outside of Reykjavik’s premier boxing gym, the same that won eight titles out of 12 in the last nation-wide boxing tournament.

“Not really. Just been in New York and London.” At this I tipped an imaginary 40-oz bottle to my lips. I always figure that references to alcohol are always good with Norsemen – either that or thunderbolts, sails or big hammers.

“That sounds good,” a 12-year-old kid said. He was serious. And he too was training. Iceland’s renewed interest in boxing has brought all types of people out: little kids, girls, quiet but deadly looking boxers from Spain and that enormous blonde man with arms like bridge

“Now back to the yim!” Ari yelled in English for my benefit. All 12 us ran under the 7 pm sun. I was sweating wonderfully. We got back inside and yellow-haired, red-faced Ari made us all stand in front of heavy bags. ” Yunch 100 times as fast as you can and then 35 like you’re
killing the guy,” he said.

I punched until my arms were so weak that I couldn’t break a snail’s shell.

Ari led us into the ring where he forced more pushups and finally a stretch. “Why was boxing banned?” I asked between my breaths. We were all in a circle. Everyone’s right leg bent back, the left extended in front.

“Because it was dangerous,” Ari said.

“Yeah they all got doctors to say it was too dangerous? so they stopped it,” the 12-year old said, under his helmet of yellow-white hair. The others just looked at me. I think it was rare for anyone other than Ari to be speaking.

After the training session I stuck around with a muscled 18-year old. He too wore the ubiquitous yellow-white head of hair.

“Ari was real good,” he told me. “He boxed in Sweden and then when the ban was finished he came and boxed here. He had a bad referee. It was the referee’s first time. And the other guy hit him in the back of the head. There was bleeding in his head. He should be dead. Every once in a while he has a stroke.”

“Okay,” I said and walked out of the Yim. The sun was still blazing at almost 8 pm, but the wind whipped cold against my drenched tee shirt.

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